The human toll of the COVID-19 virus has been truly devastating, with hundreds of thousands of infections and tens of thousands of deaths. Even more worrying are the predictions of exponential growth in both infections and fatalities, and no one truly knows how bad the situation will get.
Keeping people healthy and finding a cure for the COVID-19 virus is the top priority of scientific researchers, medical professionals and government officials, and that has left the business community largely on its own. While the government is working on targeted payments and bailouts for impacted industries, individual business owners are still responsible for making payroll and keeping their supply chains up and running.
In order to make it through the current crisis and come out stronger on the other side, businesses need to think differently, and that starts with taking a proactive approach to their operations. Every part of the business, from sales team members who can no longer travel freely to the finance guys juggling payments and prioritizing invoices, must come together to save their companies, and here are some tips for doing that.
Many companies are finding a balance to retain employees. Where it may not always be possible for brick and mortar companies or those who’s business offerings are reduced to zero in this market, here’s some options to check with counsel and accountant.
- Reduced schedules. Employees working from home can work part time on an employee emergency addendum. This reduces company costs while retaining the employee and assisting them to cover much needed expenses.
- Future wage payments. For some companies and employees it may be possible to keep them on full time with agreements to compensate for unpaid work at a later date. This is suitable when company budgets are tight but manpower is vitally needed. Partial wage could be paid, if the employment and contractual laws allow it.
Stay in touch with the current US Government Relief Legislation
Sales teams are likely to be impacted greatly by the COVID-19 crisis. Without the freedom to travel, sales personnel will need to utilize other channels to reach their customers and track down new leads. Here are some timely tips for a proactive COVID-19 response.
- Reach out to customers and find out what they need. The needs of customers have changed markedly as a result of COVID-19, so find out where those clients are and meet them there.
- Utilize technological channels to compensate for the loss of face-to- face content. Video calls via Zoom, Skype and FaceTime can substitute for site visits until the crisis passes.
Marketing your products in a time of crisis can be a real challenge, especially when production bottlenecks and disruptions in the global supply chains can make those items hard to produce. Here are some tips to keep your marketing message on point until the current COVID-19 crisis passes.
- Identify ways to shift the business as customers need change. Ride share companies, for instance, are now focused on delivering groceries to vulnerable populations and medical supplies to hard-hit hospitals.
- Focus on branding during this temporary lull in sales. Instead of advertising products that may be temporarily available, use TV spots, radio ads and online outreach to present a positive message for your business.
- Avoid messaging that could be seen as pandering or capitalizing on the crisis. Everyone is scared and worried, and it would be easy to make a costly mistake.
Producing products in the age of COVID-19 is no easy task. If nothing else, the current crisis laid bare longstanding deficiencies in the global supply chain. If you want to maintain your production capacity until treatments are identified and a vaccine is found, here are some places to start.
- Identify the products in short supply and look for ways to make them. Companies like Hanes have shifted from making underwear to manufacturing protective face masks, while automakers are retrofitting their production lines to boost the supply of hospital-grade respirators.
- Reach out to government officials with offers of help. Once you identify potential changes to your manufacturing process, talk to government officials about putting your ideas into action. Procurement processes have been streamlined for the crisis, and government contracts are being fast tracked.
- Look for ways to incorporate social distancing into your existing production process. Can you operate with half the usual number of employees to give everyone six feet of personal space? Can you prioritize departments with the highest profit margins or most in-demand products?
- Seek out alternative sources of raw materials and production parts. With so many disruptions in the supply chain, getting the necessary parts and materials will require a nimble and proactive approach.
The COVID-19 crisis has tested technology to its limits, and IT departments everywhere are struggling to catch up. With so many employees working from home, technology departments will need to change the way they do business, and here are some tips they can use.
- Build a training team comprised of existing telecommuters. Many companies have employees who have been working remotely for years. Harness their experience to train an army of brand new telecommuters.
- Identify equipment that can be sent home with those new telecommuters. Can your existing terminals and PCs be used to work remotely? How can you keep track of inventory while it is the private homes of your employees?
- Use tools like TeamViewer to provide real-time IT support for remote workers. The IT team may not be able to visit desks, but they can do virtual visits using these powerful technological tools.
- Schedule an all-hands meeting with the IT staff and executive team to discuss issues and their resolutions. Document everything to create a comprehensive telecommuting manual.
- Keep in touch through technology. Tools like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams can be lifesavers during this trying time. If you have an existing slate of weekly meetings, stick to it using these remote connection tools.
- Think about the future and a potential new way of doing business. Now that the bulk of your workforce is telecommuting, why not maintain that new dynamic and the many benefits it has to offer.
- Activate your disaster recovery process. It may not be a fire or an earthquake, but the COVID-19 virus is most definitely an emergency. Now is the time to activate the disaster recovery program you worked so hard to create.
- Talk to your senators, representatives, governors and other government officials about relief programs, business loans and other programs designed to prevent the loss of revenue.
- Empower your team to find new ways of doing business, from manufacturing much-needed medical and personal hygiene supplies to reopening idled factories with reduced staffing levels.
- Prioritize out-of-the-box thinking. The coronavirus is like no other challenge business has ever faced, and the solutions to it may come from unexpected places.
Finance and Budgeting
Finances have been severely strained as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Marginally profitable businesses may be forced to close, and even profitable firms are likely to face cash crunches and worries about making payroll.
- Stay informed. Use reputable information sources like the CDC and updates from local officials to understand what is happening and how the current crisis is progressing.
- Talk to local government officials and others about short-term bailouts and other measures designed to keep companies in business.
- Identify cost cutting measures that can help offset the sudden loss of revenue. These temporary cost cuts could help you weather the storm until the worst of the crisis has passed.
- Work with the marketing and production teams to develop new sources of revenue, including delivery services to redeploy idled vans and the manufacturing of much-needed products.
- Work with human resources with regard to unemployment and worker compensation laws. Employees who are eligible for either program can be temporarily removed from the payroll, freeing up much-needed resources for other priorities.
As the COVID-19 crisis wears on and supply chains get interrupted, the patience of customers and clients will be sorely tested. The best way to handle the potential pushback is taking an honest and proactive approach. Here are some tips to maximize your customer support functions during the current COVID-19 crisis.
- Ongoing communications will be critical. Now is the time to use your email marketing database to its greatest extent. Make sure you are communicating policy changes, shifts in operating hours and shutdown notifications.
- Personal outreach to top customers. Email is great for general communications, but it may not be enough for your top clients. Reaching out to your most loyal clients with a personal phone call is the ultimate in proactive customer support.
- Prioritize online channels for retail businesses. Many retail businesses have seen their operations shut down as shelter in place orders go into effect and shoppers stick to the basics like groceries and pharmaceuticals. Prioritizing online shopping channels during the COVID- 19 outbreak could mean the difference between profitability and total failure.
- Be honest with your clients. If there will be delays for ordered products, let the customer know. Everyone understands that this is a difficult andunprecedented event, and a little honesty can go a long way.
- Put a human touch on your communications. Behind every interaction is a human being, one who is just as worried about the COVID-19 crisis as you are. Put a human face on your communications and stress that everyone is in this mess together.
As a final statement. If the company is in a position to provide support for its employees and beyond, consider helping local foundations, support groups, emergency workers, hospitals and the local government in their efforts.
While the human toll is always paramount, the strain the COVID-19 virus has put on the business world cannot be discounted. If your business is to survive the crisis, a proactive approach will give you the best shot at success. The tips listed above can help your firm weather the storm, so you can escape the worst of the damage and emerge leaner and stronger on the