COVID-19 Information for local businesses

Introduction:

This information has been put together in the hope that it helps our local business community with understanding and putting in place some fundamental processes which might prove useful in the coming months.

With the cooperation of the Maple & Honey Digital Agency (a locally owned business), I have tried to present the information in a format which is easy to read, understand and navigate, and to make it as relevant to our current COVID-19 situation as possible. 

There are many different versions out there on each of these topics so once things settle down again, keep this in mind and do a little research.

Disclaimer: The information provided is meant as a guide, to prompt business owners and leaders to think about the impacts of COVID-19 and how they might best cope with it. It is by no means exhaustive, nor comprehensive. 

Topics covered include:

  • Performing a risk assessment
  • Developing prevention and mitigation strategies
  • Finding opportunities for your business
  • Planning for recovery

Note: In some cases, you may need to prepare a formal set of documents in order to satisfy your ‘boss’ that you are undertaking sufficient activities to continue to operate within ‘acceptable’ risk levels. However, for many, a simple, in-house process will be helpful in achieving a better outcome, both short and long term.

Section 2 – Contents

Getting started:

If you’re asking any of the following questions, you are already on the right track.

Q1. What’s the risk to my business? (Links to Risk Assessment)

Q2. How do I stop the virus from closing me down? (Links to Prevention, Mitigation and Contingency strategies)

Q3. What if I’ve been told to shut down? (Links to What if I’ve been told to shut up shop?)

Q4. How will I recover from this? (Links to Recovery strategies)

Q4. Are there opportunities for my business enterprise amongst all of this? (Links to Goodwill and Change of focus)

Section 3 – Risk assessment

Risk Assessment:

Right now, COVID-19 presents a substantial risk to any business. At the moment (as far as we know), the virus has not spread to the islands and this is great news! However, we know that people are still travelling to and from the mainland regularly (hopefully no more than absolutely necessary) and this means that the risk of COVID-19 reaching the islands is still quite high.

I will make the point here, loud and clear! If a single case reaches us, it will spread. And quickly. Too many people are not adhering to the restrictions announced by the government (repeatedly) and too many people are not observing the hygiene routines which every medical authority in the world have agreed will help to minimise your chance of contracting the virus, or spreading it to someone else. 

These simple strategies are our first line of defence and should be adhered to, both in our personal and professional lives. What are they again? (Link to gov advice)

How to do a Risk assessment: 

This term is off-putting to some but it really is quite simple.

  1. It is a “What IF?” process.

For example: 

  • What if the virus reaches my suburb?
  • What if one of my staff (or me) gets sick?
  • What if a cyclone hits?
  • What if the power goes out?
  1. You need to isolate those risks that are a real risk to your business and apply a likelihood to each. This will tell you what you might need to concentrate on first.
  1. Once you understand the risk, you need to try to understand its impact.

(TIP: Of the four ‘What IFs’ above, you can probably knock out a couple right? This is important! Don’t get bogged down with every single thing that could possibly happen. Keep it focussed and balanced.)

The logic here is pretty simple.

  1. Likelihood: Is this likely to happen? (Risk rating)
  2. Impact :How much drama will it create if it does? (Severity of Impact)

If the likelihood is LOW (i.e. not much chance of this happening), move on. 

However, if the likelihood is HIGH (i.e. there’s a good chance this will happen), go straight to (b).

If the impact is minimal or low (won’t cause much drama), move on.

TIP: There are some circumstances where you might consider addressing a risk (a) which is reasonably unlikely to occur but the severity of the impact (b) is very high.

Everything else needs your attention. Make a list and, one by one, think about what you can do about it. Remember: You need to concentrate on risks that are real AND which might have a high impact on your business.

So, you’ve identified the risks to your business which you need to worry about?


Ask yourself:

  1. Am I willing to accept this impact? (See the TIP below)
  2. If not, can I prevent the impact? (Prevention)
  3. If not, can I do anything to minimise the impact? (Mitigation)
  4. If not, what do I do next? (Contingency)

TIP: If you decide that you are willing to accept the impact of one of those ‘What IFs’ then either you’ve spent time on a risk which needs no further consideration; OR the impact is a positive step toward your goals (Just like stress, Risk can be a positive!). No further consideration necessary.

