When COVID-19 hit, nearly half of small businesses had to furlough or lay off staff members. But as the economy reopens and businesses rebuild, you may be ready to hire or rehire. Deciding how to staff your business may be heavily influenced by the ongoing crisis, even as you rebuild for the future. These four steps can guide you through the hiring process.

1. Determine your current needs

First, examine whether your business model shifted due to COVID-19. If so, your staffing needs may be different. For example, if you are now offering remote services or doing more of your business online, you may need a more robust tech team. This could mean rethinking the roles in your business and coming up with new job descriptions.

 

Action tip: Make a list of the tasks you find yourself putting off or that you or a team member don’t feel comfortable doing. This can help you pinpoint the skills you’re looking for, which can in turn help you build a detailed job description that can help you fill the role.

 

2. Consider the pros and cons of rehiring any laid-off workers

Since small businesses can feel like family, you may be tempted to rehire anyone you let go. However, whether you rehire workers may depend on whether your current needs have changed (step one). If you still need your former employees’ skills, rehiring them can offer big benefits, like a shorter learning curve and loyalty to your business.

However, if you’re hoping to rehire former employees to reduce paperwork, be aware that you may need to file the same tax forms and other paperwork that you would with a new hire.

Plus, some furloughed workers may not want to come back — whether over safety concerns (especially for in-person work) or because they found work elsewhere. They may also be less willing to adapt or pivot their roles to reflect any changes you’ve made to your business while they were let go.

 

Action tip: Resist the temptation to reach out to previous employees informally. Instead, document any attempt to rehire former employees in writing, including details about the terms. If Congress passes new aid packages or updates the rules governing the forgiveness of loans backed by the Small Business Administration (like the Paycheck Protection Program), this documentation may be helpful.

 

3. Plan your hiring process

When it comes to searching for talent, you may want to think outside the box. If, after the first two steps, you’re still not sure exactly what type of role or employee is best suited to help you rebuild, you might want to hire a worker for a contracted period of time. Or you might hire two part-time roles instead of one full-time employee. Just be sure to check the guidelines around hiring contract workers versus full-time employees in your area.

Once you’ve come up with a clear role and job description, your search for talent begins. This recruitment process may look quite different than it did pre-COVID-19.

Even if your business operates in-person, you may have more success finding job candidates if you offer a virtual interview option. Consider what remote interviewing looks like for your company. You might offer remote and in-person options, for instance.

If you’re a remote team or want to be extra cautious, create a strategy for remote onboarding as well. Creating a robust digital onboarding process could go a long way in helping new staff feel welcome.

 

Action tip: Make sure you have technology in place to handle (potentially remote) interviews and onboarding, such as a user-friendly digital calendar for appointments, video-conferencing software for interviews, and secure file sharing for important documents.

 

4. Prepare to answer COVID-related questions

In addition to standard questions around compensation and benefits, potential hires may ask you about your response to COVID-19. Think about how you’ll answer questions around safety precautions, sick-day policies, health insurance, and remote work.

Candidates may also ask whether a role has room for growth or if it’s temporary and rooted in COVID-19-specific changes to your business. They may also be curious to know how you would handle their role if COVID-19 upticks again or if your business faces any new forms of uncertainty.

 

Action tip: Make a list of the toughest questions you might get and how you want to respond. Share the list with your team and get their input. This has dual benefits: It reduces the chance you’ll be caught off guard and helps get your team on the same page.

 

While the COVID-19 crisis has presented clear and unprecedented challenges, a growing number of small businesses are optimistic about the future and ready to bring on new staff members. Making smart choices about staffing can help you navigate this crisis, fortify any changes you’ve made to your business strategy, and be prepared for a changing small business landscape.

Sources: Harvard Business Review, McKinsey & Company, Embroker, Monster, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Society for Human Resource Management

Being a small business owner can come with higher-than-average levels of stress. That was especially true in 2020. Navigating your business through this type of uncertainty, while acting as a leader to customers and employees, may require unprecedented optimism.

Here are three ways you can approach staying positive when things are challenging.

Stay on top of stress

Stress is normal when you’re running a business. But when stress gets out of control, it can affect your performance and impact your business. That can cause more stress, in turn.

Breaking this kind of stress loop can help you stay positive. Start by identifying that you’re stressed. You may have a shorter temper, change in appetite, or difficulty sleeping.

 

Action tip: Write a list of the behaviors you exhibit when stressed or angry. If you can recognize the signs early, you may be able to combat stress and improve your mood before your business is affected.

 

If you notice one of those signs, try to pinpoint the root cause, getting as specific as possible. Uncovering the true cause of stress can help you manage it more productively.

