Being a start-up or small business is always challenging, but it’s exponentially more difficult during a pandemic like COVID-19, which limits activities from sales meetings to interactions with customers. Meeting face-to-face is often essential to closing deals, and when your sales force is not able to get out, sales scan grind to a halt. Without networking opportunities and business happy hours, connections aren’t being made, and deals aren’t being struck. So how does a new company continue to grow? How do you generate customers in a virtual work world? How will you stay in business if there isn’t any money coming in? We’ve put together a few tips to help keep start-up businesses and small businesses afloat until the crisis is past.
Follow All Restrictions
While it may be tempting to try and stay open despite restrictions, but if you decide to bend the rules or circumvent them for the short term, you’ll suffer in the long run. First, your employees will resent you for ignoring their safety. Second, the public and your customers will question why you think your business is above the guidelines put in place. Being seen as putting money above the safety and health of others is never good PR.
Minimize travel, cancel attendance at conferences, and other non-essential interactions. You don’t want any liability problems, and low morale due to illness can have a profound impact on your employees. If you’re still open for business in any capacity, make sure your company follows strict hygiene protocols, including:
- No hand-shaking. A wave, bow, or nod of the head are alternatives.
- Ask everyone to avoid touching their faces.
- Make sure all employees are washing their hands every time they enter your office, store, or warehouse. They should also wash their hands after every interaction and any time they handle money, credit cards, or anything brought onto the premises.
- Regularly (several times a day if possible) disinfect surfaces, especially desks, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, handrails, cash registers, computers, tables, chairs, etc.
Create Remote Work Options and Cross-Train
Whenever possible, create options to retain employees and give them the chance to work from home. Sales phone calls and remote conferencing are two ways to stay in touch, and document sharing programs like Google Docs are a great way to share work safely. Also, look into the various online programs such as Slack, Workzone, Hive, Glip, and Jostle.
If you are still able to work on-site or in your offices, start cross-training your staff. As COVID-19 spreads, you may experience high absence rates. If you have employees who can perform a variety of tasks beyond their job descriptions, you will be able to stay in operation longer and more efficiently.
Focus on Existing Customers
While you shouldn’t give up entirely on getting new customers, now is the time to focus on your current clientele. Giving them some extra love will show your appreciation and engender loyalty. They are going through the same stress and uncertainty, and a reminder from you of how important they are as clients will be welcome. A few things you can do include:
- Offer free shipping during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Update your company website to address how your small business or start-up is dealing with questions of health and safety.
- E-mailing current customers to see if there is anything you can provide that they may need. Offer a discount during the crisis.
- A weekly update about how your business is coping with the Coronavirus will reassure your current customers they haven’t been forgotten. They’ll remember you even when the crisis is past and tell others about how well you handled the situation.
Find New Sales Avenues
If you haven’t already taken advantage of online sales opportunities, now is the time to look into ways to create virtual sales. Have your salespeople explore social media options like Facebook, Etsy, eBay, Shopify, and more. If you don’t already have a presence on Twitter or Facebook, now is the time to get started. These are platforms your salesforce can work on implementing while they can’t meet with potential customers face-to-face. You may be able to create a whole new revenue stream.
If face-to-face interaction is essential, create online videos, including product demonstrations, sales pitches, and more. After the pandemic, these can be additional weapons in your sales arsenal. Posting the information on your company website and linking it to platforms like LinkedIn will help.
Look at Your Supply Chain
For many businesses, the supply chain is critical. If your regular equipment, supplies, or ingredient suppliers are placed under a ban or diverted to more crucial work during the Coronavirus outbreak, it can keep you from doing the job you are still capable of performing. Look into alternative suppliers and shipping methods so you can continue with whatever work you can still do. Keep in mind that some goods or services may temporarily be unavailable. If this will impact customers, make sure you keep them informed, apologize, and give them a new timeline.
Take Advantage of Resources Offered by Professional Organizations
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration, and other professional organizations are offering tools to help start-ups and small businesses cope with the impact of COVID-19. Be sure to check with any professional associations you belong to in order to see what assistance they can offer.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a page of Chamber resources that can help. The Small Business Administration recently announced a variety of SBA resources, including the availability of low-interest, small business loans, and paycheck protection programs to help you help your employees.
Be Kind to Employees
The knee-jerk reaction for some business start-ups is to shutter their companies and cut their losses. If it’s at all possible, do the opposite. While following any recommended guidelines. You don’t want to bankrupt yourself, but if you can stay afloat on a shoestring budget, you’ll have incredibly loyal employees when you come out on the other side. Ways to keep your employees on during this time can include:
- If you can afford it, use any profits or your own paycheck to pay employees.
- Shift from full-time to part-time wherever possible rather than full lay-offs.
- Institute flexible sick leave policies.
- Ask for employee input about ways to cut corners while keeping the company going. You may be pleasantly surprised by the excellent feedback you’ll get.
- Relax sales quotas temporarily.
- Consider bringing in an expert on remote sales to do a webinar for your employees (and yourself) to motivate them and give them new ways to move forward.