Coronavirus Prep Talk for Small Biz Owners
Updated: May 15
Update • 3/20/20: Watch my free virtual workshop for business owners and entrepreneurs navigating the Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic.
Before your read any further, let's do this simple exercise together, recommended by my friend Katie at Kismet Acupuncture:
"Get comfortable, sit up nice and straight, and follow along: • Breathe in slowly while counting to four • Hold at the top for a count of four • Breathe out slowly while counting to four • Hold out for a count of four • Repeat this four times. SLOWLY! Your heart is beating slower, you’ve calmed your fight-or-flight response, the panic has subsided, and your mind is clear."
Okay. Now we can focus.
The COVID-19 pandemic is serious business FOR businesses!
The global outbreak is rapidly (but, thankfully, temporarily) altering our day-to-day lives.
As a business owner and/or freelancer, you may be wondering how this will affect you. You may already be experiencing cancellations, reduced income, and general decline in the day-to-day goings-on of your company. Not to mention inquiries from customers and employees, wondering how to proceed. People are nervous, and hunkering down. They may be re-evaluating expenses, projects, outings and purchases.
So as a business owner, what can you do to lessen the potential blow this situation may have?
Luckily, quite a lot!
As someone who has been working from home for a few years, I'm used to remote collaboration, file sharing, video conferencing and online project management.
But I realize this is a whole new world for many people.
I wanted to take a minute to jot down some of my thoughts (and some suggestions from others as well) for fellow business owners to reference for some help. We will all get thru this crazy time together. Try to stay calm, and be proactive.
***BONUS CONTENT*** Join my Facebook group to watch a live video about this topic.
OK, Let's get started:
1) Stay informed by using official news sources
The CDC and WHO are 2 examples of organizations that provide factual, up-to-date information on the pandemic. This information will help you feel more prepared, and may even put you at ease. We do know that the most important thing you can do is stay calm, and keep washing your hands properly with soap and water. It is also a good idea to regularly clean surfaces and electronic devices at home or anywhere you are spending your time. Don't forget things like remote controls, chargers, doorknobs, light switches and thermostats, handles for appliances and fixtures, car doors, steering wheels, etc. Be sure to take good care of yourself and loved ones and follow best practices to minimize the spread of this virus.
2) Create a plan for how to combat customer cancellations, and consider flexibility on your current cancellation policies
I think it's always a good idea to do your best on getting those customers rescheduled for a later date. Whether you are a freelancer who has had a photography session cancelled, or you are a restaurant owner who has had a catered event cancelled, hopefully you and your client can work together to choose a new date in the future. If you can't reschedule, determine what impact that will have on your business. Are you able to keep your deposit and/or retainer? What are the cutoff dates, and should you revise them? You may want to review your current contract wording, to see what is covered and what is not. What additional fees come into play, if any? You may want to update new contracts to include important options like Force Majeure, or a "pause clause", etc. No matter what, you want to keep the lines of communication open with your client, to help give them peace of mind about the situation. Hopefully, by showing you are allowing for wiggle room, it will cut down on the number of actual cancellations you'll need to be doing. Not to mention, consider creative ways to serve your customers! If you're a retail establishment, consider offering online shopping. If you're a food establishment, consider online ordering / curbside pickup. If you're a limo driver, consider offering to run errands / do deliveries for folks who can't get out. What problems can you solve creatively for your customers?
3) Keep in contact with your customers
Do not hide.
I repeat: Do not hide.