You may also want to make a list of activities that help you manage stress. (You can even separate it to things you can do in 10 minutes and long-term approaches.) Having a go-to list at the ready can help you tackle stress when you may not be thinking as clearly.

 

Action tip: Ask your employees to make lists about their stress signals and ways to manage that stress. See if you can make tackling stress a group effort — you may be able to share ideas for managing symptoms or help one another recognize the warning signs.

 

Stay on top of social distancing and its side effects

Entrepreneurs often experience higher levels of stress or depression even in “normal” times, and business owners have a notoriously hard time balancing running a business with their personal lives.

This means the past year, with remote work, learning, and overall social distancing measures, may have had a unique impact on business owners. Not only has social distancing limited everyone’s ability to balance work stressors by spending time with friends and family, being in a leadership position means you’re not only working to combat isolation in your own life, but you may be dealing with the side effects of isolation among your employees and customers.

For instance, more than three times as many adults say they’ve experienced depression since the COVID-19 crisis began. Look for signs that your customers or employees are dealing with unexpected stressors, like helping kids with distance learning, while also working from home. For instance, if your customers are feeling anxious, they may be more aggressive with your employees, which could have a domino effect.

It’s important to combat this with a great customer experience, and that may require a positive outlook. If your employees are dealing with stressed customers and struggling with the isolation of social distancing themselves, it may be hard for them to provide that service.

In order to encourage positivity among your employees and, in turn, your customers, consider policies that encourage employees to take time off and focus on their mental health. For example, one Chicago-area small business owner gave his employees a day off for a mental health break.

Once you notice the effects social distancing may be having on you, your business, and your connections, you can begin to create small mental health breaks that encourage positivity.

You may not be able to take a full day, like in our example, but setting aside small windows for you and your employees can make it easier to keep a positive outlook. And this can help you share positivity with customers in turn.

 

Action tip: Set boundaries, share them, and be diligent about enforcing them. For instance, consider adding language like, “I won’t be responding to emails from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.,” to your email signature. Doing so might encourage your employees or vendors to take a few hours off, too, since they won’t be able to reach you.

 

Keep things in perspective

There’s a difference between feeling positive in the moment and feeling optimistic about the future. If you’re having a hard time feeling positive right now, see if you can find things to look forward to as you rebuild your business.

For instance, as shutdowns extended into the third quarter of 2020, fewer business owners were positive about their current situations. However (and it’s an important however), 41 percent of business owners said they were optimistic about the future. That’s a 400% increase from the second quarter. And that optimism for the future happened despite feeling less positive about the present.

Bar chart comparing levels of optimism from small business owners in the second quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2020. Overall optimism went up from 48% in Q2 to 60% in Q3. Optimism about the present declined from 39% in Q2 to 19% in Q3; optimism for the future jumped from 9% in Q2 to 41% in Q3.

The takeaway here may be that you don’t have to force positivity on your present situation in order to be optimistic about where your business is headed.

However, making small changes could help with positive thinking right now. For example, many business owners focus on potential problems, which makes sense: Your job is to look out for roadblocks so you can steer your company past them. The downside of that can be that business owners don’t focus enough on the wins they have along the way. By celebrating small victories, you may be able to foster more positive energy right now.

 

Action tip: Keep a running list of all the positives in your business. Pay extra attention to wins on your team and dole out praise to employees, many of whom may need extra recognition to stay positive.

 

With all of the challenges facing business owners, staying positive may not be high on your to-do list. But doing so can make a big difference in how you navigate through challenges today and rebuild your business for the future.

Sources: SBDC National Information Clearinghouse, JAMA Network Open, Society for Human Resource Management, Chicago Tribune, Gallup, The Balance Small Business

How to stay connected during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis can make real connections challenging — we’ve spent much of 2020 six feet away from other people. These four steps can help you stay connected and build new relationships when face-to-face contact is limited.

Step 1: Go digital

People are logging on more frequently during the crisis:

+50%

Messaging via Facebook and Instagram1

+73.3%

Traffic on Nextdoor2

+55%

Usage of LinkedIn3

Action: Make sure your business’s social media accounts are up to date, and don’t just post about products and services. Comment, send personalized messages, and engage informally, too.

Step 2: Build a network

To get the most out of your connections, choose a platform best suited to the relationship.

Your macro network of suppliers, partners, employees, and clients
LinkedIn or other professionally focused sites

Your neighbors and local connections
Nextdoor, Front Porch, or local groups and
pages on LinkedIn and Facebook

Your acquaintances including casual friends and your word-of-mouth network
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or generalized sites with broad audiences

One-on-one connections like friends, employees, or anyone you work with closely
Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or other video chat
software, even phone calls

Action: Make a list of the people you deal with regularly, using the categories above. Then search for them online and reach out.

