All over the U.S, businesses are reopening after the long months of lockdown. Still, businesses cannot operate at full capacity as activities resume at a slow pace to life as it used to be before the global pandemic.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over as new cases and deaths are still on the rise, and there are no vaccines yet. Experts and government officials also warn that the coronavirus might be an issue for a much longer time. Although businesses are implementing guidelines to prevent the spread, some fear that going back to “normal” may cause a potential second wave of cases.
No doubt, no one knows when or if the second wave of COVID-19 cases will strike and whether it would be just as awful or worse than the first time. What we do know, are the ways to identify the COVID-19 symptoms, how it is transmitted, and measures to protect our employees.
Still, there is so much we do not know about the novel coronavirus, but as weeks go on and life slowly progresses back to normal, we can learn more about what’s safe and what won’t work. That knowledge can help us figure out how to stay safe and profitable during these times. In this article, we will look at ways to prepare and keep your business afloat during these trying times.
Why a Second Wave May Be Worse Than the First?
Already, experts say that the novel coronavirus will be with us for at least a year or two in line with the time it may take to develop herd immunity or create an effective vaccine. However, no one knows what course the virus will take in the next 18 months to two years.
Nevertheless, we must also understand what may happen within the next several months. CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) released a report detailing three likely events that may occur based on history and what scientists already know about the novel virus.
The first is that with the Spring of 2020, we might get a big and awful “second wave,” especially during fall or winter, with the possibilities of smaller waves months after.
The first scenario follows what scientists already know from the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, where Wave 2 was deadlier than Wave 1. The first scenario follows the warnings of CDC Director Robert Redfield that the Wave 2 of the SARS-CoV-2, in Fall or Winter, maybe more overwhelming, especially as it coincides with flu season.
The second talks about multiple spikes of the virus beginning after Spring to about two years from then. In such a case, the number of people sick with the virus will vary from one geographical region to the next. According to the CIDRAP report, we may likely see more closures if this happens, followed by relaxations periodically over the next two years.
The CIDRAP report also says that the third scenario may have a smaller number of cases but no significant spikes over the next two years. Although history does not support this scenario, scientists say it may happen with the novel coronavirus. In such an event, we may not require using strict social distancing and stay-at-home measures.
Regardless of what the future might hold, it is obvious that businesses will be affected in many ways, especially if new lockdowns are put in place.
Already the first wave of the coronavirus has caused much harm to the economy, and experts say it will take up to two or three years to repair the damage from the first one. If there is another extended closure (partial or not), the economic toll might close down a lot of small businesses still struggling with the impacts of the first lockdown. Therefore, we must focus our efforts on preparing our businesses to deal with the possibilities of a second wave.
9 Ways To Prepare Your Business
Surely, it is okay to be carefully optimistic that the worst-case scenario does not come true. However, preparing might help strengthen your business for whatever happens over the next few months or years. Here are some preparation tips, to consider:
1. Learn from the Past
Already the first wave tells us about what kind of businesses we run (essential and non-essential services) and what may happen with another round of stay-at-home orders. For many companies with possible remote solutions, we have learned how to equip our teams to boost productivity as they work from home.
We have also learned about how to cut down the costs of running operations to ensure that we keep facilities running. Therefore, we must look at the measures we have used during the past few months, assess and improve on them to help prepare for a possible second wave.
2. Safety First
Having a cleaner and healthier work environment can do a lot in helping prevent the spread of the virus. However, you must also implement adequate health and safety measures to make your business safe for customers and prevent it from becoming a source of an outbreak.
Already your business may have advanced safety measures. Still, you can equally review those measures and improve them, especially if those measures are for a short-term or temporary basis. Consider investing in safety-related supplies such as PPEs (personal protective equipment) for your employees. You can also provide improved sick leave to discourage your employees from working when sick. If you received SBA’s PPP loan or EIDL loan, your PPE and sick leave provisions are good ways to spend it. (Note: you can only use 25% of PPP loan on non-payroll expenses). Other measures include improving ventilation rates in your office, using high-efficiency air filters, installing physical barriers, and putting up signs to encourage customers to follow social distancing and personal hygiene rules.
3. Improve Your Staffing Plan
Despite the safety measures and PPP funds you receive, some employees may resist coming back to work for fear of exposure to the virus, especially if they are vulnerable.
As the pandemic rages on, you must reevaluate your staffing needs on a long-term basis and consider the best approach if a second wave closes your business once more. For instance, there’s no doubt people will likely return to your stores with the following weeks, which means the demands for your services may increase.
With an increase in demand, hiring more people might seem logical, but consider the possibilities of laying people off if another closure happens. Also, implement including work policies like extra shifts or alternating days to keep the number of employees at any given time low and still meet the spikes in demand for your service. Technology may equally help streamline some basic tasks. For instance, investing in POS with employee management can transform your scheduling decisions. However, before you make any decision, discuss with your employees about your staffing plans because they are likely as concerned as you are about the future.
4. Boost Your Digital Presence
Although our physical worlds look emptier than it used to be, the digital space is buzzing more than ever. Therefore, the pandemic clearly shows us that having an online presence is too important to overlook. Your digital front helps keep communications fresh with your customers and provides vital information about your policies, hours, and other things. Now more than ever, customers will most likely check out your business website or social page to be sure your business is alive and active.