Everyone is in this together, and people are nervous. Questions and fears are normal. So do not avoid their anxiety. Many of your clients are likely business owners themselves. But to help set expectations, and cut down on cancellations, you want to maintain communication and be proactive so as to build that trust. In the last 3 days, nearly all of my current clients have reached out to me in some form or another, with their concerns over the current situation and if/how to address certain promotions / events / typical services they offer. Simply helping to talk through their concerns and proactive plans of action has been very helpful for them. Your clients look to you to be the expert on certain matters and may need your help navigating some delicate situations... be there for them. Check in on them. Let them know you're aware of the virus situation and are ontop of managing it as best you can -- and that you still intend on completing the project. And be accessible in various mediums, especially during this time when many people are stuck inside or under self-quarantine, or caring for loved ones. Social distancing is becoming required for the time being. You know that saying, "this meeting could have been an email"? Be open to phone/email/text conversations instead of in-person meetings. One of my personal favorite tools is Loom. It makes it easy for me to film a quick screenshare video to send them to give an update on a project, and they can watch it at their leisure. It also allows them to see me on screen, so it almost feels like a typical meeting. In addition, you could use a video conferencing service like Zoom or Google Hangout to have a joint, live meeting with your clients. Even FaceTime works fine. By being flexible with communication style, and keeping the projects moving forward, your customers will be appreciative. Make sure your phone/computer and internet connection are all in working order and fully charged so you don't run into any technical difficulties.
4) Consider general messaging for your website / social media / etc
You may want to pull together general messaging to address the concerns / inquiries of prospective clients and/or social media followers. You can explain the measures you're taking at your place of business, discuss how you're preparing to handle the situation, and take the opportunity to set expectations in terms of inquiries / followup. Be proactive, and communicate. You may also want to consider creating a free download or guide that can help serve your audience with information. Be of service, and be helpful. Some of the items you may want to update include:
a ticker or popup on your website
update your voicemail greeting
send an email newsletter
write a blog post
publish social media content
create a video message
go Live in your Facebook group
update your Google My Business listing
if you have a storefront, put up signage on your door
if you have a business that serves large numbers of people at a time (such as an arts venue, school, or other business that requires tickets or registrations), consider a robo calling service to deliver your messaging to a large number of people at once
By the way, now is a good time to do admin type things like: plan content, design some social media graphics, clean up your website a bit, learn from business podcasts, review your pricing structure and/or service lists, update signage / forms that are outdated, claim listings on sites like Trip Advisor and Alignable, learn Google Analytics, etc!
5) Create and communicate a fallback plan in case you get sick, or are otherwise unable to complete the project
Do you have a support system in place or a short list of trusted individuals to help out? Maybe this means outsourcing tasks or hiring some temporary help. Maybe it's training your assistant or significant other to take over certain tasks. Maybe it means partnering with some freelancers. Whatever it is, make sure to communicate this change of plans with your clients so they are kept in the loop as to who their new point-of-contact will be. You may also want to create a handbook of sorts, that you can share with those trusted individuals, should you be temporarily down for the count. Important contact information, logins, policies & procedures, and general how-to's are all great to include. Working from home is also a good time to polish and refine your day-to-day operations and systems, and is a great opportunity for exploring which items may be able to be automated in the future.
6) Take advantage of productivity apps & solutions
Speaking of automation, let's talk apps! As someone who's been working from home for several years, I'm used to many different sites/apps that assist me in working remotely. But I realize this might be uncharted territory for many of you. Here are a few of my favorite tools, along with a description of what they do. In fact, some of these companies have even stepped up and offered free (or discounted versions) of their premium level services so better help the planet during this outbreak. Score! Some of these may be great solutions for you while you temporarily work from home:
WeTransfer: file transfer service that allows you to send large files
Evernote: note taking, organizing, task management, and archiving
Loom: free screen recorder / video conferencing
Zoom: video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration
FreeConferenceCall.com: conduct free local or international conference calls
Slack: instant messaging, organize conversations, share files w/ your team
Facebook Groups: If you are managing a large enough team, you might also consider making a private Facebook group to manage communications and discussion
Square: mobile payments, ecommerce solutions, merchant services
Calendly: online appointment scheduling
Google Calendar: time management + shareable scheduling calendar service
Genius Scan: a scanner app in your pocket
DocuSign: send contracts digitally for e-signature
Freshbooks: accounting, time tracking, send proposals + invoices, expense tracking
Trello: project management + list-making
Hootsuite: social media management + scheduling
Spotify: music + podcast streaming
Calm app: soothe stress + anxiety
And don't forget about good ol' Amazon Prime, and even ordering groceries from home via services like Instacart, Peapod, etc.
7) Check in on your community: colleagues, team members, vendors, Facebook groups, etc.