Step 3: What to say

Be strategic with your first message, particularly if you are connecting with someone for the first time.
Think about the best way to build trust, since people may have their guard up during a crisis.4

To start the conversation…

With new customers, include a personalized note to welcome them.

With vendors, distributors, and partners, call just to check in throughout the crisis.

With existing clients, email them to say thank you and consider loyalty rewards.

For the first time, make it clear why you’re reaching out and why you picked them specifically.

Action: Lead with empathy. Before reaching out, ask yourself: “What is this person going through, and will they appreciate this message?”

Step 4: Build the connection

As communities rebuild, meet your digital connections in person and make sure to connect digitally with new people. To help transition between online and face-to-face, consider arranging digital events that translate to real-life events, and vice versa.

Host a digital
cheese tasting

Host a happy hour

If you like to network over food, simulate the setting online, then invite the same people to an in-person event.

Create a
how-to video

Organize a workshop

Consider pairing a tutorial video series with in-person classes (it may even develop into a revenue stream).

Start a social
media group

Create a local club

If you connected with peers during the crisis, consider formalizing the group. Likewise, create a digital version of any in-person groups to stay connected.

It can feel challenging to build connections in a socially distanced world. But if anyone can do it, small business owners can. As leaders who bring people together every day, owners can use digital tools to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones.

  1. Keeping Our Services Stable and Reliable During the COVID-19 Outbreak, Facebook, March 24, 2020
  2. The Virus Changed the Way We Internet, New York Times, April 7, 2020
  3. LinkedIn’s Making Its Recruitment Tools Free to Those Fighting the Coronavirus Pandemic, TechCrunch, April 1, 2020
  4. Is a Sense of Sameness Plaguing COVID-19 Ads?, Ace Metrix, May 15, 2020

Even the savviest business owners, in a booming economy, need advice. And during an unprecedented crisis like COVID-19, good guidance can be priceless. So how can you find the right insights for your business and the right person to give them? Consider this game plan.

 

Determine your pain points

The first step is to think past, “I need help fixing my business” and instead consider the specific challenges you face. Sit down and write out specific things you need help with. If you’re struggling to define your challenges, try researching the issues online or talking to your inner circle — the people you regularly go to for informal help. They can help you gather your thoughts and pinpoint specific questions to seek advice on.

Here are some suggestions to help you formulate questions:

  • Be specific, but not too specific. If you start with an extra-specific request (“How can I estimate the cost of reconfiguring my workshop for social distancing?”), you may miss out on ideas. If you’re too vague (“How much is COVID-19 going to cost me?”), people may not know how to answer. Be specific, but not limiting (“Can you help me figure out how to affordably reconfigure my shop for social distancing?”).
  • Summarize your request. Determine whether your question is unique to your industry or more general. Is it related to crisis management? Specific to COVID-19? Categorizing your question can help you find the right advice.
  • Prioritize. If you have multiple questions, try to prioritize them. You might focus on the most expensive challenge first or the most time-sensitive one.

 

Find an advisor/mentor

Talking to your inner circle may not provide enough guidance for a crisis like COVID-19. And knowing who to ask for specialized advice can be difficult. Start by looking for other business owners whose guidance you trust, including owners outside of your field.

For example, a dentist could get valuable advice about rescheduling appointments from a chiropractor. You might also get great advice from specialists or executives that aren’t business owners themselves.

Keep in mind that getting advice is one thing but building a more formal mentor–mentee relationship can take time and effort. You want to make sure you’re a good match.

To help you find the right person, consider these tips.

  • Network via the SBA and others. The Small Business Administration offers resources to connect with other owners, as well as a mentorship resource, SCORE. Also consider the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), if applicable.
  • Tap a specialist. If you’ve determined your problems are niche, look for an expert in that field. For example, if you’re trying to understand the pros, cons, and terms of different types of financing, you might call your banker.
  • Get social. Tap into your existing network, using tools like LinkedIn, to see if anyone you know can share insights. Or ask your connections if they know people who could help. This is where having a summary of your request helps; it can make it easier for your contacts to find the right person.

 

Action: Do your homework before approaching a new contact. If you want insights on rebuilding, for example, it can help you to know that your contact rebuilt their business after a natural disaster.

 

Get the most out of the conversation

Sometimes, a mentor’s answers are only as good as the questions. Since you researched their background, use that information to ask follow-ups. If you know your mentor innovated and expanded during the 2008 recession, ask how they identified opportunity and what they did to fund growth. Specific questions can help you get the best responses.

