This is the part where we usually make a case for why it’s so critical that you read this article. We’re not doing that today, because as of this writing, my agency has been working remotely for more than two weeks, and 75% of my client base has closed indefinitely as a result of C.O.V.I.D. 19.
Why don’t we dive right in?
Economists suggest that people should have at least 6-months worth of cash reserves to cover expenses in the case of an emergency. What we’re finding through COVID-19 is that the shoulds—from pandemic preparedness to small business cash flow to individual savings are not what they should be.
Given the direness of the situation, the time for think-pieces on why we failed to prepare can wait. What we need now is an insight into how we survive, as individuals, as companies, and as a global community.
Let’s build a variation on a crisis management plan in real-time – don’t feel shame about this. 51% of companies confess to not having a crisis management plan. This means a document that lays out how a company will respond to a critical situation that threatens profitability, viability, or reputation.
We’ll break into three phases, understanding that for everyone, the particulars will vary, but the overarching theme of each should be broadly relevant.
Phase 1) Assessment: What are the short term and long term threats?
Morale depletion: C.O.V.I.D. 19 immediately called into question the way we do business. Eliminate handshakes, face-to-face meetings, and travel.
When people want something or someone to hold on to, it’s vital that modifications be made and that the loss of that connection is replaced in some way. Consistent and sincere communication will help. As more information is released, for example, additional weeks of non-essential businesses staying closed, communicate with staff about the plan.
Staffing logistics: Mere weeks ago, we thought we could keep people in the office. How do we set them up for remote work, followed quickly by how do we keep paying them?
Vendor uncertainty: There is a domino effect with threats to small business, as we each worry about our own immediate concerns, others are doing the same thing, and we lose sight of the fact that it’s all connected:
- Stores can’t sell what can’t be delivered
- Deliveries can’t be made without drivers
- Products to deliver and sell can’t be made without labor
- Labor can’t exist if businesses fail
Contract question marks: Will contracts be honored, altered, or canceled altogether? If the project was the design of an annual report, but the print shops are no longer deemed essential businesses, what happens?
Communication is a recurring theme. You may not be able to save every contract or sale with a phone call, but it can’t hurt. Get in touch with your contacts and have conversations about the path forward, in some cases, the communication may help spark an idea that can help both parties. Don’t give up hope, saving business is very similar to earning business.
Payroll: How long can we continue to pay staff when we have no way to forecast how long the limitations for travel remain?
Identify resources within your staff, shift assignments to leverage skills. Adjust the sales model to reflect new job responsibilities. Plot the chart for when you will make a move to decrease payroll, honor that line.
Marketing: How do we communicate with the public when all communication has been corralled online?
Every message must be crafted with the company second to the audience. Hear me out: times of crisis put people in self-preservation mode. Getting through to someone means cutting through anything but what matters to them. Make me feel better, take away the fear, give me permission to be confident. Doing that will move your message to the front of the line.
Loan repayments: If there is no money coming in, what do we do about the money that is expected to go out?
Communication is your friend, reach out to vendors, and account representatives to request assistance. It may be a temporary freeze on payment, adjusting to interest-only payments, or negotiating new terms, but it only happens with outreach.
Phase 2) Risk Reduction
Expense: How can we lower the cost of doing business to avoid furloughs and layoffs?
The first wave of eliminations is the simplest. You suspend services that are outside the bounds of what is allowed under the new health advisements. Cleaning services can no longer come to the office. The water cooler delivery service isn’t necessary. Reel in spending on company cards.
Business Development: Where will the work come from?
The work in many ways is going to come from where it’s always come from—you. Yes, conditions have changed, but you have still needed to be able to pivot. Repackage your service, reframe what you offer, and reconsider how you or your product can become indispensable to prospective clients. Get comfortable with asserting your value.
Health & Safety: How do you protect your team?
There is no point in resisting health advisories. Plan for the duration and encourage staff to adhere to safe practices. Be supportive of those efforts, and do not make the mistake of practicing heroics, get yourself set up for remote work and toe the same line as your team.
Assistance: When the math just doesn’t agree?
Several programs have been released and continue to be refined. The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Economic Stimulus and Relief Legislation aims to cover various areas that can free up cash for individuals and organizations.
The Federal Government very much wants employees to stay employed. The word essential has become important, and what it reveals has surprised many. The individuals doing the work that has been deemed necessary to living are rarely the highest-paid. Lives and businesses are being irrevocably altered by this crisis, it’s a race between bills, income, and shut-down. Here are some places to look for relief
Recovery Rebate Checks are intended to put a cash foundation beneath the unsteady footing of workers across the United States.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Loan Advance offers working capital loans up to $2 million and cash advances of $10,000. If you are:
- A small business with fewer than 500 employees
- A small business that otherwise meets the S.B.A.’s size standard
- A 501(c)(3) with fewer than 500 employees
- An individual who operates as a sole proprietor
- An individual who serves as an independent contractor
- An individual who is self-employed who regularly carries on any trade or business
- A Tribal business concern that meets the S.B.A. size standard
- A 501(c)(19) Veterans Organization that meets the S.B.A. size standard
Bridge Loans offering up to $25,000 with minimal paperwork.
The S.B.A. C.A.R.E.S. Act Loans will have unusual loan forgiveness aspects as well as a 100% guarantee from the Federal Government, taking the burden off of small businesses. As of this writing, the applications will begin April 3rd and specific information for borrowers and lenders can be found here.
Phase 3) Functioning: What do we do next?
Our best hope is for each of us to carry the new understanding of how quickly a crisis can engulf a business, a city, and a world, and operate in ways that allow for the unimaginable.
We have learned through the different stages of this pandemic that we are more resourceful and resilient than we thought. Each day brings new information about how the government is stepping in to try and mitigate the harm to businesses and workers. We are also reminded of how interconnected we are and why we must value one another.
Your most significant resources are your people, your willingness to communicate, and your capacity for reimagining all that you are capable of doing and offering.