Small Business - COVID-19: Twelve Ideas on What to Do
Small business owners are no strangers to tough times and are hard-wired to meet a challenge head-on.
Today, unlike before, it is proving difficult to give ourselves a health break from all the doom and gloom. In other difficult times, we were able to grab a drink with a friend after work, hit the gym for an intense workout session, get away for the weekend, or have some fellowship at our places of worship. Guidelines recommending social distancing and state-mandated lockdowns have made it difficult for many of us to manage our stress in typical ways. Accordingly, it is important to stay connected with your friends and family and check-in on each other on a regular basis.
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
Small business owners are no strangers to tough times and are hard-wired to meet a challenge head-on. I have been speaking with clients, business owners and friends about what they are doing to get by and survive during this time. Last week I published - “COVID-19 Ten Ideas on What to do” and received a positive response from people so I have written this article for small business owners. I hope is a useful tool and helps you to navigate through this unfamiliar storm where everything seems to be all over the map.
Planning when everything is all over the map
In times like these planning, activities need to quickly adapt and respond to changes to be of any help. I have found that generally, and especially in today’s environment, that the outcome of planning must deliver real help fast and be more akin to Adaptive Moves rather than the traditional format of - analysis, diagnosis, and recommendations. Adaptive, so it can recognize the situation is messy and there is not one problem only a set of worries that may be all over the map; and Moves, because the best solution is a series of interventions and not a master plan. With that in mind, I have listed below some interventions for small business owners to consider in today’s situation.
- Look at everything and one thing - Small business owners have more assets than just their business. Their household assets and liabilities can include - real estate, a mortgage, an investment portfolio - taxable and deferred (IRA, Roth, Solo 401(k)), property lease/s, vehicle/s and loans, a timeshare, collectibles, insurance policies, social security, credit, and commercial debt. It is important to keep everything in mind when addressing your business concern and to be aware of any collateral impact/s on your household of decisions you make. Most of all the one thing to manage and monitor is your total household cashflow.
- Try new things - by trying new things I mean anything that may generate some incremental immediate positive cashflow - online sales, new products/services, gift cards, delivery/pickup options, different customers to service, etc. Your idea may fall flat, or you may stumble on something that helps ease your immediate cash flow shortage. Keep trying things.
- Whole of family - At times like these you especially need support, ideas, and encouragement. Be sure to share your situation with your family members, they are in your corner and understand how you roll and want you to succeed. Be open to ideas and offers of help. They will be with you through all of this.
- Fixed cost less rent - Determine what your total fixed costs are excluding rent (see 5. Business rent and equipment leases, below). Know this dollar amount and its components, your goal is to reduce it and/or defer payment. Focus on the biggest items, your time is especially valuable right now and you will be drawn to many different priorities, so focus your efforts on the biggest payback items.
- Business rent and equipment leases - Review the force majeure clause in your lease agreement/s. Your landlord will be expecting your call and will want you to survive and make it through this time. Share your survival plan with your landlord who, in turn, may have ideas to share with you that they have gained from their other tenants. If your leasehold is in need of repair and maintenance now is a good time for the landlord to address this. Negotiate your immediate lease payments, this situation is no one’s fault.
- Insurances - Think hard before you allow insurance policies to lapse. They are protecting you from the possibility of more bad news.
- Inventory and vendors - If you have inventory on hand take stock and consider your options - do you have plans to use it in the short-term or can you return it to the vendor. This may be a good opportunity for inventory sourcing, carefully evaluate this and your funding sources and cost. Negotiate current vendor payment terms, and rest assured your vendors are doing the same with their vendors.
- Employees - Employees are key. If you have ongoing work needs, consider spreading the hours of work amongst your employees and once things return to normal your workforce will be there ready to ramp up business. Alternatively, you may want to launch a campaign to allow your customers to contribute to a fund to help your employees during this time, especially if you have needed to close your business.
- Celebrities and marketing - NYC has no shortage of celebrities. If you have had a celebrity as customers, consider reaching out to them and asking for a brief social media plug for your current initiatives and/or for when you reopen.
- Investment portfolio - There are steps you can take now for your investment portfolio - tax-loss harvesting, rebalancing, smart diversification, and buying opportunities. Discuss these strategies with your investment advisor.
- Government breaks - There are many breaks the federal and state governments are providing. They are delaying income tax and sales tax payments, but they are not forgiving the debt, be sure to plan to meet these deferred payment dates.
- Starting a new business - If you have needed to close or substantially close your business you will have plans to reopen. Reopening a business can be like starting a new business, things will not just return to normal the day you reopen. Keep your reopening campaign and cost in mind during this time, it will be an opportunity to not just regain your topline, but to grow. There is a possibility of many future states of your local market, be sensitive to opportunities and be prepared to adapt and capture value.
I don’t know how long COVID-19 will keep us from life as we knew it. I am hearing encouraging reports about China and how they are returning to work and are now building ventilators for Italy. Remember that we will get through this.
 A term and consulting approach discussed in the book “Humble Consulting - how to provide real help faster” Edgar H. Schein, 2016