For America’s 30 million small businesses, reopening after months of closure represents a landmark moment – a statement of strength. Over the past few months, 75 percent of small businesses have sought federal aid to keep them afloat. Companies are desperate to begin generating revenue once again, but they must do so safely or jeopardize putting their employees and customers at risk.
At Pitney Bowes, we are honored to have served hundreds of thousands of small businesses over the past 100 years. While it is a great privilege to support them, we learn a lot from them, too. Based on the insight we’ve gathered from many conversations and interactions over the past few months in particular, we’ve put together some guidance to help your small business prepare for a new reality.
Step 1: review local reopening guidelines, gather insight and build a plan
“Reopening will be more than a restart. It will be the beginning of a new era of business,” says a report from Accenture, as new best practices and strict safety requirements are established. Guidelines for reopening differ from state-to-state, city-to-city and from industry to industry. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to stay up to speed on these guidelines as they evolve, and to safeguard employees and clients. The US Chamber of Commerce is a useful source of current information on localized requirements, while trade and industry bodies can offer valuable advice. Experts quoted in the National Law Review advise allocating one person from your organization to make sure your business stays updated on the latest advice from Osha, the CDC, the WHO and local authorities.
Poll your employees to gauge how they feel about returning to the workplace. McKinsey found 80 percent of employees currently working remotely enjoy it, and 41 percent are more productive. You may wish to allow for some remote working to continue, so make sure you can deliver business critical operations remotely on a long-term basis if this is the case. Find out from your clients the factors that will make them most likely to return and feel comfortable doing so. You can then pull the insight you gather into an actionable plan, allocate owners and create milestones.
Meeting safety guidelines will require some investment – in PPE, social distancing markers, screens, sanitizing units and potentially new workspace design, for example. Help is still available, and the SBA is accepting new applications for EIDL applications on its website.
Step 2: communicate the processes you’re taking to keep employees and customers safe
Never before has there been such a universal focus on occupational risk. The Edelman Trust Barometer found 62 percent of people trust their employer to act responsibly around Covid-19 and 78 percent expect businesses to protect employees and the local community. As a business, you need to continue building this trust, communicate with your employees, share the steps you’re taking to keep them safe and be very clear on any new behaviors, processes and practices that you require.
Your customers, partners and vendors will also appreciate transparency. Tell them what you’re doing to keep them, and your employees safe, and what you expect from them. Share your reopening date on your website, via your social channels and community Facebook groups, as well as using your usual preferred channels to connect.
Step 3: execute your plan, prepare for bumps in the road and stay focused
Following the consideration and investment behind your reopening, you might expect your customers to stand in line (at a safe distance) outside the door, eager to spend money with you again. Remember, many consumers are still anxious about venturing out. It could take time for them to return, but meet your staff and clients’ needs with clarity, sensitivity and empathy, and you’ll give your business the best opportunity to get back on track.
There will be bumps in the road, but one of the differentiators shared by small businesses like yours is a remarkable ability to pivot and demonstrate agility. States may shut down and people might act differently in practice than you’d anticipated but remaining agile is a strong advantage. Considering alternative options for your business model will help you remain flexible. If you’re a retailer, for example, consider different options for service and distribution such as curbside pick-up or contactless delivery. Review your plan and your alternative options regularly.
While every small business is unique, all share a passion for their organization and customers, as well as a laser-sharp focus on what they must achieve to be successful. This vision drives their success, even during times of adversity. There’s no doubt that this pandemic has taken small businesses like yours to the very edge, but remaining focused with grit and strength will see you through.
By Jason Dies, Executive Vice President and President of Sending Technology Solutions
Small business stock photo by Rido/Shutterstock