So, make a list of the risks, along with the impacts (One risk can have many, separate impacts) and note whether you intend to prevent the impact (prevention strategies), try and minimise the impact (mitigation strategies), or, if you need to, think of your back-up plan (Contingencies).

TIP: You don’t have to do it alone – get your staff to help too. They might have some really good ideas that you would never have thought of yourself. This also helps them to gain a better understanding of why you are doing this and if they have felt involved in developing your strategies, they are far more likely to want to make the necessary changes.

TIP: Write it down! This will help ensure you have thought of everything and remember it all too. 

You might end up with a table which looks something like this one:

[insert risk table (separate doc)]

Risk assessment complete.

The next step is thinking more about each risk and going into more detail about how you think you might deal with it. You might find that after further consideration your initial idea doesn’t work. That’s ok! Change your strategy. (link to Prevention, mitigation and contingency strategies)

Section 4 – Strategies

Prevention, mitigation and contingency strategies:

Prevention is better than a cure right? Right! 

There is a hierarchy here, with prevention being the ultimate goal. However, you will rarely achieve this so you need to look at what can be done to reduce the impact on your business. This is called mitigation. Even then, there are some circumstances where both your prevention and mitigation strategies don’t work. Well, that’s why you need to think of your plan B (or contingency strategy) too.

So, let’s look at an example.

Risk item 1: What if one of my staff gets sick? (LIKELY – don’t be complacent! It doesn’t even have to be COVID-19 – it could be the common cold.)

Impact: This staff member AND anyone who has had close contact with this person will be forced to self isolate. (Impact is HIGH – your workforce is diminished (if only some work closely together) or completely depleted (if all of you share the same workspace)!)

Let’s speculate a little. If you have many staff members who generally work alone or in pairs, this may not be a significant impact (as long as it is a one-off occurrence). However, if you employ only a few staff who work in close contact with each other, you have just lost your ability to operate. Again, you need to assess the risk and impacts.

Prevention:

In this circumstance, adhere to the known principles. How can you ensure that your staff can undertake their duties and not be prone to cross-contamination? (Remember: you’re thinking now about what would happen if one did get sick?)

  • Are you able to separate them? (Min 1.5m but 4m preferred)
  • Can they work from home?
  • Can their duties be staggered so they are not occupying the same space at the same time?
  • Do they touch the same surfaces? Will wearing gloves or other protective equipment prevent cross-contamination?
  • Will good hygiene practices work? (TIP: think about this in physical terms. When I need to wash depends on the risk of infection. I see people washing every 20 minutes as the guidelines say, however, I also see those same people, within that 20 minute interval, continue to touch surfaces that other people will touch or have touched. Be mindful. Be over diligent if necessary. But, sometimes, you may need to disinfect a surface or wash your hands/face more often than every 20 minutes! Sometimes, much less)
  • Will I have access to the flu shot?
  • Are there any hazards in my workplace which I can remove?

Mitigation:

OK, so you can’t think of a way to separate your entire crew and still keep operations going? The next step is to look at compromises. Maybe I can partner or group people so that if someone gets sick, I only lose 2 or 3 staff at a time rather than the whole lot in one go!

The strategies in this case would be similar but rather than applying to every single person (don’t forget about yourself!) they apply to pairs or small groups.

In the end it depends on the business you are in and there are many possible solutions. Ask the questions of your own environment and behaviours, and those of your staff and customers. Make informed decisions.

TIP: There is also an opportunity here! See Goodwill and Change of Focus for more but if you are seen to be taking steps to avoid infection and spread, the confidence and loyalty to your business (Goodwill) will increase. Nothing like the smell of Dettol these days to increase Goodwill!

Contingency:

Contingencies are your back-up plans, and are needed either;

  1. If your prevention and/or mitigation strategies don’t work; OR
  2. Something else unexpected occurs.

It’s always wise to have a contingency for normal operations. For example, many of you would have a simple one in place already. Your staff know that if you get sick, either you will give them directions on what to do while you’re unable to work or, you might have a second in charge who will take over. This is a contingency plan! They can be that simple.

