The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for small business owners and operators. Every day there are new pandemic-related factors that affect how businesses can provide goods and services to their clients.
No two businesses are the same, so no single plan can cover all of the potential variations a small business owner may face. But here are a few tried-and-true lessons that may prove valuable in facing the pandemic.
Have both a business and a personal plan
It is important not only to look after your business, but also to look after yourself. As a small business owner, I know that the lines are often blurred between my business life and my personal life. If I go down, the business goes down with me.
So have two well thought- out plans – one for your business and one for your personal well-being - and the two plans must be compatible.
Maintain your value proposition
Starting with the business plan, make sure that no matter what the pandemic throws at you, stay faithful to your original value proposition. Whether you bake pizzas, design jewelry, build houses or write code, it is important that the quality of what you provide does not decline. If yours is a business that is based on customer service, innovation or technological excellence, make sure that you maintain the standard that differentiates you from your competitors.
You will have to be flexible. A lot of the old rules go out the window when, for example, your customers cannot physically access your place of business. Companies that are surviving, even thriving, have shifted a lot of their business online. They are finding new ways to deliver products and services, for example, through contactless or home delivery. Ironically, in the ‘good old days’ a lot of products were delivered directly to people’s homes – milk, bread, even clothing. So has Amazon really discovered the future or have they rediscovered the past? Bottom line – don’t discount any ideas. If one approach doesn’t work, try something else.
Manage your cash flow
In uncertain times it is critical to manage your cash flow. If your revenues are falling, you must quickly get your costs under control. Even the most understanding lender will eventually run out of patience if you are not focused on your bottom line.
Having said that, be creative in how you modify your financial plan to deal with the effects of the pandemic. Speak to your vendors: they are suffering too and may be willing to make certain concessions to maintain your business after the global crisis passes. Speak to your clients: maybe there is some way to create new revenue streams until conditions improve. For example, some businesses are using gift cards to generate income until things get back to normal.
Protect your supply chain
Another important consideration for small businesses is to ensure that you protect your supply of whatever you use to produce what you sell. That could be anything from sugar or flour if you are in the food preparation business to IT support services if you operate in the consulting or financial management sectors. We saw what happened at the beginning of the pandemic when there was a run-on toilet paper, yeast, hairstyling, and other basic commodities and services. You have to make sure that potential shortages don’t knock your business out of the marketplace.
Access government relief programs
A lot of small businesses are reluctant to rely on government support. It goes against their nature. But now is not the time to be shy about accessing government programs. If you are not already using government programs, check out if your business is eligible for any of the federal business relief programs:
Also, check to see if you are eligible for any provincial or municipal government programs. Governments need you to stay in business – they created these programs for you.
Even though many businesses are operating from COVID-restricted premises or from home offices, this is no time to drop out of sight. Stay connected with your clients, your vendors, your bankers, and yes, your accountants. They can all provide you with advice and assistance to get through the rough waters.
And here’s another idea – strike up a relationship with your competitors. You may have some problems or issues in common. For example, in Ottawa a number of smaller restaurants got together to create their own delivery service to combat the higher fees being charged by some of the large multi-national food delivery services.
Look after yourself
Let me now deal with the second plan you need – a plan for personal well-being. Dealing with the ups and downs of a pandemic can seriously affect your physical and mental health. Besides using the proven methods for combatting the spread of COVID (social distancing, wearing a mask, frequent hand-washing), keep up a regular fitness routine. It can be something as simple as taking a couple of fifteen- minute walks around your neighborhood each day. This will help you to reduce stress and gain perspective.
In terms of your mental well-being, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It may come from an established mental health professional or from a less formal source, such as a professional coach.
Trust in yourself
Perhaps the most important lesson for a small businessperson is to trust in yourself and maintain hope. After all, you are a unique individual who had the confidence and courage to start a small business in the first place. That places you in a very special group of people who believe that with good ideas and hard work, anything is possible. New vaccines have been discovered in record time; infection rates are starting to fall; governments are spending unprecedented amounts of money to help businesses like yours get back on their feet. Even your customers are cheering for you! They want you to succeed – and you can.
These are difficult times, but this too will pass. Make sure that when normalcy returns, you can convert some of these lessons learned into something positive for your business for the future.