While preparing for the second wave, you must consider updating your website and social pages with current information. Also, consider using your online presence to keep your business fresh in the minds of your customers, connect to new prospects, and even make sales during a closure. If you don’t have a business website, consider setting up one now. You can either set up an essential but useful website using your POS, such as Smart POS or create a bigger and professional website that lets you enjoy all the perks of a fabulous online presence.
5. Invest in an E-commerce Channel.
As said earlier, your online space can help you make sales during the closure. Therefore, building a small business website is a smart way to boost sales, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Think about it; your e-commerce store is the best way to do business and implement all the safety rules. No matter the type of business you run, there are a variety of e-commerce options for you. Here are a few you can try:
· Order Online/ Local Deliveries
In this case, your customers can shop for your products via your website and have them shipped directly to their doorstep.
· Order in advance/ Pickup in-store
You can also make provisions for your customers to see available items, make their orders, and visit your physical locations to pick them up without going into your offices.
· Digital Gift Cards
You can make gift cards available on your website, so your customers can purchase them online and use them in your store in the future.
· QR Codes for shopping
In this case, customers scan QR codes for items at your store and make their purchases online.
· Contactless Payments
Digital payment options like Apple pay can reduce contact between your employees and customers. It equally ensures that your customers can pay with a single swipe on your website at their own comfort.
· Selling on Social
You can equally sell your products and services on your social accounts if you don’t have a full e-commerce site. Platforms like Shopify and Payment giants like SquareUp also offer online checkout features, which makes it easy for your customers to buy from you directly from your social accounts.
6. Watch Out for Price Spikes & Shortages
The pandemic has caused adverse effects on the global supply chain, which means suppliers may fail, shipments may fail to reach their destinations at the right time. Therefore, your business may see shortages in everything, especially the most essential items. Additionally, you may pay higher expenses to get the things you need. All these price spikes and shortages may also rise higher as the pandemic rages on, even if your area has no significant cases. For instance, restaurants right now are dealing with scarcity in meat and higher meat prices because of the outbreaks at some meat-processing factories.
However, there are certainly some supplies you can buy at reduced prices because demands have decreased. For instance, gas prices are currently lower than it has ever been in the past few years since the transportation and travel industries ground to a halt.
7. Organize Your Paperwork
To keep your business fluid during these trying times, you need to keep a finger on all aspects of your business. Therefore, you must organize your paperwork, especially your finances to understand possible challenges you might face in the coming months. Being organized is also vital to apply to any financial aid. It can also help you start early in using for the second round of emergency loans if you need them. Ensure you have all critical documents in one place, so you can quickly access from anywhere and jump-start your applications. Proper documentation is also crucial if you received PPP loans and may need to apply for PPP forgiveness. In the event of a PPP audit, proper documentation may help you deal with its effects effectively.
8. Check Your Financial Obligations
As said earlier, revising your business finances, especially your cash flow, can help you overcome this period of uncertainty. Make estimates on the minimum cash flow you need to stay afloat and make projections on what your earnings might look like under different scenarios.
Evaluate existing loans and financial contracts to determine what might happen if you apply for a new loan and how it can affect your business, months, or years after. What about if you have to face another closure, what would happen to your cash flow. It might be an excellent idea to hire a financial advisor to help you make the right steps to keep your business afloat. Also, consider investing in accounting tools so that you can enjoy the real-time analysis of your cash projections at any time.
9. Look At Your Operations
No matter where you are, you are likely dealing with fewer customers, reduced business hours, or online-only services. This is off-course, not business as usual. Therefore, you need to be very creative and strategic about what, how, and where you make your sales.
Fortunately, your POS system should have a wealth of data about what’s happening right now in your business (fast-selling and slow-selling items, busiest days, and hours). You can compare this data to the current event, so you know where to raise or lower your prices. This data will also help you adjust your staffing needs and hours to meet the current demands. Making data-driven decisions is a smart move for any small business to ensure that you can adapt quickly to any changes in the coming months.
Are you currently working without an efficient cloud POS and robust analytics tool? Now is the best time to upgrade your systems, so you can use data wisely to prepare for Wave 2 or outlive prolonged economic recession.
If the pandemic taught us any positive thing, it is that businesses always find ways to persevere. We have seen enterprises endure the uncertainties and rapidly changing rules. Already, some companies are seeing signs of recovery, but we must remain vigilant and prepared for any possibilities.
Although it might be challenging preparing for the future when you are still working out the hassles of the first wave. You may have also thought that being too prepared for something that may not happen isn’t worth it. But you must realize thousands of businesses are already using the steps discussed in this article, long before the pandemic. Even so, after the COVID-19, your customers will continue to be cautious of their health and safety, and will off-course prefer using socially distanced shopping tools than going back to normal.
Investing in better health practices, innovative technological tools, and using a data-driven sales strategy are smarter business decisions. They will not just help your small business prepare for the worst-case scenario; it will also help you keep on flourishing successfully long after all of this is over.