As a small business owner, staying in business through the uncertainty of COVID-19 is paramount. But how can you ensure the changes you make now will position you for the long run? Let’s look at some of the most common operational updates under consideration during COVID-19 and some ways to evaluate whether they make sense for your business.

 

Inventory, materials, and supplies

Think about your specific needs for supplies and materials. Some small businesses turn raw materials into a final product (like manufacturers or restaurants) or simply use them in daily business (supplies for an office, hair dye at a salon). Given the disruption to the global economy, you may not be able to get the same supplies at the same costs going forward.

As you think about alternative supplies and suppliers, there are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • Your pricing. With the economy as it is, you may not be able to pass increased costs on to consumers.
  • Your suppliers. Search for alternate vendors and be prepared to negotiate with your current suppliers.
  • Your inventory. If you can afford it, stock up. Keeping a larger inventory of supplies might give you flexibility in the event of a shortage.

For instance, homebuilders worried about whether they’ll be able to import Italian marble, and at what cost, might switch to soapstone countertops since they can be sourced domestically.

 

Action: Set yourself up for success if you negotiate with vendors. Focus on a specific ask, like discounts for on-time payments, and make sure you have contactless online banking set up so you can implement updated terms with minimal hassle.

 

Physical space

Any business with a physical location, whether it’s a storefront or an office, is going to need to rethink logistics to keep your employees safe and happy. Whether you reopen in summer or fall, or open in a new capacity, consider the following:

  • Many employees who began working from home during COVID-19 want the option to continue.
  • Reconfiguring workstations to ensure employees are six feet apart may provide them with peace of mind. You can also try to increase air circulation and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) if spacing is not an option.
  • Could some of your team work remotely for part of the week to help enable distancing?
  • Is your telecom equipment up to date? COVID-19 accelerated the shift to digital in many industries.

 

Action: You may need to make adjustments — like ensuring you have a fast, secure internet connection — to make it easier to process remote payments or allow employees to work from home.

 

Production process

It’s important to make sure your employees feel safe and secure. But socially distanced working conditions can affect your output. Do the math to figure out the extent of the impact.

Then, consider demand. For some products, demand may increase or decrease as this crisis plays out.

Before you adjust your production to account for any changes in output, gut check those considerations against demand forecasts. For example, if your business packages pasta for both restaurants and consumers, you might consult with the Food Industry Association about how people are eating to determine which type of packaging to focus on.

 

 

Action: If you’re not sure how demand may change, an industry group or trade organization may be able to offer insights. You can also speak with customers directly about how they think their needs might change.

 

Customer experience

Consider how you can create a safe and efficient customer experience. This may involve more than physical distancing, particularly as the crisis changes and evolves. Ideas to consider include:

  • Returns could present an opportunity to win customers, since many large companies have restricted them. If you decide to accept returns, create a plan to do it safely, like sterilizing products or leaving them untouched for two days before processing.
  • Discounts could benefit both customers and your business. A subscription-based business, for example, could offer a discount on monthly rates if customers pledge to continue their membership for a set period.
  • Reschedule with care. As businesses recover from closures and deal with changing conditions, think through the best method for rescheduling your clients: first come, first served, loyal customers first, and so on.

 

Action: Make it easy for customers to find out about any updates you’ve made to better serve them. Ideas include marketing your improved services and building an FAQ section on your website.

 

Regardless of the type of business you run or how it’s structured, it’s likely you’ll need to adjust your operations as the COVID-19 crisis evolves. Think through any potential updates strategically to help ensure you’re well positioned as things start to normalize.

 

SOURCES: New York Times, Real Simple, IBM, CDC, USA Today, Food Industry Association