In the Challenge of Adversity
Lies Hidden New Opportunity!
This is not the time to wait it out.
There are 5 major risks facing small businesses that cannot be ignored.
But there are also opportunities for new and significant gains.
Tip #1 Legal and Regulatory
Covid-19 is not like the flu from a legal and regulatory point of view. As a business owner, you are at greater legal and regulatory risk because Covid-19 is a recognized workplace safety risk. Like any other safety risk, you need to mitigate it. This comes with its own unique requirements. Although you may be aware of some, most jurisdictions have specific guidelines that they expect you to use as a basis for your own business policies and practices. These include the use of signs, barriers, physical distancing, sending people home to isolate, hygiene, cleaning/disinfecting, PPE and the maintenance of records. There are consequences to not doing these things:
- Unless you adequately protect employees by using these guidelines, you can be fined under Occupational Health and Safety regulations.
- If someone can show reason to believe that they contracted Covid-19 in your business due to a lack of care, you could be taken to court.
- Failing to comply with public health orders or cooperate with health officials can result in a fine or shut down.
There are many new products and services emerging to cost-effectively help businesses stay on the right side of the legal and regulatory risks while operating their business. However, your business first needs a specific Covid-19 policy backed by provable practices that will keep people safe while in your location. Review the changing government guidelines in your area, which typically now include masks, cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces, hand-washing, distancing and barriers. As we move indoors, ensure your ventilation systems and filters are serviced. If someone has any new or worsening Covid-19 symptoms, or if they have been in close contact with someone who tested positive, they should not be in your business for between 10-14 days, depending on jurisdiction and circumstances.
But how will you know? The most effective option is to get support from your staff to screen daily (if possible, screen visitors as well) and keep a log of the results. This can be a big help keeping Covid-19 out of your business and can reduce your legal risks. SiteSafe™ is a simple, fully-automated mobile app to make it easy for any business. It takes minutes to get started. Nothing to download or buy.
Tip #2 Financial Focus
Although Canadian GDP is expected to recover to 96% of pre-Covid levels as we close out 2020, this is not true for some areas of our country and for many small businesses. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) surveys report up to 30% of their members are on the edge of closing their doors permanently, especially in hospitality, travel and event businesses. However, some companies are experiencing surging business with some seeing their best year ever. What are they doing differently?
If 30% of small businesses close their doors while the overall economy moves toward 100% recovery, it stands to reason that this creates a big growth opportunity for the surviving businesses. The first thing to consider is how to be one of the survivors!
Your company should continue to leverage all government financial aid programs and generally try to conserve cashflowfor the next few months. Federal wage subsidies are now available to businesses till June 2021. Rent subsidies have been improved and extended to June 2021 as well. If you need to make a large purchase or pay bills, there are increased government-guaranteed loans with large forgiveable portions (read "you don't have to pay it all back"). These can be a great deal and a great opportunity to conserve your cash.
You can also contact us at Blueneck for specific cash conservation advice.
As much as possible, attempt to drive more opportunities for engagement online with your customers. Consider selling higher volume, higher margin, and smaller, easy-to-ship or pick-up products online. Provide interesting information and good advice on-line so people visit your web-site and read your social media. Reach out more using phone, text, email, social media, video-calls, webinars or anything else you are comfortable using. Stay at the top of your customer's mind and you will get a larger share of their business.
For those businesses who depend on in-person services and sales to drive the bulk of revenues, make visible changes to demonstrate to customer that they can be confident, comfortable and feel safe being in your business! One way to do that is to show to your customers that everyone entering your business is checked for Covid19 symptoms. You can now easily do that with an automatic app from SiteSafe™ with nothing to buy, install or download. As per tip #1 above, it also can help protect your business from covid19-related legal actions.