In the current environment, contingencies might consider:

  • Can I quickly cross-train more staff across some of the business operations so I’ve got more flexibility if someone in a particular job gets sick?
  • Do I have simple tasks being performed by my staff which I could hire someone else to do (especially if this allows more separation of your existing staff)?
  • Do I have clear instructions on how to do a particular job in case the person doing it now has to self-isolate?
  • Can I reschedule/re-organise my current obligations and appointments?
  • Does it make sense to strip back my operations even if it means a drop in the level of service I provide? (Remember: You are in this for the long haul and should be thinking of ways to keep your business alive for as long as you can!)
  • Am I able to lay off some staff completely for a period of time so I have a back up if needed?

Again, this is all dependent on your particular business and what we are doing here is a prompt or guide for you to start the process of figuring it out.

So, once you’ve nailed this, the next step is to let your staff (and customers, where necessary) know what you’ve decided. Get them on board! You won’t get through this without them.

Section 5 – Shut down

What if I’ve been told to shut up shop?

First things first. You need to ensure, first and foremost, that you and your family can survive this crisis, even if your business cannot.

Research: 

  • What support is available to me and how do I access it?
  • Do I need to budget?
  • How do I look after our mental well-being?
  • Are there neighbours or friends I can count on to assist with essential errands?

Communicate:

It is important that you communicate what is happening to both your staff and, as much as possible, to your customers. A simple message, chat or phone-call will yield a much better result than simply disappearing from view.

Remember that you will need your staff and your customers when things return to normal.

If possible, you should also make sure that you have the means to communicate with them when you’re preparing to come back online. For some, this will be as simple as making sure you have phone numbers or email addresses, for others, a facebook page, for others more sophisticated communication tools and networks. Whichever is available to you, use it.

Spend the lock-down wisely:

Once you’re satisfied that you are doing the best you can for you and yours, you will find a bit of time on your hands! Sure, get those jobs done around the house, enjoy the peace and quiet (or the noise of family), learn a new skill or new hobby – whatever! This is an opportunity for you.

You should also, however, be putting some time aside for yourself to think about what is going to happen when the current crisis is over. (link to Recovery strategy)

Section 6 – Recovery

Recovery strategy

What do I do when I am allowed to return to work?

There are still so many unknowns, like how long will this go on for and will all the restrictions be lifted at once or will it be a slower, controlled process?

This makes it more difficult to plan for a return to business, however, not impossible.

Money matters:

First of all, you need to think about how to ensure your business is still financially viable at the end of the shutdown. Ideally, you should seek professional advice, but at the least, you should do your research and get access to those payments, benefits, exemptions and periods of grace, etc. that your business is eligible for, as a matter of priority. 

TIP: You need to remember that the majority of these do not, in any way, remove your liability. In other words, plan on having to pay this back, unless it is specifically and clearly stated that you will not have to.

So, the simple stuff first. If you can:

  • Continue to pay the bills you can afford to pay as if you were still operating
  • Continue to meet reporting obligations unless an exemption applies AND you are unable to meet that obligation
  • Do not spend a cent on anything which is not absolutely necessary, right now.

Once you are in a position to understand what your income and expenses will be for the period of the shut down (assume at least 6 months), draw up a budget so that you can clearly see what position you will be in at the end of those 6 months.

Most of you will take a hit – and probably a big one. Some of you will come out if it with money in the bank, others with debts or larger debts. That’s ok! Part of recovery planning is about managing what resources you have both at the time of restart and until you are back to your normal operating position.

Staggered versus All-at-once:

Again, this decision will depend on a few things but it’s important you give it some thought before action. For example:

  • Your financial position may dictate a staggered return. In this case, look for those components of your business which have minimum cost/maximum reward. I.e. those things you can come back to with minimum fuss which will immediately start returning income to your business.
  • Your staffing may dictate a staggered return. It is possible that during the lockdown, you have lost one or more staff members. Maybe because they were able to secure work with another business, maybe because they decided to leave the area or perhaps they simply have no wish to return to work for you. Whatever the case, you need to consider this possibility.
  • Your customer base may have changed. It is possible, if not likely, that previous engagements you made with customers, which could not be met at the time, have now fallen through. Whether this be as a result of them deciding not to proceed with work (perhaps they can no longer afford it) or deciding to go with another business to fill their need. You will need to reconnect with them so that you know the workload you are returning to.
  • Your business stream may be dictated to, by the government. This will probably be the last thing you find out but is more likely to occur for multi-faceted business concerns. In which case, apply the above logic to those components of business you are able to return to.

