The pandemic has been devastating to small businesses across the U.S. Main Street America reports that nearly 7.5 million small businesses are at risk of permanently closing their doors (3.5 million of which may do so within the next couple of months).
Small businesses that want to survive and have the financial ability to do so via PPP loans, their own resources, or other means must protect their brand to be able to reestablish themselves when stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Here are some aspects to consider:
Treat your employees well
How you treat your employees during the crisis says a lot about the company and you as the owner. While so many small businesses have been forced to lay off staff or curtail hours because revenue has dried up, others have found ways to keep their employees so they continue to receive a paycheck and, in many cases, their health coverage. Some small business owners have been paying their employees out of their personal savings.
Some other ways to keep your employees:
- Obtain a Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan. While the first round of financing dried up quickly (in part to loans by larger businesses that shouldn’t have applied and big banks giving priority acceptance to their bigger customers), there’s a second round now available, along with new restrictions on eligibility to help ensure that the loans go to the small businesses that need them.
- Make temporary across-the-board cuts. If you reduce hours (and compensation accordingly), this may be viewed as short-time compensation program. Your employees may be eligible for a pro rata portion of unemployment benefits (eligibility requirements vary from state to state and not all provide benefits for short-time compensation programs) once you, as the employer, applies for the program with your state (if available). Find more information from the U.S. Department of Labor (more states now have programs than are listed here) and your state labor department.
- Use tax breaks to carry employees. There are new rules designed to help employers retain their workers, including the employee retention credit and deferral for certain payroll taxes. Check the IRS’s landing page for Coronavirus Tax Relief for Businesses and Tax-Exempt Entities.
Communicate with your customers
Your loyal customers want you to be back to normal operations as much as you do. Make it clear what you are or are not doing during the crisis (e.g., restaurants that are providing curbside pickup for takeout meals should let customers know this). Make it easy for customers to ask you questions…by phone, email, botchat, or online methods (e.g., Zoom, Skype). With so many employees working from home, connecting a customer to an employee can be challenging, but make it happen.
Keep in touch with your customers through email, social media, and posts on your own website. Use your communications to:
- Keep up customers’ spirits. For example, create a light-hearted video related to your business.
- Teach something new. Post a blog or video explaining a “how-to.” Some large restaurant businesses are sharing their recipes.
- Provide helpful information. Circulate links that customers may find valuable to help them get through this crisis.
Interact positively with your community
To paraphrase President Kennedy, ask yourself what your business can do for your community, rather than what your community can do for you. There have been numerous media stories about some businesses doing great things…making masks, providing food, cutting prices, waiving fees. The list goes on for the actions you can take to make a difference in your area. The media coverage is free publicity for your business and helps to reinforce the value of your brand.
Be sure to avoid missteps, like those displayed by some larger firms that took advantage of the disaster—applying for loans that weren’t needed, overcharging for critical products, and doing mass layoffs of workers. The effort you put into maintaining your brand now and avoiding bad reactions from employees, customers, and the public in general will help you get back to being a profitable business as soon as possible.