For many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) is already taking a heavy toll, with some customers staying away, employees advised to work from home and challenges around supply chains. Meanwhile, some clients may be wary of doing business because of fears that orders won’t be fulfilled.
So, how can you keep your business moving during this time of uncertainty? Read this article for a series of tips to help your company and your employees.
Keep communication lines open
Communication is always important but in times of difficulty, open, honest, relevant and regular communication with employees, customers and suppliers is essential. The fact that almost everyone is being impacted by coronavirus means almost everyone will understand your predicament.
Whether it’s an email, a phone call, a statement on your website or comment on social media, stress that you understand the anxiety and concerns your stakeholders are facing, then go on to focus on the action you’re taking.
Make it clear you want two-way communication – a conversation with clients, employees and suppliers – and that you’re always ready to listen. Explain that during difficult times, you’re ready to be creative and think laterally about the way in which you work with them to keep business moving.
It’s also important to communicate with your bank, lender or shareholders. As well as asking for advice and extra help, let them know if you think you might suffer cash flow problems or you’re concerned you might be about to go into the red.
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Seek help and advice from financial institutions
If you have angel or venture capital investors, tap them for information and advice. They can frequently provide insights based on their other investments.
Be aware of government financial measures to support businesses
There is state help for those concerned about cash flow. The government has announced £330bn in loans for companies plus £20bn in other aid. This includes a business rates holiday and help for small firms without insurance. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, also introduced a package that includes a Statutory Sick Pay relief package for SMEs.
There is a small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business on the small business rate relief or rural rate relief, and grants of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.
In top of that, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will support long-term viable businesses who need to manage to cash flow by seeking additional finance. The chancellor said he will do “whatever it takes” to protect British businesses.
He added: “That means any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms.”
The further cut in interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25%, cutting borrowing to the lowest level in history, will, the Bank of England says, provide access for SMEs and other companies to billions of pounds of extra lending power through banks.
Coronavirus: Government funding support tool
Use this simple tool to help you understand which government schemes your business is likely to be eligible for and guidance on accessing them.
Get support with tax and managing cash flow
Even before this latest announcement, further help was unveiled by the government. SMEs that are struggling with their tax bills can get support from HMRC via its Time to Pay service.
Although around 700,000 of the smallest businesses are already exempt from paying rates, they will also now be eligible for £10,000 in grants to assist them with their business costs.
It’s worth noting that since these the grants are tied to business rates, the coronavirus grant only applies to England because business rates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are set by their devolved administrations. These regions will have their own guidance and funding.
Alongside this, like other businesses, SMEs can use their outstanding invoices to manage cash flow. Instead of waiting for clients to settle invoices, you can borrow against them. With invoice factoring, you can sell your outstanding invoices to a factoring house. In both cases, you get an immediate injection of cash.
Support employees to work from home
The past few years have seen an increase in those working from home. According to BBC 5 Live’s Wake Up To Money programme, there was a 74% increase in the number of people operating like this between 2008 and 2018.
And there’s evidence to show that people work more effectively from home and take less time off sick.
Technology such as Zoom, Skype and GoToMeeting offer an alternative to face-to-face meetings. Workplace from Facebook, Slack, Monday and Basecamp are among other apps that enable collaboration between colleagues working remotely and the management of teams who are now based at home.
Microsoft and Google have offered some of their products for a limited period because of the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s important to stay in regular contact with your employees who are working from home. You might not be able to have your regular team meetings in person but you can do them online.
If anything, in these times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to keep in regular contact with your people. This will help you to maintain morale and engagement.
Don’t forget to talk to your cyber security provider about any increase in home working to ensure your data is safe.
Although many employees will be able to work from home, there will still be those who need to be present on site.
It might be possible for those in back office functions such as payroll and HR along with certain other departments, such as marketing and legal, to operate remotely. However, staff in businesses such as care homes, cleaning or hospitality, for instance, will have to be present.
It’s important to treat all of these people equally and fairly.
Join local business groups
Now is the time, if you’re not doing it already, to join local business groups and networking events such as BNI UK.
Of course, meeting face to face will be difficult but a lot of these groups offer online or virtual meetings and introductions.
Seek new opportunities to reach your customers and clients
It’s often said that crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin and coronavirus is providing SMEs with opportunities to provide new products and services.
Already, some gyms and personal trainers – businesses that are all about physical presence – are keeping in touch with their customers by creating fitness videos on YouTube and offering clients training in their own homes.
Even if you can’t sell as easily to your clients at the moment, think about providing them with useful, relevant information and content, and generally keeping in touch. This will help to ensure that when things return to normal, not only will those customers be more likely to buy from you again but you may have a deeper engagement with them.
Food outlets and restaurants are looking for new opportunities to deliver meals while other companies are exploring mail order options. Professional services firms are moving meetings with clients online, as are training companies that have always worked with their participants on a face-to-face basis.
If you can’t sell in person easily at the moment, then it’s worth looking for online sales. As well as Amazon and eBay, you could consider Shopify, Yahoo Store and Magento among others.
There are other business opportunities, too. The European Commission recently urged “startups and SMEs with technologies and innovations that could help in treating, testing, monitoring or other aspects of the coronavirus outbreak” to apply urgently to the next round of funding from the European Innovation Council.
Coronavirus is changing the way in which in the world operates and does business. By accessing the financial help that the government and institutions are offering and acting quickly to look for new ways of working, your business will be well placed to keep moving.
Coronavirus and your business
We’ve gathered information and resources to help navigate this situation, including tools and webinars, to help you understand what financial support is available.