As small businesses across the country begin to rebuild, it’s important to remember that reopening your business isn’t a single event. Reopening is an ongoing process that will continue, with reclosures possible (as we’ve already seen) until there’s a vaccine. Owners must account for shifting legal requirements from states and municipalities as well as employee and customer concerns — all while working toward making a profit.
Focusing on these four areas can help keep your reopening on track and help you transition more seamlessly to long-term rebuilding and “business as usual.”
Monitor the situation
COVID-19 is a moving target, so many state and local governments have tied reopenings to public health metrics. That means new concerns about public health may lead to more closures or changed rules in the future.
Use these resources and any others in your area to check your location and monitor what’s happening in areas nearby. Watch areas that reopened ahead of you for ideas to try or things to avoid.
Action: Look up which data your state, county and city officials are tracking (for example, the number of new cases) and monitor it. This can help you stay ahead of potential changes in policy.
Take care of your employees
With local rules and regulations changing, it can be hard to know the best way to take care of your employees from week to week. Federal safety standards can provide an umbrella guide to help you with long-term planning as you keep track of state, county, and city updates.
When it comes to keeping your physical workplace safe, check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to see current best practices for your industry. For less obvious but equally important concerns, like what kind of questions you can legally ask if an employee calls in sick, check out the pandemic response guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
It’s also important to read up on new laws regarding paid sick leave and how they apply to small business owners. Employees who are covered by the law and unable to work because of COVID-19 are entitled to 80 hours paid sick leave, with additional provisions around time off to care for others.
Support your customers
For consumer-facing businesses to reopen successfully, they must address one major hurdle: Getting customers to come back. To do this, owners must stay up to date on how concerned customers are about COVID-19.
Consider Georgia, which was on the frontlines of reopening during the crisis. When, after months of operating at half-capacity, restaurants began operating as usual, a major concern was: Will customers feel comfortable returning?
This concern isn’t unique to Georgia. As Americans deal with lingering fears about regularly going out in public, business owners may need to work harder to get them to come back — and keep coming back.
Start by outlining what measures your company is taking to keep customers safe, keeping in mind that people outside of your industry may not know what rules are in place. You can also emphasize steps you are taking that go above and beyond the rules. Be sure to update these notices regularly to reflect changes in best practices or new customer concerns.
Action: Get in front of potential questions, leading with empathy. Think about what concerns you’d have as a new customer and prepare answers. Share those responses with your employees.
Watch your bottom line
Additional rules and regulations governing business can create situations where owners and employees are working more hours for less money. Not to mention the added expense of personal protective equipment and other safety-related supplies. One Georgia barbershop owner, thrilled to reopen in May, told NPR: “It’s the hardest we’ve ever worked for two haircuts an hour.”
It’s important to evaluate whether your reopened business is operating sustainably. Every few weeks, check your finances and assess whether reopened conditions are sustainable:
- Are you still making money?
- If not, can you reasonably make changes that will help you turn a profit, like temporarily raising prices, adjusting your staffing or taking a pay cut?
- If you’re losing money, do you think the losses will be temporary? How long can you operate at a loss?
Don’t expect to be profitable immediately. But if your finances remain strained for a significant period, you may need to think through bigger changes to your business.
Reopening won’t happen in a single day, and it won’t necessarily take a straight path forward. Keep on top of big picture developments so you can stay two steps ahead and analyze what’s working so you can adjust as you go.