5 Ways Your Small Business Can Cope with Social Distancing

If you’re a small business owner, you’ve likely felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic one way or another. Several states are requiring many small businesses, including most restaurants and bars, to close for the next few weeks. The closures come after the CDC issued guidance to halt all gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks and President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the coronavirus. 

“It’s been a wild ride for us,” said Ricky Klein, co-owner and head brewmaster at Groennfell Meadery in St. Albans City, Vermont. “As a small business owner near the Canadian border, I’d love to see a lower level of panic while we’re responding to this. The fear itself is hurting my staff and community more at this point.”

There’s guilt on both sides of the equation — whether you’re a business owner who has to shut down a restaurant or shop to prevent spreading the virus, or you’re a consumer who’s staying in and wants to support local businesses. As more businesses close, here are five things business owners can do right now to help their operations during this period of unpredictability.

1. Communicate openly with your customers 

It’s a critical time to communicate openly with your customers about the status of your business, what protective measures you’ve implemented to avoid spreading the virus and how customers will be protected when they visit your business. 

Several restaurants and cafes have closed their dining room areas — where most people gather — but are still offering curbside pickup or some form of delivery service. Many local businesses have online stores in addition to their brick-and-mortar locations and should leverage their online presence as much as possible during this period. 

Consider offering a promotion to your customers, as it may help incentivize those who are reluctant to shop or eat at your business right now. Small local businesses may have an advantage over their bigger counterparts if they are able to respond faster and in more targeted ways within their communities. 

2.Formulate a plan

Bring your staff together and prepare a plan for what you will do if the pandemic worsens –– or improves. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends doing a tabletop exercise to simulate potential scenarios and how your business might respond to the hypothetical scenario.

Keep in mind that state or federal restrictions may be established at the drop of a hat in the coming weeks, which can stop your customers from reaching your business. Plus, customers may decide not to go to your business out of concern of exposing themselves to the COVID-19 virus.

“If we don’t take immediate drastic action, things will unravel,” said Amanda Ballantyne, director of Main Street Alliance, an organization that advocates for small businesses on policy issues. “We cannot withstand this amount of demand in the unemployment sector and the healthcare sector.”

In addition to making a plan of action to keep your business afloat, check in with any working staff about their health and actively encourage sick employees to stay home. It’s critical to separate sick employees and to educate staff on coughing etiquette and hand hygiene. Last but certainly not least, make sure your business is cleaning routinely and modify any operational procedures to provide the cleanest and safest possible environment. 

3.Cancel non-essential business travel 

Traveling presents a risk right now, even within the United States. If you and your employees have plans to travel over the next few weeks, consider canceling or postponing any trips. Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 have been implemented all around the world, and any who travels outside of the U.S. may also be subject to other countries’ measures to limit the spread of the virus. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have posted guidance for travel in the U.S. and recommendations for travelers returning from high-risk countries.

4.Collaborate with state and local officials 

The COVID-19 outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation, and therefore requires the collaboration of small businesses with state, local and federal officials.

Cities like Seattle and New York City have started to pass and implement plans to support small businesses and curb the short- and long-term economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In North Carolina, for example, Gov. Roy Cooper will be expanding unemployment insurance for workers impacted by the virus. 

In the Seattle area alone, 35% of small business owners say they are afraid they will have to close permanently, according to a recent survey by Seattle startup Fresh Chalk. Fresh Chalk’s CEO Liz Pearce estimates that figure has drastically increased since the beginning of March when the survey was distributed. Pearce argues that immediate cash injection from the government is the only thing that will keep small businesses afloat during this crisis.

“We asked in the survey, ‘How can the community help you?’ The majority of the responses said, ‘Get the community to reach out to lawmakers and government to push for financial assistance,’” Pearce said. 

5.Consider loan resources

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is encouraging banks to be understanding during this time and work with customers seriously affected by COVID-19. You should contact your lender(s) if you can’t pay your bills or make credit card or loan payments on time due to current circumstances.

Check out this FAQ document for bank customers affected by COVID-19.

The SBA is working directly with state governors to provide targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and nonprofits that have been severely impacted by COVID-19. 

At this time, the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million to help overcome any temporary loss of revenue. You can take advantage of an online tool called Lender Match to connect with SBA-approved lenders within 48 hours.

If you have business interruption insurance, now is the time to contact your insurance agent to review your policy and better understand precisely what you are covered for.

Keep all this advice in mind as you decide how to move forward with your business during the COVID-19 pandemic.