It should go without saying, but staying in touch (virtually) will be very important during the uncertainty of the coming weeks/months. However, that doesn't just mean friends/family (of course), but also your industry peers, community members, staff/supporters, and more. Ask how they're doing? Do not spread rumors. Ask for advice when you need it. Give advice when you can. Post light-hearted, funny, supportive messaging when appropriate. Be kind to each other. Listen when they need to vent. And vent when you need to do so. Many people are dealing with so many unknowns right now and everyone will be so reassured to know that they're not alone.
8) Take care of your own mental health
This is a time of stress (health, financial, and otherwise) and everyone is likely to feel spread thin. It's important to practice self care. Here is a great resource put together by AFSP.org to discuss protecting your mental health during this time. ** If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can also reach out to The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. **
It's okay to read the news and stay informed -- but take breaks to give yourself a rest from the constant stream of not-so-great news.
In addition, don't underestimate the importance of taking time to enjoy things you love! Rediscover old hobbies and passions. Get back into crafts or writing. Paint furniture. Scrapbook. Rearrange your bedroom. Maybe there's some home/office improvements and small projects you've been putting on the backburner forever. Not to mention finally getting around to binge-streaming all those shows you keep hearing about! You could even consider capitalizing on this time by learning a new skill or polishing your educational toolbox. These are all things that will positively stimulate your brain and your soul, and that is good for your mental health and inner zen.
Also, for some general feel-good-ness, here's a link to 12 Famous Museums Offering Virtual Tours You Can Take On Your Couch.
A special note about restaurants
I read this online this week and I wanted to share here as well (in fact, I think it could apply to lots of different types of businesses... shops, salons, etc)
"Fear of the Coronavirus is keeping people away from restaurants, who usually operate on small margins. So here's something you can do: go to your favorite restaurant and buy a gift certificate (or get it online if possible). Buy it directly from the restaurant, so they get the use of your money for a month or two. Then when things have settled down, treat your sweetie to an evening out and use your certificate!- I copied and pasted this from someone else!"
Also, I know things are tight for lots of people right now, but you may want to consider leaving a more generous tip for your service people than you usually would.
A special note about theatres, concert halls, museums, etc:
If you were a ticket holder or subscriber to a theater, arts venue, or other type of nonprofit institution and your event was cancelled -- please consider donating the tickets back to the organization as a donation instead of asking for a refund. I come from a background in the arts and so many organizations are being hit extremely hard right now with cancelled productions, etc due to social distancing. They face uncertainty in the months ahead due to the lost income from these cancelled productions. Keep them in mind.
A special note about freelance artists:
If you or someone you know are a freelance artist, creative, or member of the "gig economy", here's a great (and ever-evolving) archive of resources that's being compiled in real time. This includes, but is not limited to, actors, designers, producers, technicians, stage managers, musicians, composers, choreographers, visual artists, filmmakers, craft artists, teaching artists, dancers, writers & playwrights, photographers, etc.
ok! Hopefully something here was helpful for you.
Of course, there are so very many other factors to consider at the moment such as: understanding your current (and potential) financial position, identifying some additional revenue streams, ways to supplement income (loans, 401k, etc), local/national resources that may be available (small biz loans / grants / etc), and of course -- saving/budgeting as much as possible. But everyone's situation is different, so you should take time to research and explore what options may make the most sense to you.
At the end of the day, it's important that we all still work hard to follow our passions, and to do the work we love... even if the day-to-day changes a bit in the interim. But the most important thing is that we take this one step at a time, and that we're there for each other.
And with that... I leave you with this excellent, topical freebie from my friend Emily at felt Write: 5 Ways to Calm the F*ck Down.
Be well, friends! And please join my Facebook group to continue the discussion... we'd love to have you.
PS: If you'd like stay in touch, you can sign up for my email list at the bottom of my website. I'll be sharing marketing, social media, and design tips for your business. See you there!
Note: This compiled advice and list of resources was created from a variety of sites and sources and is just meant to provide some tips and information. For professional advice on all topics here, please consult your doctor, lawyer, financial advisor, etc.