If you own a small business, you’re probably in a state somewhere between concerned and panicked right now, not knowing how the spread of COVID-19 is going to affect your ability to operate. I wish I could tell you not to worry, but it wouldn’t be responsible of me to do that.
So instead, let me tell you this: panicking isn’t productive. Instead, you owe it to yourself, your clients, and your employees to do your best to plan.
Right now, we’re still missing vital data that entrepreneurs need to make decisions. As of the date I’m writing, we don’t know exactly how many people have been exposed to the virus, how deadly it is, if we’ll be able to vaccinate against it, if it’s going to reoccur and mutate every season, if our human efforts to socially distance have come fast enough to flatten the curve, or when and how the federal government is going to bail us out financially.
I realize that this lack of parameters is terrifying. But making decisions with limited data sets is exactly what entrepreneurs do all day, every day. When you think about it, you’ve been practicing this skill for a long time, and you can apply it to this the same way. So plan, and then pivot, probably several times.
Of course, every business is different and there’s no one-size-fits-all business strategy or tactical plan. Having said that, as it stands right now, I think most service businesses should consider a plan to:
Pause hiring in the very short-term. Wait a week or two to gauge demand before going ahead with any plans to staff up, unless you’re certain you’re not going to be losing revenue you were expecting over the next few months.
Go fully remote. I mean, do that right now. If you’re not a bank, gas station, grocery store, utility provider, or other vital service, there is simply no reason to be putting your employees and the general public at continued risk by having people congregate together in a physical space.
Pivot your service distribution models. Everything is going online right now, and a lot of it won’t be coming back. Adapt or die.
Continue advertising. Don’t pull back on your marketing efforts because you’re assuming nobody will respond to them. Instead, think about how you can best help your prospective clients and pivot your messaging.
Understand your financing options. This is the time to call your bank and figure out what your options are for getting through a short (or long) term cash crunch. More money will be made available to help small businesses, it’s just a matter of when, and how, and how much. Stay educated on your options and look for an opportunity to refinance high-interest debt and borrow cash to leverage at record low rates.
Invest in advice. If you’re not a highly experienced business person or financial wizard, now is the time to reach out to and retain experts who can help you navigate this brave new world. The rapids are about to get intense, and you’re going to want a river guide.
All in all, the best thing you can possibly do is to keep moving and putting one foot in front of the other. When we’re panicking, we tend to freeze and take no action, but that is the worst thing you could possibly do for your business right now. Just keep swimming. We’re all going to figure this out together.
Michelle Coyle is the founder of BGSD Strategies.