COVID & cash flow

The COVID-19 crisis is creating unprecedented challenges to cash flow. Whether you struggle with fluctuating revenue, find yourself having to delay projects, or need to get a handle on costs, these 4 steps can help.

Step 1: Recognize you’re not alone

Cash flow struggles can be frustrating. Even though most small businesses were growing
before COVID-19,1 very few had significant savings.


of small businesses said, pre-COVID, that they couldn’t survive a 2-month revenue gap without supplemental cash flow.2

Unfortunately, that situation is now a reality for many small businesses.

Step 2: Analyze the disruption

Ask your accountant, or use your accounting software, to pull together your income
statements for the last year, as well as an up-to-date balance sheet.


• Current and future sales
• Accounts receivable
• Existing financing

+ Assets


• Fixed operating costs
• Accounts payable
• Interest payments

– Liabilities

Compare your inflows and outflows in 2020 to the same periods in 2019, and note how COVID-19 has affected your business. Studying the disruption to date can help you plan for any future uncertainty.

Action: Create cash flow forecasts for the next 3, 6 and 12 months. You may want to create multiple forecasts to reflect different recovery scenarios.

Step 3: Make cash flow adjustments

How could you generate more income?

Think about how you can change your products or services to be better suited to today’s customer.

Think beyond products and services to how you do business. Could changes, like doing more
digitally, help you win more customers?

How could you cut your costs?

Press pause
Delay unnecessary projects, such as testing new products that aren’t immediately relevant.

See if you can defer payment on big expenses, like rent, and ask your vendors about updated terms. Consider creative solutions like discounts for on-time payments.

Raise prices
Evaluate a potential price increase by weighing lost revenue against your customers’ ability to pay.

Sell assets
Selling an asset can generate cash. If you didn’t own the asset outright, this could also eliminate an expense.

Action: Research the potential consequences of any cost-cutting efforts to help you avoid surprises. For example, skipping payroll may violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, and skipping payroll taxes may lead to a penalty from the IRS.

Step 4: Seek help if you need it

The federal government, along with many corporations and nonprofits, wants to help small businesses. These resources can get you started.

1 Main Street
Lending Program

Run by the Federal Reserve to help small businesses access credit.

2 Venturize

Find community development financial institutions (CDFIs), small business development centers and more.

3 Small Business

The SBA offers various programs meant to help businesses through COVID-19.



of small businesses applied for funding via the CARES Act.3


of applicants received a loan.4


Action: If you received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, keep tabs on how you spent the funds. This can make it easier to sort out potential loan forgiveness or repayment terms when the time comes.

Keeping track of cash flow can help you apply for and keep track of outside funding.

Review the COVID-19 resources from Wells Fargo for more ideas on cash flow.

1,2 2020 Report on Employer Firms: Small Business Credit Survey, Federal Reserve Bank.
3,4 Covid-19 Small Business Survey, National Federation of Independent Business, May 29, 2020.

How to market your business during COVID-19

The current crisis is changing how companies market themselves, which creates an opportunity for small businesses to stand out. Coming up with a strong marketing plan now can set you up for success well into the future.

This isn’t marketing as usual

Before you build your marketing plan, take stock of the way businesses —
large and small — changed their advertising at the start of the COVID crisis.


of companies changed their messaging.1


of companies posted
less social content.2


of companies expect
to spend less on ads.3

With businesses spending and posting less, you may have an opportunity to stand out. If your competitors are spending less on ads, great marketing could help you grab market share.

Action: Pay attention to how customers react to new advertising campaigns for ideas on what to do and what to avoid.

Revise your message

An effective message acknowledges changes in consumer behavior. Since habits keep changing as the crisis evolves, your message should, too.


more people are opening email newsletters.4

More people reading emails means it’s more important than ever to say the right thing.

Actions to take…

Offer basic information to keep customers up-to-date on how your business is changing.

Build goodwill via customer-centric products and services, as well as through relevant content.

Acknowledge customer concerns, especially if your customers might be facing health or financial issues.

… and to avoid

Don’t go too far off brand; it can come across fake. Make sure any mention of COVID-19 feels natural, and not like you’re using the crisis to generate sales.

Adjust your tactics

How you distribute your message should account for the fact that people are spending more time at home checking email, social media and even postal mail.


more likely to research products ahead of time during COVID-19.5

This creates new opportunities for people to discover your business.