If you want to continue asking this person for advice beyond your initial conversation, start by following through on whatever they shared. If you don’t follow their advice, reach out with an update so they understand your reasons.

What you do is ultimately your decision but following up shows you valued their insight.

 

Action: Consider becoming a mentor yourself. Think about what you have to offer and make yourself available — it could open you up to new insights and opportunities.

 

Developing relationships can feel challenging during a crisis but finding someone you trust for advice is worth the effort. Having a guide to help you make decisions can go beyond insights and help provide peace of mind during a difficult time.

 

Sources: Small Business Administration, Fast Company, Forbes

Even the most prepared small business owners can be caught off guard by a crisis — especially when the crisis in question is a global health emergency sending shockwaves through the economy. With so much uncertainty, many of your employees, as well as your customers, will be looking for strong leadership. To help you lead through this crisis, we sought out advice from experts and customer insights and perspectives from other business owners.

 

Put people first

With COVID-19, everyone’s health is potentially at risk. It’s an inherently human crisis, so it’s important to lead with humanity. As a business owner, you likely need to lead your employees, but you may also serve as a leader to your customers and in your community.

For example, in New Jersey, Ani Ramen House had to close temporarily due to COVID-19. They used their existing food supply to create meal kits for 1,300 families. Owner Luck Sarabhayavanija told Nation’s Restaurant News: “We decided to make the most of a bad situation.”

Action: To lead initiatives that inspire goodwill in your community, start with what you know and stay true to the spirit of your business.

 

Communication is key

The first step toward leading — both your employees and your customers — is open communication. In an uncertain situation like COVID-19, transparency can help provide reassurance and position you as a leader.

Experts at management consulting firm McKinsey recommend focusing your message on what people need most from you. For instance, early on your employees may have worried about their jobs. In that case, a facts-based approach may work best: Share what you know, what you don’t know and the basics of your plan.

McKinsey points out that as a crisis unfolds, people may start to feel dejected. When that happens, by sharing positive news, leaders can help people feel secure and motivated. Eventually leaders need to communicate a logistical path forward.

Whatever you decide to say, make sure it gets shared with the right people. You might want to create a communication channel specifically to talk to your employees about developments related to COVID-19. (According to a Harvard Business School survey, 78 percent of business owners have done just that.) This could be as simple as weekly video check-ins with your employees.

Action: You don’t need all the answers in order to communicate. Stay in touch with employees and ask how the evolving situation is affecting them.

 

Seek out practical information

Of course, communication is easier when you have access to concrete, relevant information. This can be particularly challenging during COVID-19, since there’s so much that’s unknown about the virus.

Seek out sources of information you trust, whether it’s a news organization, government agency or academic institution. A number of corporate consulting firms (McKinsey, Deloitte, and Boston Consulting Group, to name a few) have opened up COVID-19–specific hubs to help guide business owners. Membership-based professional groups like Business Advantage TV or trade organizations offer resources as well.

Pay particular attention to developments that could affect your business: the status of COVID-19 in your area, new rules and regulations and changes in consumer behavior.

Action: As you learn new information, share it with your employees, along with how you plan to act. For instance, if your state issues new rules, explain the details to your employees and include how and when changes will be implemented.

 

Ultimately, different businesses and situations call for different types of leaders. When in doubt, lead with what’s best for your employees, customers, and the community. You don’t have to sacrifice profit, but empathy can pay off in the long run via loyalty and positive perception.

 

SOURCES: McKinsey, Harvard Business School

The impact of COVID-19 comes in waves: Americans have gone from isolation to reconnecting and back again as the crisis continues to develop. As we rebuild, social distancing has created a challenge for business owners who rely on connections — both personal and professional — to help run their businesses.

And yet, business owners are rising to the challenge. Recent research from Wells Fargo showed the small business community banding together to help one another, and their customers, through this crisis. Let’s take a closer look at how business owners can build lasting connections that can help them rebuild and grow.

Why connections are important

When COVID-19 took root in the US, one of the most immediate and widespread ripples was the push to socially distance and stay at home.

This abrupt change to how we connect and communicate impacts small business. Businesses without websites got online to connect with customers. Face-to-face interactions moved to video calls. Water-cooler exchanges became social media messages.

Wells Fargo talked to a number of small businesses in June to better understand how COVID-19 is changing the way businesses interact with their communities. Owners reported that the trials presented by COVID-19 brought the community together, since businesses felt like they were rooting for one another.

The support doesn’t just exist among businesses. Consumers are looking to shop local and many are increasing their tips (where appropriate) to support local businesses.

