The 2020 COVID-19 outbreak has kicked off an unexpected chain of disruptions to our lives, our businesses and our economy.
There’s no perfect roadmap for businesses trying to navigate the months ahead, but there are ways to help cope through the uncertainty. We pulled in Anne Richie and Heather Hall, two of our highly experienced business advisors, to share four pieces of advice they are giving their clients right now.
1. Triage Your Finances Immediately
Everyone responds differently to shock and uncertainty, but the first step in dealing with any problem is to move your brain out of panic mode and into evaluation mode.
“Taking stock of your financial situation is job one,” said Richie. “Businesses have to make very hard decisions during times like these. The sooner you move from reacting to the bad news to proactively planning how to respond to your personal situation and to your clients, the better off you’ll be.”
Richie recommends immediately updating your weekly (or even daily) cash flow projections as well as your longer-term financial forecasts to help chart a rational path for the next 6-12 months. Evaluate each line item on your income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statements in response to what you expect might happen. At the same time, it’s important to stay current on all federal, state and local government actions—especially when they pertain to you and your employees.
“No one wants hardship for their employees,” she said. “That’s why it’s important for you to know exactly how your decisions will impact them so you can communicate clearly. Paid sick leave, payroll tax policies, unemployment insurance rules—these are all variables you’ll need to balance with your own financial projections as you plan the best path forward.
2. Be a Leader: Build Trust with Your Customers
Hall offers a real-world example of leadership from one of her clients, Komae. This successful sit-swapping app is literally built to bring people closer together, putting them in a real bind in this time of social distancing.
Komae responded by doing what is in their nature—focusing on helping families. They discouraged use of their app for anyone who has other childcare options while opening up use of their platform via free credits for those who need to use the app to find childcare in order to continue working.
“It’s a case where the right thing for your business is also just the right thing to do,” said Hall. “They are being open and honest with their customers and doing whatever they can to make things easier for the ones who have it hardest right now, including healthcare workers and first-responders. Over time, the trust you build with decisions like this will outweigh any short-term scrambling for profit.”
“Good business people are leaders—in their industries and in their communities,” added Richie. “So, when in doubt, ask yourself what you can do as a leader right now to make life better for the people around you. Do this and the other pieces will often start falling into place.”
3. Embrace the Virtual: Tend to Your Online Brand
“People crave connection in times like these,” said Hall. “When they can’t be face to face, they will spend more time online, searching the web, using apps, interacting via social media, etc.”
Maybe now isn’t the time for a brand-new website, but you can still scrub your existing site to make sure everything is up to date and free of typos (you’d be surprised). Likewise, your social media doesn’t have to be cutting edge—just giving your customers a chance to interact with you can pay dividends down the line.
For companies truly dependent on large-scale face-to-face interaction, the need to think creatively about your virtual brand is even more critical.
“I work with clients who generate much of their business at trade shows,” said Richie. “So, why not reach out to the trade association and suggest taking the show virtual? Or, set up your own online resources to give your customers a virtual version of your booth. When such a big chunk of your business is on the line, it’s time to think big.”
4. Step Back: If You Can’t Be In Your Business, Work On Your Business
It’s hard to be philosophical in the midst of challenging times, but when you look back you may find this was one of your few opportunities to step back and take a global look at your business.
“Remember, today’s vision, research and planning can become tomorrow’s growth tactics once uncertainty passes,” said Hall. “And it will pass eventually. In the meantime, once you’ve run triage on your finances step back and take a look at your operation from outside in rather than inside out. You’ll probably see something you hadn’t seen before.”