Actions to take…

Widen your target: With more people researching products, you don’t want to miss an opportunity by casting a narrow net.

Play nice: Americans want to help small businesses rebuild; that may mean supporting both you and your competitors.

Go to them: Choose the placement of ads (e.g., TV, social media, or print) based on your clients’ changing lifestyles.

… and to avoid

Don’t push a purchase which can feel aggressive — especially when people are already stressed. Instead, focus on brand awareness.

Stay invested

Think twice before you slash your marketing budget completely. Spend smarter by using metrics to track the success of your efforts.


Uptick in most online retail sales, from May 2019 to May 2020.6

Marketing can help you discover new customers to help carry you through recovery and beyond.

Actions to take…

Establish a baseline by looking at your marketing pre-COVID. How much did you spend, and what were your results?

Set a marketing budget that makes sense by looking at cash flow and current ad rates.

Be flexible about what success looks like. Try to value “soft” success, too, like more people learning about your company.

… and to avoid

Don’t ignore the future. It can be hard to picture life after a vaccine, but eventually this crisis will end. Savvy marketing now can help you find customers and grow beyond COVID-19.

People need products and services as much as ever, but your marketing needs to feel different than it did pre-crisis. Look for opportunities by thinking about how marketing can help you find and engage customers.

1. Coronavirus Ad Spend Impact: Buy-Side, Interactive Advertising Bureau, March 27, 2020
2,3. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Marketing & Ad Spend Impact: Report + Stats, Influencer Marketing Hub, June 16, 2020
4. Stats On Coronavirus’s (COVID-19) Impact on Email Marketing: Insights From 600+ Newsletters, Paved Blog, accessed June 10, 2020
5. Survata Insights Report: Trusting Brand Names Over Generics in Light of COVID-19, Survata, April 30, 2020
6. 81% Rise in May Retail eCommerce Sales, ACI Worldwide Research Reveals, ACI, June 08, 2020

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:


Messaging via Facebook and Instagram1


Traffic on Nextdoor2


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

How we bounce back: recovery and data

We’re facing unprecedented challenges, but there’s reason to believe we’ll recover and emerge stronger. To gain perspective, let’s look at how we’ve bounced back financially from previous crises.

COVID-19 is unique

In the past, it’s taken years for the stock market to bottom, and job loss has been gradual.
With COVID-19, the effects were immediate and severe, as you can see in these charts depicting
the first few months of the crisis.

Dow Jones Industrial Average
Stocks fell 34% in just a month and a half.1

Initial Jobless Claims
Millions filed for unemployment each week, the most in recorded history.2

Action: Pay attention to the data affecting your industry and geographic region, and use national numbers to create overall context.

Policy makes a big impact

Historically, the government has been quick to respond to crisis. Consider these extensive responses to previous economic challenges.

Federal Deposit
Insurance Corporation


Protects consumer
deposits in
member banks

Securities and Exchange Commission


Regulates trading

Social Security Administration


Provides supplemental income for the elderly

GI Bill


Makes education possible for millions of veterans

Action: Stay on top of new regulations, policies and aid packages. They can provide opportunities for growth and affect how your business operates.

Perspective is powerful

How long did it take to recover from the last recession? It depends on your perspective.

Gross Domestic Product
According to the GDP, the downturn
lasted 1.5 years, but…3

Dow Jones Industrial Average
Stocks took about 6 years to recover…

Consumer Sentiment
…it took a full 8 years for consumers to feel confident about the economy again.4

…and roughly the same amount of time for employment to rebound.5

Action: Prioritize day-to-day observations and customer feedback ahead of big-picture data.

Recessions can provide opportunity

Downturns change our habits drastically, but some industries survive and potentially even grow during recessions. Deloitte looked at the outlook for a variety of industries.6

Action: Consider which industries and products are doing well, and use those insights to brainstorm how you might pivot, and potentially grow, your business.

Learn more about the difference strong leadership can make during COVID-19.

  1. S&P Dow Jones Indices
  2. U.S. Department of Labor Data, as compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
  3. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, as compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
  4. University of Michigan survey data, as compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
  5. Nonfarm Payrolls, Bureau of Labor Statistics data, as compiled by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis
  6. COVID-19 sector heatmaps, Deloitte, May 2020


How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting your customers

Americans are reacting to COVID-19 in a variety of ways, which can make it challenging for business owners to respond and plan ahead. We’ve compiled research and data to help you start thinking about whether you need to adapt your business, and how.

