As a small-business owner, considering how to handle a crisis like Coronavirus probably hasn’t been the first thing on your to-do list up until now (unless you run a disaster preparation company, of course). However, the virus, the symptoms of which mimic the flu and include fever, cough and shortness of breath, has arrived in the U.S. As an employer and member of your community, you’ll want to be prepared. You’ll also want to communicate your plan to your customers and clients.
The CDC has emphasized hand washing (for at least 20 seconds with soap and water) and to avoid touching your face, as sound strategies for not getting sick, and the good news is, these are virtually free ways to protect yourself, your employees, and your customers. You should also stock up on hand soap and hand sanitizer for your office or shop. Face masks can help if you know someone has been infected, but won’t do much to protect you from getting sick while you go about your day-to-day activities, so you’ll probably want to save the masks for health-care professionals.
The latest advice also recommends a practice known as “social distancing,” which means avoiding large crowds and putting some distance between yourself and others. This is why many organizations and companies have cancelled large events in recent days, including SXSW in Austin, TX and NBA games for the remainder of the NBA season.
Offices are putting social distancing practices into place by allowing employees to work for home if they can, and staggering work hours so fewer people are in contact with each other when they are in the office. To support WFH (work from home) employees, double check your technology and consider alternative solutions, like Zoom, so that workers can meet virtually for as long as necessary.
If you have a small office, shop, or service business where you and your employees are in contact with customers on a regular basis, make sure employees know that if they suspect they might be ill, they should stay home. The risk of making another employee sick and taking out the whole business isn’t worth the risk.
You should also increase cleaning and disinfecting practices to optimize the health conditions of your place of business. Teaching your staff to sanitize surfaces and wash their hands frequently, in addition to providing proper cleaning services when your business is closed, will help reduce the opportunity of infection at work.
When you are engaging in practices like the above, make sure your customers are aware that you’re taking responsible steps.
Send an email out, post a sign, and in general let your customers know you’re taking precautions to protect your employees and customers from getting sick. It can go a long way to instilling confidence in your business and brand.
The same goes if you run a business or service that involves you or members of your team visiting someone else’s home or business, like a small contracting company. If your client knows your business is caring for it’s employees they’ll trust that you are also taking care of them.
If your business regularly imports supplies or goods from a place that has been impacted by Coronavirus already, including Italy and China, now is the time to start seeking out alternatives so your supply chain isn’t interrupted. And who knows, maybe you’ll end up with a great new supplier you wouldn’t have worked with before.
Now is also a good time to check in with your insurance company to find out what small business losses are covered and for what reasons. For example, if you run a restaurant and you’re dealing with food spoilage due to a loss of customers, you may be able to file a claim against the loss.
You may also consider offering and promoting gift certificates for your services and products so customers may still support your business even if it means they are not using your services and products in person right now.
Between social media rumors and recent financial news, it can be easy to overreact. But if everyone collectively follows the guidance offered by the British government in the midst of WWII to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” the United States, and your business, can weather this crisis relatively unscathed.