7 Ways Small Businesses Can Navigate COVID-19

Man wears a medical mask to protect himself from Coronavirus as he stands behind a counter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has created both health and financial challenges for many families and businesses. Unlike past economic downturns, the tumult occurred abruptly, bringing hardship to many industries simultaneously.

Whatever your personal situation, the good news has been the realization that we are all in this together. In that spirit, here are seven tips designed to help your business survive—and even potentially thrive—in these current uncertain conditions.

1. Support Your Remote Workers

Many small businesses are able to “carry on,” as it were, working modified schedules away from the office. If your company had already embraced virtual work, you might have found yourself well-positioned to transition to an at-home staff.

However, there are sure to be new bumps in the road, especially for those workplaces that still relied on regular in-person meetings to discuss work. Adding to the challenge are the many families who are now managing both working and schooling at home all together.

The business leader’s role is to first make sure your team has the resources they need to accomplish their job. Then, move to a “support position” to champion your distributed workforce. Help your team set achievable goals that prioritize output rather than hours. Communicate frequently, and encourage camaraderie via virtual lunches or happy hours, or even just a few minutes devoted to catching up at the beginning of a team call.

2. Assess Your Current Workforce Numbers

As a small business owner, you have selected your team members with care, and view each one as “essential.” Unfortunately, though, sometimes you have to make tough choices when business is down and your staffing needs diminish.

If you decide you need a leaner team, there are a number of possibilities: you might cut hours or pay across the board, “furlough” staff, or in the worst case, lay-off some staff completely.

Each option comes with pros and cons for both the business and your employees. For example, a furlough is a temporary work stoppage that could allow employees to retain benefits. On the other hand, laying them off would open the door to collecting unemployment. (Some furloughed employees may also be able to access unemployment on a case-by-case basis.)

One additional alternative to consider is a new Small Business Association (SBA) loan program designed to help small businesses retain their employees. (More information is below.) Before you decide what’s best for your company and employees, seek advice from a trusted banker or financial advisor to explore the various repercussions.

3. Add Goods or Services That Customers Can Still Access

Brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants have taken the lead in making quick pivots to online marketplaces that allow them to continue selling goods. Some are also providing local pickup and delivery for meals and other items to help keep their customers supplied and workers employed. In addition, some restaurants are becoming mini grocery stores to sell off existing stock, and craft stores are creating and selling kits for consumers to assemble at home.

Even if your business doesn’t have physical products that allow for continued sales, there are other ways you can adopt this model. For example, if you primarily provide face-to-face consulting, arrange video sessions or create a library of tutorials that customers can access for a small fee. If you run a fitness studio, move your classes online in order to keep your brand top of mind and still deliver value to customers who are paying a monthly fee.

4. Offer a Discount for Customers Who Pay in Advance

In many cases, a business’s main obstacle is cash flow, so any way you can keep cash coming in now can be welcome. That might entail modifying your services to online or delivery, but that’s not possible for every company.

In that case, it may make sense to create a discount program for customers who purchase your services now with the expectation they will redeem them later. Gift cards are a natural opportunity, but you can get even more creative. A spin studio could offer extra classes for customers who buy a package at a reduced rate; a car detailer could upgrade a buyer to its next tier; and a salon owner could combine a manicure and pedicure at an appealing price. The key is to get their money in the door now, so you will be around to provide service later.

5. Double Down on Marketing

Now is not the time to forgo marketing: Not only do you want to let the world know that you are open for business, but it’s also the opportunity to create a connection with consumers who are stuck at home—and quite likely have an appetite for content.

Social media is an ideal channel for the current moment—try your hand at video to showcase your team packing boxes for delivery. You might also try email marketing and even physical banners on your store to let customers know they can find you on the web. Also, make sure your business is listed on any local small business merchant lists, such as those maintained by your community Facebook group or Chamber of Commerce.

Aim for a mix of content, from promotional posts that describe your special of the day, updated hours or ordering information, to positive, feel-good stories. Solicit user-generated content by asking your customers to send in photos of their families enjoying your services or to share local random acts of kindness they’ve come across. Hold a photo contest where you ask your followers to make signs or create sidewalk masterpieces. The goal is to remind customers you are open and entice them to visit you while maintaining those social ties that everyone is craving.

6. Emphasize Your Hygiene Procedures

All consumers are particularly concerned about health and hygiene, and whether businesses are being responsible in those areas, right now. This is especially true for customers who are planning to buy food or other goods from a business.

It’s a good idea to proactively share your efforts to maintain a sanitized environment: post signs on your door and detail your cleaning process on your website. Also, double-check that any online images or posts on your social media channels demonstrate best practices, such as employees wearing gloves and masks, standing at least six feet apart or spraying down surfaces.

If customers are visiting your store for pickup, make sure hand sanitizer is readily available, and have procedures in place that emphasize proper social distance for employees and guests. You can’t be too cautious these days, and making your hygiene efforts visible is a key way to maintain customer loyalty.

7. Look Into Small Business Loans

The Small Business Administration is offering several options for small business relief, including the Paycheck Protection Program and other low-cost loan programs. Fifth Third Bank is working alongside the SBA to make these emergency funds available to small business owners, first for its current customers, with the expectation of expanding the program in late April. You can find out more here about SBA programs or contact your banker with questions about how to apply.

As we all navigate these uncertain times, employees, customers and the community are depending on small businesses more than ever. Find ways to make connections with these audiences and continue your operations to the best of your ability as we all look forward to brighter days ahead.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, National Association, Member FDIC.