States across the U.S. are slowly starting to lift lockdowns. If you’re a small business owner, you may be somewhat anxious to reopen your business and get revenue flowing again. That’s backed up by a recent survey of our own OnDeck customers, 50% of which thought that lifting lockdown restrictions were the right decision, but 59% said in order to make that happen, they were planning to put into place stringent hygiene and social distancing measures until they felt more confident that coronavirus is under control.
If you’re working towards reopening your business as lockdown restrictions are lifted, here are some tips on how to make your business reopening go as smoothly as possible. (note: businesses should always follow guidelines from the CDC, federal government, and their state government regarding specific hygiene protocols and reopening measures).
*This article has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for health, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own health professionals or tax, legal and accounting advisors before implementing any business changes.
Put a plan in place to keep employees safe
Before you can open back up for business, you will need to have protocols in place to keep your employees safe and healthy. Many of your employees may be reluctant to return to work unless they feel adequately protected at work.
For a start, you’ll want to rethink your “business as usual” cleaning schedule and practices. You will need to clean workspaces far more frequently, paying close attention to “high touch” areas such as the employee break room, checkout counter, bathrooms, and doors. Check out the CDC’s guide to recommended cleaning and disinfecting protocols for public spaces.
Beyond regular cleaning, you should also make sure you have plenty of personal protective equipment (PPE) on hand to protect your employees. Businesses outside the healthcare field are discouraged from purchasing surgical masks – however, there are various companies making cloth face coverings that can be a serviceable alternative.
Next, consider implementing regular wellness checks with your employees. Many businesses are doing temperature scans and sending regular “wellness questionnaires” to their employees to ensure that only those that feel 100% healthy are coming in to work.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s quite likely that your employees who were feeling sick might still come to the office, in order to avoid missing work. To discourage that in our new normal, you might want to consider making your company sick leave policy more flexible. This may include relaxing limits on annual sick days or implementing paid sick leave for your part-time or hourly workers. If possible for your business, encourage employees to work remotely if they feel even slightly under the weather. You should also communicate frequently with your employees about the importance of staying home if they’re not feeling well, even if their symptoms seem mild.
To put these changes into place, prepare a series of employee trainings covering these topics. You should also put contingency plans into place – and share them with your employees – on what next steps are if an employee becomes infected with coronavirus or comes into close contact with someone who is infected. These plans should include guidance on how to report a potential exposure to the virus, alerting other employees who may need to quarantine and what criteria must be met for employees to come back to work.
Put a plan in place to keep your customers safe
If you take the above steps to protect your employees, you’re already making progress on protecting your customers. However, if your business depends on high foot traffic from customers, you may need to go beyond PPE and stringent cleaning to make your location safe for visitors.
First, review your local, state, and federal guidelines on new capacity limits for your business location – in many places, these are now capped at below 50% of your normal capacity. Depending on your state’s guidance, you may also decide to go above and beyond to ensure social distancing in your location.
Based upon your new location capacity, you will likely have to rearrange your physical location. This can include setting up one-way only aisles in your stores, as many grocery stores have done, removing half of your restaurant tables, and marking spots 6 feet apart in checkout lines to avoid crowding. You may also want to install plastic guards at checkout areas or between restaurant tables to minimize contact between your customers and employees. To ensure customers are following your guidelines, you may want to consider dedicating one staff member to monitoring capacity in your location.
Similar to the PPE requirements for your employees, you may also want to consider requiring your customers to wear a mask or face covering while in your location. In many states, this may actually be required by law. If budget allows, you could even offer masks to your customers. You may also want to request that customers avoid visiting your location if they are experiencing any symptoms.
Communicate with your customers regularly about reopening and other changes
Your business has likely changed drastically in the last 6 weeks to adapt to the new normal. Communicate with your customers regularly to reassure them that you are still open for business, as well as share with them new your health and safety protocols. If you have an email marketing platform in place, you may want to consider starting a weekly email to customers highlighting any changes in your business. If you do not, check out our guide to setting up an email marketing program. If you have social media pages set up for your business, you can share this information to your followers there too.
You can use these regular communications with your customers to remind them of any services or products you’re offering as well. For example, if you put into place delivery, pickup, or virtual services during lockdowns, remind your customers of these options.
Keep investing in your virtual, delivery, and pickup services even after your business reopens
If you pivoted to offering products and services via pickup, delivery, or video/text/etc., considering keeping these services in place as your physical business reopens. Business may continue to be slow for some time as you operate at a reduced capacity. Additionally, many of your customers may be reluctant to get back to their usual habits until they feel the outbreak is more controlled. Continuing to offer pickup or delivery services can give you a second stream of revenue to rely upon while your “brick and mortar” revenue recovers.
Additionally, encouraging your customers to continue to use these contactless services can help keep your staff safer, as well as your customers. These services will also allow you to continue serving your customers in high-risk groups who are still limiting social contact.
Rethink your products and business model long term
Unfortunately, the impact from COVID-19 will be felt by small businesses for the foreseeable future. To ensure your business survives, you’ll need to consider long term changes to adapt. This can mean investing even more on your virtual, pickup and delivery services to make that a larger part of your business. Or, if you haven’t invested much in your digital presence – like your website and social media pages – now is the time to ramp up in this area. You may want to consider implementing an e-commerce platform on your website to make it even easier for customers to purchase from you online.
Beyond just investing in different business services, you may want to expand or change your product offerings. For example, if you’re a restaurant that started offering meal kits or family style meals during lockdown, you could add these on as permanent offerings. Even when lockdowns and social distancing requirements are relaxed, many of your customers have likely formed new habits that may become permanent. Some of these changes can help your business adapt.
OnDeck is here to support small businesses – check out our COVID-19 Resource Hub for more helpful information for small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
*This article has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, health, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own health professionals or tax, legal and accounting advisors before implementing any business changes.