Trends & Insights

How coronavirus has impacted businesses – and what you can do now

In light of the challenges that the pandemic has caused, here are some tips to help your business keep moving as restrictions ease.

If you’re running a business in Ireland, then you may have been heartened by the easing of coronavirus restrictions and gradual reopening this summer.

It’s been such a tough year that anything that offers light at the end of the tunnel must be something to be celebrated.

With the Irish government announcing the Economic Recovery Plan at the beginning of June 2021, it could be now that you can make up for lost time and business, and we’ll provide some tips on how you can do this effectively and efficiently.

But before that, it may be worth looking back at the challenging journey we’ve been on, although it’s way too early to say coronavirus has come to an end.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

Reopening of Ireland timetable

Few small businesses escaped adverse effects from the pandemic

Light at the end of a dark tunnel

Continue to identify and test new revenue streams

Adopt technology to manage processes effectively

Managing cash flow

Manage and restructure finances as government support ends

Work with experts for insight

Final thoughts on how coronavirus has impacted businesses

Here’s the latest state of play of the country opening up again, following an announcement from the government at the end of August 2021:

Since 1 September

  • Public transport returned to full capacity.

From 6 September

  • Outdoor sports events are allowed to have 50% capacity in stadiums.
  • For religious ceremonies, larger crowds are allowed to gather; places of worship can have up to 50% capacity.
  • Indoor events: Venues are allowed to have 60% capacity, for those who are vaccinated.
  • Outdoor events: Locations can have 75% capacity, for those who have been vaccinated.
  • Live music can return for weddings. But the 100 guest limit will not be removed at this point.
  • Confirmations and communions can take place.
  • Coaches can operate at 75% capacity.

From 20 September

  • A phased return to the office starts from this date. As an employer, you’re employers encouraged to provide continued flexibility to your employees. Social distancing will apply in offices – a one metre rule for desks as long as other protective measures are taken.
  • Indoor activities, including indoor team sports, and dance and exercise classes, are allowed.

From 22 October

  • Depending on a series of factors, including 90% of all people aged over 16 being vaccinated, most remaining coronavirus restrictions are set to be eased (this excludes mask wearing). However, before a final decision on the lifting of restrictions is made, other criteria (such as the number of people in hospital due to coronavirus) shall be taken into account.
  • The hospitality sector and live entertainment industry’s remaining restrictions and requirements, including the need for Digital Covid Certificates, could be dropped by the end of October 2021.

As might have been expected, small businesses in Ireland, like everywhere else in the world, found the coronavirus pandemic extremely challenging.

A report from YouGov says 74% of small business decision-makers reported a negative impact overall, with 8% classing coronavirus as relentlessly negative (those who said coronavirus had a negative impact and did not see any improvements in trading with loosened restrictions).

Half of the small businesses negatively impacted by coronavirus (52%) said the effect was worse in May 2021 than when the pandemic started early in 2020.

The most significant negative impacts for these Irish businesses came from decreased turnover (34%), an ability to work with customers because of social distancing (29%), difficulty sourcing goods (25%), cash flow issues (23%) and losing customers (22%).

Unfortunately, there was a human cost, with 17% of respondents saying their business laid off staff, despite the Irish government making available grants and subsidies available until the end of 2021.

Despite the gloom and doom, it’s important to remember that many of the restrictions put in place due to coronavirus have ended at the time of writing, which should be a boon to all small businesses that have been labouring over the past year.

The evidence states that conditions for businesses should certainly improve – 70% of small businesses reported an improvement in conditions when restrictions eased in 2020.

Perhaps because of the brutal winter of 2020 we had and the challenges still to come from this year, only half think that their business trading activities will return to normal from May to November. But that still leaves nearly half who think we’ll be business as usual.

So, there’s understandable pessimism among some Irish businesses moving forward into 2021 and beyond.

Hopefully, though, restrictions ending means that there is a lot more opportunity for you to control what’s happening with your business without having to deal with a seemingly never-ending cascade of bad news that 2020 came at us with.

Here’s some advice that you might want to take as you look to the future.

The phrase goes, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. This was undoubtedly true in coronavirus pandemic times as you searched for new revenue streams and rethought your business models, even if temporarily.

For instance, the pandemic accelerated digital trends in retail and hospitality, as people stuck at home turned to online shopping and e-commerce to spend their money.

Although life may be getting back to what we are used to, there’s no turning back on this transformation as more and more people decide to forgo brick and mortar destinations for an online experience.

If there hasn’t been an online and delivery component to your business, now is the time to add it as an added revenue stream if it’s possible.

Coronavirus accelerated a remote working culture, and it doesn’t look like our working practices will return to what they were like before.

Many businesses already offered the flexibility, but coronavirus forced others to embed it as routine practice – with a lot of people finding they liked it as it offers a better work/life balance.

Unless your business demanded that you needed to be on-premise, it’s likely you and your employees would have worked remotely and that you could communicate well with cloud software.

Whether you were at home communicating through Zoom, Slack or Microsoft Teams, or handling finances and payroll through cloud accounting software and cloud payroll software respectively on your laptop, tablet or mobile phone, you may already be ready for a remote working (or hybrid working) future.

If you made remote working a possibility, then seriously think about doing so where it can work.

Today’s best talent understand that small businesses can be flexible when it comes to working practices.

In a worst-case scenario, they might want to leave your business or turn you down when you’re recruiting if you don’t embed it in your culture to a correct degree.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of Irish small businesses had or still have cash flow issues because of the pandemic. And even in more normal times, managing money coming in with money coming out can be a problem.

As we advance, getting the basics right is vital.

If you’re not doing a cash flow forecast, for example, you’re unable to make any sound business decisions based on forecasting and estimates.

The aim should be to have a reasonably accurate view moving forward for the next month, six months and 12 months.

A big reason you need to forecast your finances is the fact that any Irish government support you’ve been getting is not going to last forever.

It’s essential to make a note of what payments, grants and schemes you’ve made use of are going to end, and restructure your finances to fit.

Your cash flow forecast will help you understand whether there’s still challenges over the horizon.

It will help you decide if coronavirus and non-coronavirus-related financial support is something you want to look at.

It’s about taking a long, hard look at your finances and making the right moves to keep your small business going before it’s too late.

Even for your most experienced small business owner, finances can get confusing, especially with the need to understand what coronavirus support is available moving forward.

A good accountant can be beneficial, as they’ll likely have more knowledge of emergency coronavirus legislation than you do.

They can give you advice on what type of financial support you can and should apply for and provide some advice regarding the complicated area of employment and contract law.

If you’re making grant or loan applications, accountants can help provide you with key financial reports you might need. They should also give you an overview of your company’s finances, providing the right advice if necessary.

As an Irish business, you’re in a more fortunate position than many small businesses around the world, which are still suffering from lockdowns and restrictions from a pandemic that still could have a lot of time to run.

It’s been an extremely trying time, but there’s hope for the future.

If you haven’t already, making some of the changes mentioned for life after coronavirus may help financially, not only to ride further difficulties but thrive in the face of adversity.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in August 2021 and has been updated for relevance.

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