Many businesses across the U.S. are still shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions, but some states and counties are starting to release guidelines for reopening. When and how you reopen your business depends on your location and industry, but you may want to consider to begin planning to ensure you’re complying with safety rules and adequately addressing customer concerns.
Eager to get back in business? Follow these seven steps to create a reopening plan.
1. Reevaluate business operations
Start by revisiting your business model to determine whether or not your current operation will be viable in a post-coronavirus world. Ask yourself these five questions:
What would it look like to reopen business under the current restrictions?
What will our staffing needs be going forward? Can employees work remotely?
Are we still able to get what we need from suppliers?
What do customers want right now? How can we deliver?
What’s possible for your business depends on your offerings, industry, location, cash flow, and customer demand. You may need to adjust your business model or rewrite your business plan to satisfy customers and comply with new regulations.
If you run a restaurant, for example, you may have to change your seating layout or open an express window for deliveries or pick-up orders. If you own a dental practice, you may be forced to eliminate the standard waiting room or cut down on the number of front-desk employees.
Reimagining the possibilities for your business is pivotal to creating a workable plan for reopening.
2. Prioritize health and safety
The health and safety of your employees and customers should be your number one goal when reopening. That starts with abiding by CDC guidelines and local regulations for sanitation and safety, said Ryan Reiffert, a business attorney and the owner of The Law Offices of Ryan Reiffert, a boutique business and corporate law firm in San Antonio, Texas. “If they mandate signs, put up signs; if they mandate face masks, wear face masks.” Ignoring these regulations can put your business at risk of legal trouble, he added.
However, it’s important to think of your state, county, and local rules as just the starting point for safety measures, Reiffert said; taking additional precautions — like installing plexiglass breathing barriers, using air purifiers, or rearranging your store or office layout to accommodate six feet of distance — is critical.
3. Create a training and communication plan for employees
Make sure your employees are up-to-date on new policies and regulations before reopening. Work with your HR director and business attorney to create a guide that details new safety and sanitation procedures, changes in job duties or customer service tactics, and updated policies around sick leave, healthcare, and working from home.
It’s important to set aside time to talk with employees prior to reopening, said Jessica Lambrecht, the founder of The Rise Journey, a company that advises businesses on organizational strategy. Make sure you go over new policies in detail, walk employees through workplace safety measures, and share protocol for reporting issues or discussing concerns, she added.
Communication should be ongoing. Consider establishing weekly online meetings, scheduling one-on-one meetings with managers, and planning for organization-wide email updates, Lambrecht said.
Maintaining a clear line of communication before and after your business reopens will help mitigate employee fears and keep operations running smoothly.
4. Figure out how to meet customers needs
The way you treat your customers can play a big role in your business’s success upon reopening. “Businesses need to focus on customer retention, and how to make their members feel comfortable again,” said Lucas Aylward, the CEO and owner of SkySoar Marketing.
Start by identifying your customers’ concerns, he suggested. Many people are worried about increased exposure to the virus once businesses reopen, while others are concerned about not having full access to the services and products they typically rely on.
“The goal with a retention plan is to identify ‘How are we going to retain our customers and keep them happy?’” said Aylward. Consider reaching out to your customers with a phone call, email survey, or social media post to gauge their worries and needs moving forward.
Say, for example, that your e-commerce team no longer has the manpower to prepare online orders in two business days. You could help customers feel comfortable with a longer shipping timeline by offering a discount on shipping above a certain dollar amount, including a bonus gift with each package, or simply using more compassionate language in your email updates.
Other smart retention steps include boosting your social media presence, creating blog posts or videos with valuable content, and finding ways to improve customer service, Aylward said.
5. Review your finances
Understanding your business’s finances can help you develop an effective reopening plan. “You simply can’t thrive in an economic downturn if you aren’t obsessive in your knowledge of your revenue, expenses, profit, and cash flow numbers,” said Wayne Richard, a partner and Director of Global Operations at Bean Ninjas, an online business bookkeeping service with Xero, a cloud accounting software provider.
Work with your accountant to update your financial plan with adjusted revenue goals and a new debt repayment timeline for the rest of 2020. In addition to reviewing your current cash flow and monthly expenses, consider compiling a list of reopening costs, including buying sanitation and safety supplies, increasing marketing efforts, and consulting a lawyer on potential coronavirus-related issues.
Next, create a few different cash flow forecasts, Richard said: one for the best-case scenario, one that’s more moderate, and one that represents the worst-case scenario. These forecasts can help you set sales targets and figure out where to cut costs.
“If you have numerous cash flow forecasts scenarios planned out, you’ll be able to make decisions based on logic and data instead of relying solely on intuition and emotion.”
6. Rethink your marketing plan
Marketing is more important than ever in the wake of the coronavirus, Aylward said. “Foot traffic will be dramatically decreased because of COVID-19, so paid traffic will need to make up for that.”
Consider how you can refine your marketing strategy to connect to past customers and attract new ones. You may need to be more active on social media, invest in strategic email nurture campaigns, partner with influencers or bloggers, or embrace content marketing.
Beyond increasing your distribution channels to reach a wider customer base, consider adjusting your messaging and communication methods, too. You may want to develop a communication plan that outlines your updated value proposition and brand tone, as well as details on how you’ll inform customers about your reopening and any changes to the business.
7. Prepare to adapt
Staying up-to-date on changing business regulations post-virus may be difficult, but it’s essential. “This is a moving target, and someone is going to have to do the work of staying informed, whether it’s you, your office manager, or your attorney,” said Reiffert.
Pay attention to the news, local and industry-wide announcements, and your customers’ attitudes. “Many cities have put up centralized web pages that have the most recent developments. Check that website on a weekly, if not daily, basis,” Reiffert said. Consider reaching out to your local chamber of commerce or the SBA for guidance and resources, he added.
The pandemic is an ever-shifting situation, so it’s a good idea to work with an attorney and accountant to create contingency plans in case of increased restrictions or future closures. “Be ready for potential walking-back of some of these reopening measures,” Reiffert said.
Now is also a good time to look to your fellow business owners for guidance and inspiration, Aylward said. “COVID-19 has thrown everyone for a loop, and we’re all learning along the way.”
Whether you’re able to reopen your business next week or next quarter, creating a plan can help you weather the difficult times and prepare for increased demand. If you need additional help, check out Fundbox’s COVID-19 resources guide and PPP application checklist.
Disclaimer: Fundbox and its affiliates do not provide financial, legal or accounting advice. This content has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for financial, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own financial, legal or accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.