What they’re thinking:

Your customers are focusing on COVID-19. A lot.

9 in 10

Americans are following
COVID-19 news
coverage, but…1

7 in 10

…say they need to
take breaks. Many say it’s
emotionally draining.2


of people want brands
to boost positivity.3

Action: Try to share positive stories, like how you’re supporting your employees or ways you’re helping your community.

What they’re doing:

Americans are relying on the internet to stay connected.


say it’s important or essential.4


year over year jump in downloads of video conferencing apps.5


But not everything is digital.


of people are still visiting stores for essentials.6


are trying to shop more at locally owned stores.7


Action: Prioritize a digital strategy for your business, but don’t forget to reach out to customers in person.

How they’re spending:

Economic uncertainty means American consumers are worried about money.


9 in 10

Americans are stressed about money.8

2 in 5

are reducing expenses.9

Action: Because your customers may be more likely to shop discount offerings, consider promotional sales or coupons.

They may make long-term changes:

COVID-19 is causing Americans to rethink how they work and live their lives.


of urbanites are thinking of leaving the city.10


of people want the option to keep working remotely.11


of people plan to use their cars more, having grown wary of public transport.12

Action: If your business is in a city and has previously relied on foot traffic, now is the time to think about how your business can adapt and become more digital.

Read more about how consumers are reacting to COVID-19
and how your business can respond.

1, 2. About seven-in-ten U.S. adults say they need to take breaks from COVID-19 news, Pew, April 29, 2020
3, 8, 9. Twitter Publishes New Research on What Consumers Want to See from Brands During COVID-19, Social Media Today, April 2020
4. 53% of Americans say the internet has been essential during coronavirus outbreak, Pew, April 30, 2020
5. Videoconferencing apps surge from coronavirus impact, App Annie, March 2020
6, 7, 11, 12. COVID-19 is significantly altering consumer behavior and plans post crisis, IBM, May 2020
10. Coronavirus may prompt migration out of American Cities, The Harris Poll, May 2020

Your customer’s journey during COVID-19

COVID-19 is disrupting nearly every aspect of American life, including how customers interact with your business. The road from discovery to purchase is filled with nuances that didn’t exist a year ago. Let’s walk through the main stops on the customer journey and look at the potential impact of COVID-19.

Opportunity is the point when your potential customer has a need you could help with.

COVID-19 effect:

Since COVID-19 is causing
lifestyle changes, these wants
and needs may be different.


of consumers have tried new shopping behaviors.1

Ask yourself
Have you thought about how COVID-19 has impacted the value you can offer customers?

Discovery is when someone learns about your business for the first time. It’s important to clearly demonstrate how what you do can help them.

COVID-19 effect:

Changing habits means customers are more likely to try new brands. Companies that rely on foot traffic may need to explore new strategies.


of customers have tried a new brand since social distancing began.2

Ask yourself
Have you evaluated whether your marketing efforts still encourage more people to try out your business?

Consideration is when a customer has learned about a product or service and is thinking about making a purchase.

COVID-19 effect:

Customers who are worried about the virus and the economy may be more likely to focus on safety precautions and price when considering a purchase.


of Americans say they’re spending less money since COVID-19 started, so consumers may have a harder time moving from consideration to buy.3

Ask yourself
Have you explained the safety precautions you’re taking to protect customers?

Buy is the point in the journey when your potential customer becomes an actual customer.

COVID-19 effect:

Touch-free purchasing can help your customers feel more at ease.

Customer preference for contactless payments is up


Ask yourself
Are you thinking beyond checkout and sanitizing deliveries and returns?

Experience refers to how a customer feels about their interaction with you. A good experience can build a bond between you and the customer and may even turn them into an advocate.

COVID-19 effect:

Supporting customers who may feel vulnerable or uncertain can jump-start a great relationship.

During the last recession, companies with highly rated customer service saw


higher returns.5

Ask yourself
Are you thinking beyond checkout and sanitizing deliveries and returns?

1. Consumer sentiment and behavior continue to reflect the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, McKinsey, July 2020
2. Brand loyalty declines amid COVID-19,, citing study by AlixPartners, April 2020
3. Consumer Spending Pullback Similar to 2009-2019, Gallup Poll, May 2020
4, 5. Adapting Customer Experience in the Time of Coronavirus, McKinsey, April 2020