Does Your Company Have a Business Continuity Plan?
A business continuity plan is essential in times of crisis and could mean the difference between corporate survival and failure. The international crisis surrounding the pandemic of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the new coronavirus – has thrown small business into a time of unprecedented uncertainty. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has called for a moratorium on gatherings of more than just a few people, which has effectively shut down many entire industries.
The most important thing to be doing for any business owner, regardless of the size and industry in which you operate, is to pay close attention to public health officials in your state and municipality. There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation for every business – a pizzeria in Oklahoma City will need to approach this crisis with a different plan than a salon in Chicago or a bike shop in Tuscaloosa.
But bearing that in mind, there are several key steps small business owners can take in areas like retail, hospitality, and professional services to help weather the storm.
1. Prioritize People
Regardless of your business or industry, your first priority should always be the health and safety of your staff members, your customers, and yourself. Bear that in mind as you work to build the best possible plan for moving forward in these uncertain times. Remember that every step you take as part of your business continuity plan is being taken to protect others or yourself.
Make sure every staff member knows the action plan sent out by national and state health authorities in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Employees should be strongly reminded to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds multiple times each day, disinfect any commonly-used surfaces and spaces, and to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19. Their decision-making can help slow the spread, and you should work to make sure they’re operating with the absolute maximum amount of information.
2. Do what you can
This isn’t possible in every industry or for every company. But if you’re at all able to continue your business operations during the COVID-19 outbreak, while still keeping all parties as safe as possible, that’s a great option for maintaining some cash flow.
These choices should be made business by business. If you run a bar and grill, you obviously won’t be able to have hundreds of people under your roof. But you could fill growlers or take-out food orders. In some states, like New York, you’ll even be able to sell to-go liquors and cocktails. For retail companies, you will likely need to move your operations entirely online. While the lack of a physical retail space will likely hurt business, a continued presence online can help keep cash flowing.
If your company deals with some sort of professional service, you may be able to move your operations entirely remote. Remote work will allow some companies to move forward with normal operations, while also allowing employees to continue their lives safely.
The fact of the matter is that some companies will need to be creative in how they keep every staff member productive. That could mean a temporary change in role, a new focus on a long-standing project, or a larger-scale pivot. And, to be frank, some companies simply won’t be able to do much at all, if anything. You’ll need to very objectively decide of which category you or your company fit into and make important choices.
3. Communication is more important than ever
This is true on every level. It’s important that you’re receiving communications from every level of government, from the United States and World Health Organization right down to your most local municipal authorities. It’s more important than ever to be in close contact with your staff. If your employees have never had to work from home before, you should be checking in fairly frequently to make sure they’re getting the support they need, both in terms of technology and oversight, but also in terms of a massive change in living situation. It can be very difficult to see your living area as a workspace, and you can be very helpful to your staff on that count.
But you should also be communicating openly with your customers. It’s become a sort of meme across social media that every single business you’ve ever spent money with has emailed in the last couple of weeks. But here’s the thing: they should be reaching out. While it won’t be possible for every company, you may be able to increase orders during this crisis if you’re able to effectively communicate.
You want your customers to know that you care about them and that their business is important to you, but you also need to communicate any change to your business functions if you hope to keep money coming in during this time of social distancing. You should absolutely send your email list a note letting them know if your goods or services are somehow going to be delivered differently or, if you know, how long your physical space will be closed.
And it’s okay not to have answers, and to let your customers and employees know that. This is a wholly unprecedented situation for everyone involved. You may have told your employees that you’ll be reopening on a certain date, but that may very well change based on the situation. Crisis-management decisions are being made by authorities at the highest levels.
4. Have a plan
It’s not enough to plan on returning to work on the date you were initially told by the authorities in your area. The fact of the matter is that the situation may very well change. We’re seeing that happen in real time. So while things have been unpredictable, you should do your best to have a plan for the likely scenarios, and you need to be willing and able to change those plans as the coronavirus pandemic changes.
If your local government originally said you’d be able to reopen in mid-April, you shouldn’t just plan on that. They may very well come back and add weeks or months to that prediction. Is your staff equipped for remote work for the long haul?
In addition, the government’s response to the crisis changes daily as they get more information. The resources available to you today may not be the same as the resources that’ll be available come Easter, or further out than that. Do your best to incorporate these frequent changes into your continuity planning, even though they’re very much unpredictable.
5. Get funding help when and where you can
Of course, the reality is that for many businesses, revenues are going to be drastically slashed. But keep looking to the government for opportunities to keep afloat. The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) has already unveiled a plan to offer low-interest loans to small businesses unable to raise capital elsewhere. The federal government has also already extended the deadline for tax payments, which will help many business owners keep more cash on hand in the present in order to keep the lights on and a roof over the head of as many staff members as possible.
Look to your local governments as well. The city of Los Angeles, for example, is offering short-term 0% interest microloans for eligible companies with income impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Similar loans are available in other cities, like New York, which also has an entire page of COVID-19 resources for business owners.
6. Help if you can
Not every business will be in a position to help in the response. But if you can find a way to pitch in, you should. There are small-scale distilleries now exclusively producing hand sanitizer, and manufacturing plants now focusing on the masks and gloves that healthcare providers need to treat the sick.
This is an unprecedented crisis for the people of the world, and for its businesses. Having a clear communication plan with your employees, mitigating potential risks to health, and using the financial resources available to you can all help get you, your staff, your customers, and your business to the other side of this crisis in the best possible shape.