Many of us, myself included, had a very different vision of what 2020 was going to bring. We had our customer engagement plan defined, goals set, and budgets locked. Then COVID-19 came. Now, many small- and medium-size businesses find themselves making critical, business-defining decisions every day: How will you pay rent? How many employees can you keep paying? What will reopening look like in each stage going forward?
America’s 30 million small businesses face a host of daunting challenges. Uncertainty fueled by continued presence of the coronavirus, shifting state-to-state guidelines and consumer apprehension, leave many small business owners wondering what their operations will look like in a post-pandemic environment. Now more than ever, it is crucial that businesses rely on the fundamentals that powered their growth in the first place to get them through this uncertain time.
In a time when it seems that everything has changed, the basics of planning for your business’ future have not. Here are five ways to get back to basics and be pragmatic in both your approach to and expectations for reopening.
Define what your realistic opening looks like.
The pressure to return to business-as-usual is overwhelming, but now is not the time to be overly confident in how you stage your reopening. Missteps now could have long-term repercussions that will set you back in your recovery.
Beyond the question of whether you can open based on local government guidelines, you need to ask yourself if you should. Like many states, your business may need a phased approach to reopening. For example, if your state opens your sector, but only at a fraction of the capacity, be realistic in whether you can smartly reopen immediately. Are you able to meet local safety guidelines to the fullest extent? Can you estimate demand? How many employees will you need to meet that demand?
Reexamine your cash flow projections.
Healthy cash flow is a fundamental measure of success. Even the most stable businesses and those that have remained open throughout the pandemic should revisit cash flow projections to reflect the current reality. Be conservative in your forecasts: relying solely on historical receipt data for your business may lead to an inflated projection, and demand may be unpredictable in the coming months.
Consider the startup costs and changes needed to reopen.
Many small businesses have been shuttered for months, so reopening might mean starting from scratch. Remember to factor “startup” costs into your planning. You might need to factor in new “start-up” and ongoing costs associated with meeting revised local health and safety guidelines and requirements. New costs and one-time fees should be built into your cash flow forecast.
Understand local government guidelines.
Speaking of local guidelines, make it a point to read up on and understand the current city, state, and federal requirements for operating a business in your sector. This is important – and fluid. The rules are changing daily as more data and information becomes available. Lean on trusted state and local government websites and the U.S. Small Business Administration website for the most up-to-date and reliable information.
Get to know your bank, and make sure they know you.
Finally, the last four months have shown that having a two-way relationship with your bank is crucial. Those in need of hardship programs or SBA PPP loans fared best if they had a relationship with their bank already. Yes, you should know the services your bank offers. More importantly, your bank should know the services and products that you offer and what sets them apart from your competitors. Having insight into what your business is and isn’t will give your banker important context he or she needs to present options that will help you navigate the reopening process. Options could range from identifying the right loan, to applying for hardship programs, to simply being a trusted sounding board for feedback on your reopening strategy. Meet with your banker – which you can do now via phone or virtual options or in-person when appropriate – to discuss your options, talk about the future, and collaborate on what is best for you now.
As we look to the second half of 2020, recovery for many small businesses will be a marathon of sprints. Tension and stress are high, but it is important not to let emotions drive critical decisions. Small businesses that are confident in their foundational business strategy and rely on basic business fundamentals to power their decision making will come out ahead.
Niamh Kristufek is the Head of U.S. Business Banking at BMO Harris Bank.