COVID-19 Preparing your business for a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating significant disruption in all areas of business and life. To help you to find some order in the chaos and adjust to new ways of doing and being, Doctor Digital has put together a series of COVID-19 blogs with tips, tricks, hacks and suggestions for how digital and e-commerce tools can support you and your business.

Doctor Digital Says

As more and more regions and cities are affected across Tasmania and Australia and governments declare emergencies, all businesses should be prepared for a downturn. This downturn will almost certainly be temporary, however, it’s becoming pretty clear that no customer-facing business—retail, restaurant, tourism, health and beauty, service, etc —will be unaffected.

The Tasmanian Government is taking steps to support Tasmanian businesses alongside measures put in place by the Australian Government. These will supplement your own emergency management plan and the earlier you are able to create a clear picture of your situation the more prepared you can be to advise customers and employees and get targeted, tailored help.

So, is your business ready to deal with the coronavirus pandemic? It might seem like it’s too late, but now is the time to prepare for what changes might be ahead.

Essential Things You Can Do To Prepare

As a business owner, there are some basic things you can and should be doing from a business management/community health perspective. These actions apply not just to the current health crisis, but also to protect your business from future crises.

Revisit Health & Safety Policies

This may seem kind of basic, but it’s nonetheless important. We’re talking handwashing techniques, proper sanitation, and when people should stay home from work. You can help protect your business, employees, and patrons by implementing some stricter health and safety policies, today. To inform such policies, be sure to consult the official government guidelines for COVID-19 and all local guidelines. You can also find helpful information from the Australian Government across industry and the public which is regularly updated.

Revisit Employee Attendance Policies

If you don’t have an employee attendance policy, make sure you have stepped out what your business is doing to make it easy for staff to work remotely and how they are protected. Isolation is the best way to slow the spread of the virus so make sure you make it easy for your employees to make the right choice and be supported if they can work from home. Clear, frequent communication is the key to taking some of the friction out of the situation, and also acknowledging these are tough unprecedented times and how that may be impacting everyone’s stress levels.

Analyse Your Cash Flow

Cash flow is super important, now more than ever. Take a look at where things are right now and what you anticipate your cash flow will be over the next few months—including and especially worst-case scenarios. How much cash do you have on hand? How much do you need to keep the lights on? When are your next bills due? Are you eligible for government assistance if you need it? What concessions are your vendors offering to help ease the cash flow? Are there rent or mortgage waivers available? Your revenue may be down, but by how much? Don’t rely on impressions, estimations or visual scans, have as much data as you can to support your decision making. Can you reduce business hours initially? Where can your team take leave or work in other parts of the business to reduce latency? Familiarise yourself with your business insurance policy. What does it cover? How much does it cover? Go deep and fearless as knowing the reality of your situation will make critical decisions more clear.

Monitor News & Policy Changes

While it’s not necessarily helpful to obsessively check the news all day for developments, it’s important as a business owner to stay on top of all local, state, and national policy changes that could affect your business. Find a reliable source of news for updates specific to your area and sector, and set up your digital device to receive alerts so you get all the relevant updates.

Become Agile

How could you do your business differently? How can you change your offering so it is contact free? What do you do that you can pivot to keep the money flowing in? If you are a food service business for instance, can you offer takeout and delivery when people can’t dine-in. Can you offer a takeout and delivery option via a third-party delivery service?

While third-party delivery services typically take a big cut of the sale—as much as 30 percent—during the crisis, food delivery services like Deliveroo and Uber Eats are dropping or reducing their percentages to help restaurants stay viable. These services are also instituting “no contact” food delivery policies in adherence with social distancing recommendations.

If you have a commercial kitchen, sticking with the food theme, can you value add product and deliver locally, pickle, bottle, preserve? Can you create in home dining experiences for people that can make their isolation feel more fun? What has this pandemic created that leaves a gap in the market that your business can fill? Of course, the question is also what can you take online. If you are a consultant or a knowledge worker, what can you do that doesn’t need you face to face. They may only be small fixes, but as long as it can prolong your business it is worth a try.

Sell Gift Cards

People in our communities love their local businesses and want to help them out. After all, you want the businesses you love to frequent to still be around after the current crisis ends. If your business offers gift cards, people can buy a gift card now (providing the money you so desperately need at the moment) and redeem it later once your regular operations resume. One caveat here is that if you are concerned your business won’t re-open in a hurry, don’t sell cards that are unable to be used.

Communicate With Customers

Customers are just like you – afraid, weirded out, panicking and wanting assurance that the familiar in their lives will remain. Communication is critical to let the people that keep your business going know what is happening. Most businesses have an email list and/or a social media presence. Whether you are closing or staying open, be sure to contact your customers to let them know what precautions you are taking against coronavirus and any adjustments your business has made to your hours, sanitization policies, or anything else.

Don’t forget your customers know you and hopefully love you – they may have some brilliant suggestions that you haven’t considered about what you can do to serve their needs. Ask them. This is a time to be vulnerable and courageous and collaborate. And not just with customers, reach out to your suppliers and fellow businesses and see what you can do as a community, together you may have some great solutions that mean you can pool resources and do something together. In crazy, chaotic times you need to throw your normal way of doing things out the window and look to be as agile and curious as you can, who knows what you will come up with?

Advertise & Promote

If you’re still open, you need to let customers know, and entice them to buy from you. For example, you can use social media, text marketing, and email to offer some specials. You may even want to use paid online advertising social media ads on Facebook and Instagram. As far as what to offer for your promotions, focus on advising what your brand and business is doing in the pandemic, what you are selling and how they can access your products or services in the safest most profitable way.

What To Do When A Temporary Slow-Down Becomes The Worst-Case Scenario

What are your options when things start going from tightening belts to forced closure whether it be via Government, your own dwindling resources or actually being infected with COVID-19 and needing rest and recovery?

  • Check your local chamber of commerce to find out about coronavirus disaster relief programs for small businesses in your area, such as rent suspension, payroll and sales tax relief programs, low-interest loans, etc.
  • Communicate with your creditors and also with your vendors, your landlord, etc. Everyone is hurting right now and they will likely be willing to work with you, especially if you can negotiate arrangements for when things pick up. It’s better to be proactive than to get behind and then ask for help.
  • Communicate with your staff and contractors and make sure they are able to support themselves by knowing what the status of their hours and ongoing employment is. Keep the discussion going, no matter how uncomfortable it is, difficult discussions will need to be had, and being clear and kind is the best way to get through them. Give them options to help such as reduced hours, reduced pay, be prepared to collaborate on solutions and listen.
  • Ask for help, know when you need it and that you will be undergoing all kinds of emotions and situations that you have never experienced, it will be hard, but it will be more easily managed if you are across the facts of exactly what your capacity is.

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. State and local governments are very motivated to reduce the impact of this crisis and small businesses, which are the backbone of the Tasmanian economy. Seek out the resources for small business help because they do exist. When the peak of the virus is over, we need to be in the best shape to return to business and get finances flowing back into the economy, and your preparedness for proactively managing all parts of your business will help you your staff and your community.

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