As the country reopens for business in phases, many small business owners are awash in mixed emotions—torn between the elation of opening their doors and the fear of what happens next.
Will customers show up? Will their trusted employees return?
In the May issue of the National Retail Federation’s Monthly Economic Review, NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz says, “households [are] likely to tiptoe back in rather than making an immediate return to the lives they experienced before.”
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows the public is apprehensive about the reopening of retail stores (only 34 percent support it), hair salons (31 percent support) and restaurants (26 percent support). Other polls show even less consumer support for going out to eat. Business owners, on the other hand, are eager to reopen their doors. A poll taken in early May by Alignable, a network of small businesses, shows of the businesses that were forced to close, once allowed to open, 34 percent will reopen immediately, 19 percent will reopen within a month, and 13 percent need more than a month to reopen. But 40 percent worry consumers will be reluctant to return to their businesses.
That’s a legitimate concern.
“Businesses that think everything will go back to ‘the way things were’ are operating on a going-out-of-business strategy,” said Peter Newell, CEO of BMNT, a consultancy and early-stage tech accelerator.
He believes customer behaviors have changed irrevocably and the businesses that will thrive in this new environment are those that “continue to leverage the tools and processes they adopted during the crisis.” Examining these new practices, he says, offers insight into what will work “in the new normal.”
People who need people
But Newell says, “From startups to small companies it all revolves around your people. Acquiring and retaining good people are the hardest tasks for many small businesses. For some companies their futures are determined by whether they can bring back the talent they need.”
Bob Prosen, the CEO of the Prosen Center for Business Advancement, says you can reopen in phases if need be.
“Bring your essential workers back first,” he advises. And make sure to check the health of your employees before they return. “Those in direct contact with customers must be tested for COVID-19. Employers can require employees to have their temperature taken as well as be COVID-tested. [They] can also ask employees health questions. You just have to keep the records private. Have a plan to conduct testing and ensure you have ample resources, like test kits, etc.”
Check out these safety guideline resources:
- Interim Guidelines for Implementing Safe Practices
- Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
- Free onsite safety & health consultations for small business
What if you have some employees who aren’t comfortable going back to work just yet? “Employers cannot force employees to return,” Prosen says
The key, says Newell, is to “overcommunicate.” If you want your staff to return, he says, “you need to ensure your workspace meets the new standards for workplace interaction. Show your employees you have their best interests at heart.”
Prosen says you must “overcommunicate” with your customers as well. “Update your social media and website with the actions you’ve taken to ensure workplace safety. Go overboard. You can always pull back.”
Before you open
Prosen says you also need to be concerned about the “capabilities of your suppliers, trucker availability, etc. And ask yourself if you can make money given the rules around capacity and social distancing.”
How do you determine how much cash you need to reopen? Prosen advises business owners “to create different revenue forecasts. Take into consideration there will be fewer sales opportunities to chase, your average deal size may decrease, and it may take longer to close new business.” He adds you should be “overly observant of your competitors” and how they’re performing. “This can be a great opportunity to take share from weaker competitors.”
Breaking with tradition
This might be a good time to break with traditional practices. Prosen suggests putting “traditional sales on the back burner. Find ways to offer meaningful advice. Employ a ‘give before you get’ marketing strategy. Be empathetic. Offer solutions to customers.”
Reopening your business is not going to be easy. The longer this goes on, Newell says, “the harder it’s going to get. Come up with a new norm. Talk to your landlords. Negotiate your rents. Work with your property management company and ask, ‘How can we get through this financially?’”
In our consumer-driven economy, customers are key to business survival. Want to know how many of yours will return?
Prosen says it’s simple, “Ask them.”
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