The COVID-19 pandemic caught many business owners by surprise; after all, we’ve weathered more than a few medical epidemics over the last 20 years. Unlike H1N1 or SARS, however, this coronavirus has made a far deeper impact on our personal lives and our professions. Cities, counties, and states are closing restaurants, gyms and other businesses in their effort enforce social distancing—something most of us haven’t seen in our lifetime.
So what are business owners supposed to do? According to Avitus Group President and CEO Josh Balster, the first step is to focus on preparation instead of panic.
“We have enjoyed a largely positive business market for nearly a decade,” he states. “It has been a time of growth and advancement. The reality is, however, that things happen that we can’t predict. COVID-19 was one of them. But rather than panicking or making short-term business decisions that could have a disastrous long-term impact, business owners need to lean in to protect their business today and prepare for recovery tomorrow.”
Get the Facts
Are you making decisions on feelings rather than facts? If so, Balster says it’s time to change your methodology.
“There’s a time and a place for gut decisions,” he says. “But it’s not now. Now is a time to know your numbers and your resources. You need to determine exactly what it takes for you to keep your doors open in terms of staffing, production, and service. You need to know how much inventory you have in stock—and what items are reaching critical levels. Only then will you know what you’re up against.”
Create an Action Plan
Now that you know the facts about your business, you can create a plan of action. Writing such a plan may seem like a task that you don’t have time for now; however, failing to create one can be costly.
“I would encourage every business owner to sit down and detail—in writing—their plan of action. It doesn’t need to be overly formal, but the process provides you a more robust picture of your business and gives you greater peace of mind as you move forward.”
- Who is essential to business stability, such as key operations team members, those who drive sales, and those who provide day-to-day client service? What is your plan to retain them?
- Can you deploy those resources in a different way to allow remote working for key employees if needed? Can technology be better used to service customer needs? What technology needs are critical, and which are less so?
- Physical location. Is a brick-and-mortar location necessary for your business? Can it operate virtually? Is your current location right for your business? Are there any improvements needed to allow it to serve your needs and those of your customers better?
- Vendors and suppliers. If you use a supply chain, where are the weak points? Are there existing or potential blocks? Do you need to move to another supplier?
- What are your levels now? How can you continue to operate at that level of inventory or supply? Do you need to bump up inventory to ensure customers feel that they can trust you as a resource?
- Now’s the time to know where you stand financially. What is your outstanding debt? What are your cash reserves? Identify your A/R and A/P status.
As you address each of these questions, you will begin to see a plan emerge that will allow you to better direct your efforts in both the short- and long-term. You may also see opportunities to reduce costs or expand services arise that you may not have considered otherwise.
Begin Moving Forward
“If I had to give one call to action to business owners right now it would be this: have a plan in place to retain your existing customer base,” says Josh. “Deliver value at every level possible and in every way possible. The cost of retaining a client is far less than getting a new one.”
What can you do differently in your business to deliver the same (or better) value to your customers when they may not walk into your physical location?
“I can’t walk into my favorite restaurant anymore, but I can order from them and pick up curbside now,” says Balster. “It’s not something they offered before, and to be honest it’s proven to be handy for me. But you don’t have to be a restaurant to meet a customer’s needs differently.”
A few ideas:
- Begin offering online or phone orders that you deliver via a touchless approach
- Offer video conferencing via phone so that you can showcase products without people ever having to come to your location
- Change your hours to accommodate those who are working from home
- If you service or repair products, offer to pick them up and deliver them back to your customer (again, a touchless approach might be best)
“If you don’t have an online presence, now is the time to make that happen,” says Josh. “Get a website launched. Get on social media. That way you’re better able to reach your current customers and start getting out in front of new audiences. It lets even more people know that you are here and that you are open for business.”