Tip #3 Staff Coverage
You should not risk your business by allowing someone to work or visit who has cold and flu-like symptoms. Why? Because if it turns out to be Covid-19, it will send home everyone else who works with them or even shut down your business. Unfortunately, Covid-19 symptoms can be virtually identical to colds and flus. Some of the other symptoms can be a surprise. If they get tested and are found negative, they can return to work once symptoms go away. But, if someone catches Covid-19, they must self isolate for at least 10 days. But, there is an EVEN BIGGER RISK. If your employees work or meet together, when one employee tests positive for Covid-19, any close contact means ALL employees need to self-isolate. If they were within 2 meters of each other for as little as 15 minutes, they have had "close contact". You could lose whole groups of staff for up to 14 days. Some jurisdictions allow employees to return to work if they test negative, but not all. Losing your staff for weeks at a time could be crippling to your operations. How do you avoid this?
This is an opportunity to engage your staff to create a healthier workforce and re-organize how work is done to be more flexible and team focussed. The same recommendations in Tip #1 above will also help keep employees safer from catching Covid-19 and also from colds and flus. But there is more:
Encourage your staff to get a flu shot! You don't want to be dealing with seasonal flu on top of a pandemic!
Plan your staffing for increased absences by building a coverage plan and cross-training employees. This is true even for remote workers since working remote does not mean they cannot become exposed to Covid-19.
Minimize close contact between employees in a location by having them communicate at least 6 feet away from each other or use chat/phones rather than in person discussions. Visiting each other’s workspace in person should be discouraged, masks should be used, and limit time to under 15 minutes.
Stay behind the barriers and do not unnecessarily walk around them to speak to a co-worker. Remind them the barriers are for everyone, not just customers.
Create safe, contact-free social opportunities to replace other forms of socializing. If that is not possible, establish small permanent work teams to limit the loss of staff, should an infection break out.
Actively screen for Covid-19 symptoms. In every business I work with, employees are more likely to report symptoms if they are asked! Walking past a sign is too easy to do. SiteSafe™ automatic screening of Covid-19 makes this easy and simple with nothing to buy, install or download. For a free trial account:
Tip #4 Bringing Customers Back
Not all businesses can move to remote work or move sales fully on-line. Maybe this is your business, the ones that rely on clients and customers to visit and buy your products or use your services. Remaining open during the pandemic is not enough, but attracting customers back into your business can be challenging. Many customers feel unsafe making trips that could expose them to the virus. If your business implements safety measures, customers may not even see them. But if do have great safety measures, will customers feel comfortable with them? Small businesses need to find a balance to attract customers back. What ideas seem to be working?
This is an opportunity to show your customers that not only is it safe to visit your business, but that it will also be a more a comfortable and enjoyable experience! You need to be doing both to regain your customers. Below are 10 New Ideas to get customers back:
First, make it obvious to your customers that you are keeping them safe. Many businesses think they are doing that, but are not. For example, offering complementary hand-sanitizer in their entrances, but allowing them to go empty, won't send the right message. Some businesses have signage requiring face masks, but do not enforce it. Many have signs to not to come in if you don't feel well, but no one ever checks. What message are you sending? Much like your business would not tolerate an abusive customer, you may need to turn away one customer to keep many more. Instead, be visible with your safety policies and hold the line. Here are 5 ideas:
- Discretely check everyone coming into your business with the standard health self-check questions (see below)
- Politely turn away clients who refuse to wear a face mask or who show signs of illness
- Post a sign proudly declaring how many work-days your employees have been covid-free (which could be all of them if you screen)
- Create special areas and extra procedures for encouraging older clients and those with pre-existing medical conditions to visit
- Go contactless so customers need not touch payment terminals, forms, or pens
Second, although bragging a little about your safety measures can reassure people, don’t focus exclusively on the safety because you are in the customer service business! Show your customers that your business is a place they will enjoy visiting. Some restaurants use clear masks for serving staff so that smiles can still be seen. Others businesses have implemented decorative or company-branded barriers. Still others have taken advantage of the extra distancing to enhance client comfort. Here are 5 more ideas:
- Add exclusive promotions, simple games, quizzes, prize draws, fun facts, or humor to your contactless systems (see below)
- Give away novelty face-masks with your logo on them. No need to be serious when people are tired of serious covid messages
- Create an anoynmous live chat or walkie-talkie group for your customers to be social when they are in your business (see below)
- Upgrade you business background music. With lower densities allowed, now may be the time to reconsider what customers hear
- Spice up your curb-side pick-up with uniforms, curb-side pickup news of the day, flyers with good-news stories, humor, and fun-facts
Now for the "see below" information mentioned above! All these ideas can be implemented easily with the SiteSafe™ app, which offers a free 30 day trial. You can check all your customers and promote that you check all your employess daily with a simple, automated, discrete, self-service app. More importantly, you can easily add in your own business' creative and fun ideas, accessible from right inside the app. To learn more about SiteSafe™
Tip #5 Avoiding Shutdowns
Speaking to many small businesses since the beginning of the pandemic, one thing is clear - those that are taking smart action to take the pandemic seriously are having no Covid-19 outbreaks in their business. Zero. So why are you still facing economically damaging government restrictions and shutdown?
Covid-19 is now surging to levels 3 to 4 times higher than when governments shut us down last spring. Hospitals are reaching capacity, putting all of us at risk. However, non-political experts, including Bill Gates, are telling us that vaccines will not allow us to return to semi-normal life until maybe the summer of 2021 or, for some businesses, into 2022. This is a devistating reality. We need to get a lot smarter managing Covid-19, businesses and politicians alike.
What can small businesses do?
There are three lines of defense you can participate in:
- Protect your business from your employees: This is not the time to give in to "covid fatigue" and take your eye off the ball. The risk of an employee in your business catching covid is 300-400% higher than it was over the spring and summer, and this could send your whole team home (see Tip #3 above). Ensure you have strict covid safety policies in place and then hold the line. Review covid proceedures and have covid safety meetings with your staff. This will help keep covid safety top-of-mind with your employees, both when they are on and off the job. This will also help counteract much of the misinformation circulating about covid that could create sloppy behaviours and put your business at risk. Communicate to staff that you are serious and ask for their support in keeping your business open and safe!
- Protect your business from your customers: As a business owner, you have a legal obligation to maintain a safe environment. You may need your customers to come into your business, but you don't need to let them infect your business. You CAN refuse service to people who do not wear a mask in Alberta and many other Canadian provinces (COVID-19 and Human Rights). You CAN actively ask people to disclose covid symptoms, recent international travel, or recent close contact with a positive covid case, prior to entering your business and this is not discrimination. They may choose not to disclose, but if you have an entry requirement, you only have a duty to accomodate if it causes the customer undue hardship. You may wish to exempt patrons who are front-line medical workers or offer a way to accommodate them in some other safe way! If you want a free sample covid business policy, you can request one below.
- Speak up: Small business needs a louder voice in government, especially now. Politicians are confused on what to do, especially if vaccination herd-immuniity can not be achieved till fall 2021. Businesses that are following and exceeding guidelines to keep employees and customers safe from covid need to be acknowledged and supported to stay open. Those that are not following guidelines, need to close until they can show that they are following them. I have seen smart ideas to implement this level of compliance quickly that would cost nothing (ask me about them at firstname.lastname@example.org). We also need a way to start easing restrictions on small businesses before full herd-immunity is achieved - such as allowing more patrons into a retail space or to sit together when it becomes safer to do. Imagine what it would mean being able to meet friends at a restaurant, attend a show, or go to a game again!
Right now, government has no idea what to do. I have talked to many at the provincial and federal levels. Small business needs to demand better of our MP's and MLA's. We should not let them cave to voices that do not stand for small business! Please, write to your MP and MLA by clicking below for a sample email text you can copy/paste into an email.