Consumers are looking for new ways to help their favorite establishments. As a business owner, it’s important you meet customers halfway by giving them meaningful ways to shop or stay connected.

Finding the best method of communication is an essential first step, but you’ll need to balance the right medium with the right message to really build connections.

 

The case for communication

91%

of Americans rely on a small business at least once per week

75%

of small businesses have been affected by COVID-19

84%

want their favorite businesses to be a reliable news source to keep them informed

Sources: SCORE, SMB Group, Edelman Trust Barometer

Connecting through a crisis

Even as the economy reopens, many customers who used to swing by your shop or office may look for new ways to connect. Finding the right digital platform for your business can make it easier for customers who want to stay in touch to do so. It also makes it easier for you to reach out to them.

The right platform for your business likely depends on your industry, but there are a few basic steps you can take to revamp (or build) a digital profile that resonates with your clients. Register your business with Google and create a Yelp page, for example. Consider creating basic social media pages on the platforms that make sense for you. And if you don’t have a website, think about creating one — it’s much easier than it used to be, and many customers expect them, especially during COVID-19. You can also enable your site to accept payment. Just be sure to test any e-commerce features on a semi-regular basis so you know what experience your customers are having.

For some, putting this much focus on your online presence can feel opposite to the human connection that typically goes into building relationships. But small business owners told Wells Fargo that moving their operations online was one of the most effective ways to evolve their community.

In today’s reality, building a digital presence that reflects who you are as a company helps create an authentic connection. It allows your network — from customers to vendors — to easily discover what you’re really about.

Keep those personal connections intact

Once you’ve built that digital presence, it’s important to make sure you communicate the right message — something that shows how much you care and accurately reflects your business.

Think about the various ways you have to talk to your community. You might write blog posts to keep your clients up to date and develop social media posts to raise your profile. Use language in your updates that reflects how you would communicate in person.

Keep in mind: Your community is more than just your customers. Your employees not only comprise your business, they also represent you. To effectively build a broad community, start by fostering internal connections. Talk to your employees about the changes you’ve had to make during COVID-19 and your plans for the future. You might choose to do this one-on-one, but you can also write an email newsletter or host a group video call.

Make sure your employees know the message you’re hoping to share with the broader community, too. If they’re sharing the same message, your reach will be that much greater.

Individual connections and exceptional service are common reasons customers stay loyal to small businesses. You can use technology, whether it’s social media or video chats, to keep and even grow those personal connections.

Keep it going

As the country reopens — a process that could stretch into 2021 — there’s a large amount of uncertainty. We aren’t sure what back-to-school will look like this fall or if there will be a vaccine, and resurgences of COVID-19 may lead to cycles of new closures and reopenings.

The good news is, the connections you’ve worked to create can help you navigate uncertainty. One major benefit of digital communication is an enhanced ability to take advantage of feedback.

Customers can post feedback on Google or Yelp, as well as social media posts. You can ask clients to tell you what they’re worried about or what they think will happen next; you might even send out more formal surveys. Customers are likely to be pleased you asked for their opinion and even more so if you use their input to better serve them. Plus, since this type of feedback happens in writing, it’s easier for you to track them and ensure updates get made.

Take advantage of employee feedback, too. With economic uncertainty ahead, employees are just as invested in your company’s success (and their continued employment) as you are. As such, they may have ideas to boost revenue or cut costs, and they can be critical in both attracting and retaining clients.

Embrace the competition

Finally, talk to other business owners. According to Wells Fargo’s research, many small business owners seek out advice from their peers. Because the crisis has fostered a sense of community among business owners, there may be a greater than normal inclination to help one another through the crisis.

This could mean sharing ideas about logistics, like the best way to quickly and effectively clean, or bigger picture initiatives, like monitoring updates to local rules and regulations. You might even band together and lobby for changes — like shutting down streets to create outdoor commercial space if people in your area are avoiding indoor crowds.

Just remember that joining together with other local businesses doesn’t mean you have to stop competing or innovating. One idea to consider: Look at similar businesses in other cities and states. If you run a law firm in Arizona, consider how law firms in Iowa or Texas are navigating the crisis. It’s possible you’ll find ideas to innovate or lessons on how to react if the COVID-19 situation changes in your area.

Small business is the backbone of the U.S. economy. They provide half of U.S. jobs and the majority of American consumers shop at a small business at least once a week. That means the community created by small business is essential to how we live and function. Business owners have an opportunity now to solidify that community in a way that benefits not just small business, but the country as a whole.

Sources: Deloitte, Edelman, Groupon, Financial Times, Google, Yelp, Small Business Administration, SCORE, SMB Group