Even if you are in a strong financial position, fully staffed and with proper customer engagement, you will likely have a backlog of work. 

Consider whether you should be attempting to secure more work or if the backlog will be overwhelming as it is. If you choose to concentrate on the backlog, how do you communicate this to potential new customers? What sort of waiting period should they expect?

To answer this successfully, you need to be organised. 

Schedule it:

List your backlog, assess the amount of time each job will take and try to schedule it as closely as possible to reality (this will require some prioritisation).

Communicate: Talk to your customers. I am sure the majority will be very understanding and willing to help in any way they can. For example, you may be able to delay commencement of some work even further with the agreement of some of your customers. Some customers may prefer this anyway, given that many will not be in as strong a financial position as they were when they initially engaged you. You won’t know unless you have the conversation.

Prioritisation:

Out of this process, you should be able to identify which tasks are more important than others. If you are struggling to identify what your priorities should be, ask yourself for each task:

  • What will happen if I don’t get this done now?
  • Is anything else depending on this being done? I.e. Is another job impossible to start or finish without doing this first?
  • Do I have all the resources I need to complete the task or do I need to wait until I do?

Take another look at your schedule and make decisions about what needs to be undertaken urgently and what can wait a little longer.

Set your schedule up so that you have allocated time to each.

You should now have a clearer picture of your overall workload and where you may still be able to fit new work in.

Section 7 – Opportunity

Goodwill

Goodwill in an intangible asset. It is not a ‘thing’ that you own but it does add to the value of your business. Goodwill refers to the confidence and loyalty people have toward your business and it’s always a good idea to reflect on what your customers might think about you.

So how do you harness goodwill and how do you improve it?

  1. Appearances: The appearance of your workshop or home base of operations will leave an impression. If it is clean and well organised, it will leave a good impression. If it is not clean and untidy, it will not. The same goes for your equipment and staff. Keep your equipment well maintained and ensure that your staff present themselves well at all times.
  2. Communication: When communicating with customers (this applies to yourself and your staff or representatives) always be professional and respectful. Be friendly but don’t overdo it. For example, if you stay chatting too long, you might give the impression that you are lazy or that you aren’t very busy. Businesses which aren’t very busy, usually aren’t very busy for a reason and your customers will always be on the lookout for reasons not to trust you.
  3. Service to the community: This is not just about the product or service you provide. It is about how visible your contributions to your community are. For example, this can be as simple as one of your staff being recognised for ‘going the extra mile’ to assist an elderly person (whether on the job or not) or maybe because your business supported a local charity event.
  4. Keeping your word: This is pretty simple. If you say you will do something, do it. If something comes up and you are not able to get it done, let them know as soon as you can. Don’t leave your customers wondering!

Change of focus

There is also another way of thinking which might prove fruitful for some. It will most likely involve ‘thinking outside the box’ and could, depending on your circumstances, be your ultimate contingency plan.

Many businesses have a singular focus or are in a particular trade or industry and seem restricted to only conducting that particular line of business. However, it is quite likely that the skills that you and your staff have are transferable. That is, those same skills might be useful in another line of work.

You might also have equipment and office or shop front space which could be adapted to suit another purpose. There are already a few examples popping up on the news – breweries now manufacturing hand sanitizers, snorkelling masks being adapted into face masks.

Ask yourself:

  • What have I got? 
  • Who have I got and what skills do they have?
  • What does the community still need?
  • What services are still deemed essential?
  • Is there anything I can do to meet that need or provide that service?
  • Will this keep me in business?
  • What will be the cost vs reward?
  • Is there an opportunity for growth or will it be a stopgap to keep me going?
  • How can I either continue in a new stream of work (maybe as well as your existing business) or revert back to what I was doing before?

Don’t just dive in! You need to think it through carefully and weigh up all the pros and cons before commencing a change of focus.

Section 8 – Feedback

Feedback:

Did you find this information useful?

Was it easy to read and navigate through?

Would you be interested in more information like this in the future?

Would you be interested in undertaking a free online course to improve your business skills?

Is there any other feedback you would like to leave?

Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

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