As a business owner, it’s hard running day-to-day operations and still have time left over to think about the what-ifs.
- What if I lose a key employee?
- What if a competitor sets up shop down the street?
- What if a global pandemic shuts down my business for an undetermined period of time?
If we’ve learned anything in the last few weeks, it’s that we must plan for the what-ifs.
“Our everyday operations have ceased; we are no longer able to run our normal class schedule,” said Marion Kish, co-owner of Raise the Bar Performance, a health and wellness facility in Connecticut. “Not being able to offer our normal services, membership fees will not be collected until we are back open. Our cash flow is certainly suffering from this pandemic.”
These are unprecedented times for business owners. There’s no “Running a Business During a Stay-at-Home Order for Dummies” at your local bookstore. In fact, your local bookstore owner is dealing with the same challenges as you. How does my business survive? And when it does, how do we come out the other side a smarter, stronger, and more prepared business than we were before?
Right now, the key is to keep things simple. Focus on the areas of your business that are necessary for its survival:
Being a strong leader starts with being a strong communicator. “Listen, then talk,” said Chuck Richards, chief executive officer of CoreValue, a business valuation software company in Vermont. “Then keep talking it through until you have agreed upon a road forward or can sleep at night knowing you’ve done all you can.”
Your ability to lead is crucial for the peace of mind of your suppliers, the trust of your customers, and the well-being of your employees. You may have been born to be an entrepreneur, and times like these can make you a great leader.
Your employees are your business’s most valuable asset. How do you take care of them when your business is closed, their hours are cut, or their working arrangements have drastically changed?
“I did not prepare at all,” said Charles Guck, a dentist located in Connecticut. “Not a lot of small businesses like mine, with five full-time and two part-time employees, keep a bucket of cash laying around to pay employees when business income goes to zero overnight.”
The CARES Act helps keep small businesses afloat by offering relief for businesses that keep their employees on the payroll, such as payroll-tax deferment, emergency grants, and business interruption loans to prevent layoffs. (Related: A primer on the CARES Act and how it can help small businesses)
“We have no way to pay employees to not work,” said Guck, in an email exchange. “We are relying on receivables now [to pay employees], hoping to get back to work by the time the receivables stream stops. We have reassured our employees that their jobs are secure and will resume when it’s safe.”
Business owners must be creative about how they generate cash in an environment where their normal business operations have been shut down. Think about how you can morph your existing business model into something that can continue to provide value to your customers and bring revenue into the business.
“To discourage membership cancellations, we have turned to allowing our members to sign out equipment and utilize video-based platforms for at-home workouts,” said Kish, in an email exchange. “We’re posting bodyweight workouts to our website and using the Zoom platform to give our members the opportunity to work out at home with coaches and other members they would normally see in class.”
Business owners have to closely monitor cash in and cash out. There is undoubtedly an imbalance right now and not monitoring your cash flow can be the difference between making it through the crisis or not.
A good place to start is by examining your payment terms, both with customers and with suppliers.
“The fastest way to find cash is by talking with your key customers and suppliers,” said Richards, in an email exchange. “With customers, make sure they will be paying on time and, if possible, ask if they might accelerate payments if given a better deal. With suppliers, see if you can get an extra 30 days to pay. Remember that banks, credit card companies, and landlords are also suppliers. Most are willing to work a deal.”
In addition to the federal stimulus package aimed at the COVID-19 crisis, there are a number of relief programs you can turn to, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program from the Small Business Administration. Local banks are being encouraged by the FDIC to work with customers to provide coronavirus crisis-related assistance. And the extension of the federal income tax filing and payment deadline should give some businesses some breathing room.
Staying proactive and understanding what state and federal programs are available is crucial.
“We have applied for one of the Small Business Administration’s economic disaster loans,” says Kish. “But once profit is again obtained, we will start putting cash toward unforeseen circumstances.”
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