The immediate impacts of COVID-19 are being felt by businesses across British Columbia. During this time, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed and it’s OK to feel anxious. It’s even normal to feel completely unprepared. This situation is unprecedented and you aren’t alone.
As entrepreneurs try to figure out their own unique path forward, we’ve been hearing more and more stories of how individual businesses are managing their way through this crisis, with some, like this Victoria-based distillery, pivoting to producing hand sanitizer. We wanted to provide some practical ideas and inspiration to help you manage your business in this uniquely challenging time.
Right now, we know that government supports are coming to help business owners. We also know additional funding will be available through traditional lenders launching new financing options. What we don’t know is the specifics, or how people will qualify for this support. That doesn’t mean you can’t prepare in advance. Start by creating a spreadsheet that documents your fixed and variable expenses, how many cancelled orders you’ve seen (and the dollar amount), insurance responses and the costs associated with your lease. You may be asked to provide these details, and this level of specificity will help the government refine who needs support and how it can best be deployed.
Accessing Financial Help
There are likely bills that will need to be paid in the near future and some uncertainty on how they will be paid. Know that help is on the way. The Government of Canada has announced an Economic Response Plan with up to $27 billion in direct support for Canadian workers and businesses. Details on how this funding is to be dispersed will be available in the coming days. BDC has announced a range of low interest loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19, while organizations like Facebook have set up a small business grants program to assist. As more of these programs come online, we will keep you informed.
Speak to Service Providers
Speak to your service providers/landlords if payments are upcoming. They are keenly aware of the situation and there will likely be room for flexibility in payment terms. In some instances, this is already happening:
- In recent days, the Canadian Government has announced all taxpayers can defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after mid-March and before September 2020.
- The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is also permitting lenders to allow payment deferral beginning immediately.
- BC Hydro has also announced measures to help those struggling to meet their utility bills.
How to Help Employees
Business owners understand their best asset is their team. While business is down, there are several things that can be done to keep them engaged and busy. With COVID-19 causing business owners to take on extra admin work, consider empowering your team to take on tasks you’d usually perform yourself. Not only will this help you focus on the bigger picture, it’s also an opportunity for employees to up skill and grow their knowledge base. Consider other options like sharing jobs across departments to reduce lead time and increase responsiveness. Work with employees to change the scope of their roles to respond to this unique challenge.
Work sharing offers another option if a reduction in hours for staff proves unavoidable. The Canadian government has announced additional supports for employers thinking of introducing a work sharing program. When all other options are exhausted, and layoffs become unavoidable, know your rights as an employer for how this should be handled.
Pivoting to Service the COVID Economy
Unless you produce hand sanitizer, or work for an online video game company, you’re likely dealing with reduced business. Customers are at home socially isolating but still have money to spend. They will also want to keep supporting their favourite businesses. Pivoting to service this “COVID Economy” will provide a path forward for many small businesses. We already see this happening across British Columbia, with restaurants switching to a delivery model (often with contactless delivery), and an increase in businesses offering gift cards to customers. If there’s a secondary aspect to your business, such as merchandise, place it to the forefront so customers can support you. At Small Business BC, we’re putting this into practice right now as we pivot our services to be delivered online. It’s a learning curve for all of us, and we’re all learning together.
Focus on Your Customers Online
Your most important stakeholders are your customers. During this time, their focus is online. This needs your attention in several ways. First, ensure you’re communicating clearly any service changes you are making, or increased product offerings you have. This service announcement should be positioned in a prominent place on your homepage. Next, figure out ways to transition more of your business online. Utilize social media to keep in regular contact with your audience, engage them in conversation (check in and ask how people are doing) and utilize platforms like Mail Chimp to send larger updates to your mailing list. Know that your audience are likely receiving a LOT of COVID-19 updates right now, so consider offering incentives and staying positive. Show support to your community (many of whom are dealing with these same issues) and use the personality of your brand to relate to how your audience is feeling.
Contingency Planning: The Time is Now
There’s a reluctance among many of us to think of the worst-case scenario. Maybe we think we risk speaking it into existence, maybe we just don’t want to face up to it. Entrepreneurs are advised to ask themselves this question: Could your business survive if you were to become sick? Small Business BC, and the Province of British Columbia, have jointly created a Business Continuity Checklist for the COVID-19 Pandemic. Download it, consider the points it raises, and make a plan for your business. There’s still time to put your business on a solid footing.
Join Our Digital Meetup
At Small Business BC, we believe this is a time, more than ever, for small businesses to come together to help each other overcome challenges and find solutions. To help facilitate this, SBBC is pleased to share with our community our new Digital Meetup Series, a community video call for small biz during COVID-19. Each business day, we will be hosting a Digital Meetup focused around one pressing issue re:COVID-19: from how to generate revenue, to employment law, all specific to small businesses.
Our guest speakers will include small business owners and industry experts – with a large component focused on Q&A and knowledge sharing among those in the call. This is new to us, so we will learn as we go, but we want to provide a forum for our community during these difficult times. We will have further details on the meetup series in the coming days.