By Kalin Kassabov, a founder and CEO of ProTexting.com, a fast-growing enterprise-level text message suite of services.
2020 and early 2021 were extremely challenging for small businesses. Unfortunately, many businesses closed down permanently because they couldn’t afford to wait out the pandemic. Many others had to drastically alter the way they operated. Many restaurants, for example, discontinued indoor dining and focused on pickups and deliveries.
Thankfully, life is gradually returning to some semblance of normality. People are getting vaccinated, Covid-19 infection rates are dropping in many places and many restrictions are being lifted. This, of course, will vary, depending on where you’re located. The following are some general tips to keep in mind as you reopen your business or return to a more typical way of operating.
Take Care of Your Employees
Safeguard the well-being of your workers at all times.
• Keep employees informed of the latest policies and guidelines, including policies on masks, social distancing, vaccines, etc.
• Make sure your business is set up to accommodate social distancing.
• Workers should promptly report any symptoms and not come to work if they are ill.
• Stagger shifts so your workplace isn’t overcrowded.
• Use video conferencing for meetings.
Rethink Your Staffing Policies
In 2020, many businesses were forced to either lay off workers or have them work remotely. Even businesses that remained opened often had to cut back, not only for social distancing but due to fewer customers and lower revenue. As you prepare to reopen, it may not be practical to return to your pre-pandemic operating model.
• Consider operating with a smaller staff until the economy picks up and there’s more evidence that the pandemic is declining.
• If your staffing needs are uncertain, staffing firms can help supply you with part-time and temporary workers.
• Match your staffing to seasonal needs. For example, you may need more staff during the summer or the holidays.
• When possible, continue allowing employees to work remotely.
Make Customers Feel Safe
Even as everything opens up, not everyone feels comfortable going out in public. Some people are more at risk than others. Giving customers as many options as possible will help everyone feel safer.
• Maintain the highest standards of cleanliness.
• Keep your customers informed on your latest hours and policies.
• Communicate with customers on as many channels as possible, online and offline. Post signs, update your website and communicate via social media. Don’t forget to update your Google listings.
• Offer flexible services, such as curbside pickup and delivery.
• Consider new technologies that promote safety. For example, many restaurants now offer contactless ordering.
Double Down On Customer Engagement
It’s more important than ever to connect with your customers.
• Stay active on social media. Offer customer support on at least one channel that’s popular with your customers, such as Facebook or Twitter.
• Start or upscale your email marketing. Publishing a newsletter helps you stay fresh in people’s minds and lets you link to your website.
• Try text-message marketing. SMS or text messaging is a great way to boost engagement and let your customers know about your latest offers.
Update How And What You Sell
During the pandemic, many businesses, out of necessity, began adding or changing their offerings. This includes:
• E-commerce. Selling physical products from an online store. Even if your physical location is open, there’s no reason you can’t sell online, as well.
• Teaching, coaching and consulting. If you’re an expert in your field, you can offer online courses, coaching or consulting via Zoom, Skype or webinars. This can complement your other business models.
• Again, consider offering flexible options, such as delivery and curbside pickup. Even if you aren’t strictly required to offer these services, many customers find it safer or simply more convenient to have access to these options.
To keep your business running, you need adequate cash flow. This can be a challenge if you were closed for months or lost a great deal of revenue. There are a variety of options for small business funding. Some of these have been around for years, while others were introduced in 2020. Check out offerings from the Small Business Administration, such as:
• Low-interest disaster recovery loans.
• Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help you continue making payroll.
• Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help restaurants reopen.
• SBA debt relief.
Don’t overlook other possible sources of funding, such as bank loans, invoice factoring and crowdfunding. The latter can work especially well for popular local businesses with loyal customers.
Be Flexible And Adaptable
As you prepare to reopen or return to a more normal mode of operating, be sure to keep the needs of your employees and customers in mind. Stay informed on the latest CDC policies and recommendations. Be willing to consider new and flexible policies. Everyone is going to have to gradually adjust to reopening, and you want to make it as convenient and painless for everyone as possible.