Many businesses and organizations have been shut down, or at the very least, been at limited capacity for several months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It has been a rapidly evolving situation and most business owners say that this pandemic will significantly impact their business.
While those concerns are certainly justified and there may be cause for worry, there are some things you can do to protect your business and minimize losses. Understandably, we are all anxious to get back to “normal” as soon as possible.
It is important to note that even as we look forward to a time when we can look back on these past few months and say “we survived,” we are still very much in the middle of the pandemic and so we still need to be vigilant.
I put “normal” in quotations because normal may look very different than it used to be for a while or we may never get back to doing things the way we did before. This pandemic affects us all – across the whole world- and as some areas move towards reopening an a large scale, there are other areas that are still under various forms of emergency orders. To see where your state falls in the reopening timeline, click here.
Here are a few thoughts as you make decisions about reopening:
Know Your Customers
Keep your customers in the forefront of your mind as you plan your reopening strategy. Even though some states are allowing larger groups to gather, there are many who are reluctant to relax the social distancing guidelines they have been practicing. Other will want to charge headlong back into the thick of things so be aware of where individual customers fall on the scale.
Don’t assume that just because you open your doors and expand your business hours that your customers will automatically be ready to do business with you. You need to demonstrate that you understand and are prepared to take all necessary precautions to keep them (and yourself) safe.
Keep People Informed
Knowledge is power and it is also will make people more comfortable if they understand what your plan is. If you have a website, consider a dedicated page that answers their questions and lists your new safety measures and any modified procedures.
Put the most important information right on the homepage of your website. this info should include:
- Your hours and/or your reopening date
- Contact information
- A link to more information and frequently asked questions
Create a specific page for additional information that could include:
- Updated procedures
- Safety precautions
- Social distancing options
- Anything that might need to be addressed that is different from the last time they might have visited your business
If you can include photos that show some of these options, that would be best. A picture is worth a thousand words and will go along way to demonstrate that you are taking things seriously.
Be Realistic On What You Can or Cannot Do
Make sure you understand what your new “normal” is so that you can communicate it effectively. Detail, step-by-step, what an in-person customer experience will look like. What does a curb-side experience entail? What options will they have? The more detailed you can be, the more faith people will have in you and your business. Things to think about:
- Is there a limit to how many can be in your location at one time?
- Do customers need an appointment or do they need to call ahead?
- Have your hours changed?
- Is there any product/service shortages as a result of your modifications?
- Do you have contactless payment options? If so, is it clear how they can take advantage of them?
- What options for social distancing do you offer? Is it clearly marked?
- What are you doing to keep your location clean and sanitized?
- What precautions are you taking to keep your staff safe? Your customers? Your vendors? Are masks required?
These are just some of the things you need to consider as you make plans to reopen. You should have these questions and any others that you can think of pre-answered and written out in document form so you can hand it out if asked. Add it to your website and refer people to it when they have questions or as you are answering emails. Finally, share all the information with every staff member who will be coming into contact with customers. Make sure they understand how to communicate these items so that you can have a consistent message.
As this situation continues to develop and unfold, be ready to pivot and make changes as the situation may change. There are many resources available to help. It is important that as a small business community, we stand together and support each other as we learn what the new “normal” is.
CDC Guidance for businesses
Chamber of Commerce COVID-19 Response Toolkit
Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program
Local Assistance Directory from the Small Business Association
Ways You Can Help Other Small Businesses Impacted by This Crisis
Crisis Communication Tips for Nonprofits