How Service Businesses Can Function During COVID-19

Plumber on phone during coronavirus

Many service businesses are struggling to remain operational during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders or public recommendations to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This article shares tips on how to help keep customers satisfied, employees safe, and cash flowing, even during a lockdown. In states without official lockdowns, most have cities and counties encouraging their citizens to self-isolate. As a service business still trying to operate, your “new normal” probably includes figuring out how to keep customers satisfied, employees safe, and cash flowing.

Essential vs Nonessential Services

Although the federal government is pretty much leaving it up to state and local governments about which are essential and nonessential businesses, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued guidance on which businesses and which workers are considered essential to our country’s infrastructure.

While recreational businesses are considered nonessential and anything to do with medical care, food production, utilities and communication are definitely deemed essential, there are some gray areas when it comes to service businesses. Officially, the DHS explains the advisory list of essential workers as:

“…workers who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability, including staffing operations centers, maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure, operating call centers, working construction, and performing operational functions, among others. It also includes workers who support crucial supply chains and enable functions for critical infrastructure. The industries they support represent, but are not limited to, medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works.”

So, plumbers, yes and dog care services, no? Not necessarily. Again, you need to turn to your local government for clarification. While some states specifically name veterinary offices and pet supply stores only as essential, other states are more vague, stating “pet supply and services” are essential and therefore exempt from closing. Nonetheless, your service business’s customers will continue to need what you provide. Your first challenge is to understand whether or not your business falls under the definition of “essential service” which varies from state to state. Then, IF your business qualifies as essential, your next challenge will be to figure out how to conduct business and deliver your product or service to the public without risking their health—and the health of your employees.

Safety All Around

Never is transparency and communication more important to a business than during a crisis. If you as a business owner are confused about critical safety measures (e.g. mask or no mask?), then you know your employees and customers are, too. What’s going to make the difference is clearly communicating your policies and procedures for keeping everyone safe from infection.

If you haven’t already changed your website’s homepage to acknowledge the crisis, that’s  a good place to start. =Consider including:

  • Any scheduling modifications, such as delayed response times or shortened hours.
  • Best way to connect with you if your office is closed
  • What procedures you have in place for safety such as having employees masked and gloved, sanitizing tools, or whatever you are doing.
  • If you are still sending employees out to complete services, you can ask customers to please notify you if there has been any sickness in their homes or offices.

Also, be sure and keep in constant communication with employees about their home situations, their self-sanitizing methods and any fears they have about contracting the virus. You may need to get creative and allow more flexibility with schedules as the virus continues to spread and inhibit people’s lives.

Go Virtual

Stay-at-home orders don’t have to be as detrimental as they once would have been—especially for service businesses. With the right technology and cybersecurity measures in place, you and employees could make the move to a home office without skipping a beat. Graphic designers, web services, accounting services, consultants and more probably already offer remote working options to employees, so set up is a no-brainer. For businesses yet to jump on the virtual train, the transition isn’t as painful as you might think. Investing in a good project management program helps, so everyone stays current on project progression. Also, helpful is to schedule regular virtual meetings over video conferencing apps such as Skype or Zoom.

You might find your staff already has the technology in place to make remote working a possibility. For those who don’t, allowing staff to take workstations home temporarily isn’t a big deal, as long as you both understand how to lower the security risks.

Employees will most likely need access to your company’s virtual private network (VPN), which is where the risks occur. Before allowing anyone access, Consider establishing remote security policies employees are required to follow. Of course, guidelines depend on the sensitivity of your company’s information. The following may provide some basic tips:

  • Hardware and software anti-malware, firewalls, and antivirus programs
  • Encryption policies
  • Access privileges and authentication
  • Connectivity guidelines
  • Password protocols
  • Acceptable use policies

Help With Payroll

If you’re like most small businesses right now, you might be facing the challenge to keep employees on the payroll during the crisis. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act have made approximately $600 billion in funds available to small businesses. The Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan offers businesses a 1% loan that can potentially turn into a grant if spent on payroll (75%) and approved business overhead expenses (25%). While PPP applications are no longer being accepted, legislation is pending that could reopen the program.

To help clarify and keep you updated on the latest information relevant to your business, check Fundbox’s Coronavirus/COVID-19 Updates and Resources for Small Businesses.

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