UPDATED MARCH 23 @ 1:30PM
If you are a small business or work for one, here are some lessons learned and actions we’d recommend. Some of the references are specific to New England but most will be relevant to owners everywhere:
Those of us that came to this profession from the kitchen may not be the most organized, we get it – it’s time to go slow and start a document or spreadsheet of every expense, every phone call, every canceled order. Consider starting a Google Sheet which can be accessed on your phone if you need to quickly enter info on to go. It will matter. Whether small business loans or insurance claims, having documentation will be helpful.
MAKE A CLAIM:
Government services use real data to back up decision making process. In particular, your claim of economic injury supports state wide declarations that can potentially free up funding. Call the Joint Information Center for NH’s division Department of Homeland Security: 603 223 6169
This takes 5 minutes and is used to support a public declaration for economic injury and disaster relief.
UPDATE: Check to see if the Small Business Administration (SBA) has declared your state or county as covered by COVID-19 disaster relief here: www.sba.gov/disaster
The front page of your website needs to say something. In the food service biz we always keep challenges close to our chest for fear of spreading concern. Now is the time to share the tribulations of your business.
Furthermore, consider an online portion of your business – offer eGift Cards and put it at the front of your business. Consider selling things online. Many sites make this easy and free (we use WordPress/Woocommerce).
The important of search engine optimization (SEO) cannot be overstated right now. People’s online habits are going to drastically change over the next couple weeks. The last thing you want is that when everything begins to return to normal, your website is no longer on the first page of Google because no one has interacted with it for weeks. Start thinking about new ways to provide services to customers that get them visiting you regularly.
PROVIDING FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES
NH is currently assessing changes to unemployment coverage. If someone works in NH, they qualify (yes, even if they live in Maine/Mass, yes even if they are a service worker/part-time). You should be preparing your employees to apply for unemployment.
The best method is to apply for unemployment yourself. In some states, small business owners will be eligible for recuperating lost income through unemployment but it is also the best teaching tool to help your employees navigate the process.
Providing/supporting your employees now is the number one way you will ensure a smoother return to normal weeks or months from now when you need them back.
YOU *MAY* HAVE AN INSURANCE CLAIM
Call your insurance agent/broker (not carrier – their interest is to avoid giving you your most favorable reading of your contract!). Tell them your situation and ask them to advocate for the best solution given your policy. All Business Owner policies (BOP) are different but most have exclusions for “virus” – make it clear that your damage doesn’t relate to the virus (e.g. a worker or manager got sick), but due to CIVIL AUTHORITY (e.g. state declaration of emergency, National Emergency, WHO pandemic declaration). This is no guarantee but is a better defense to damages. If you need to, file a business income claim.
LET YOUR CUSTOMERS KNOW
Now is not the time to feel awkward asking for help! Draft an email to your customer base (if you aren’t keeping a list of customer emails, now is a great time to start with services like Mailchimp!) We use Square POS and they have a built in marketing tool that can send a message to all customers. Recognize that your customers are receiving a LOT of notices right now, so mix up the subject line, and consider offering an incentive to read about what you’re doing “buy a $100 gift card and get 10% off now!”
Get comfortable with your selfie camera – it’s time to hop on Facebook or Instagram live and show your customers the person behind the curtain. Many folks will be increasing their screen time while staying home – utilize these platforms to speak to them.
CONTACT YOUR LANDLORD
Your landlord should know and you should ask them what they can help you with – give them assurances that these outcomes are temporary and you need help. They often make decisions based on their proforma and how much debt they carry and what their banks look for. Banks will *hopefully* be lenient with temporary rent abatements (so ask for them!). Consider asking your landlord if they can file a claim for loss of rent. Here is a letter template to help you broach the subject with your landlord (relevant for commercial leases AND your employees’ residential leases)
CONTACT YOUR BANK
Ask what your bank is/can do to help you, a long-standing customer. Ask if they are waiving overdraft fees, ask if they are halting loan payments or interest. They have more control than you may think! In the worst case, ask if they will honor payroll checks in an instance of overdraft and payment plan.
No utility should be shutting you off/down for non-payment during emergency. If you are concerned, ask for forbearance – ask if they will agree to not report non-payments to credit score agencies.
STOP THE BLEEDING
As you change or reduce your operations, make sure you follow up with or shut off any recurring expenses. Best practice is to review two months of business statements and make a decision about every vendor. Turn your thermostat off, cancel all unnecessary software expenses, cancel or put supply vendors on hold (e.g. laundry service).
SHARE YOUR STORIES
Make sure to submit your business to Mighty Small – in the final question there is room to share comments – feel free to share some experiences or ideas that other business owners would find useful.
GET IN TOUCH / ASK FOR HELP
Please reach out with questions or if you need support. Email Me Here.