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.
Seek help and advice from financial institutions
Meanwhile, if you have angel or venture capital investors, tap them for information and advice. They can frequently provide insights based on their other investments.
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Be aware of financial measures to support businesses
One of them means your business can get a loan/mortgage payment break for up to three months. Another is around simplifying the application process, meaning it’s easier to get support from the banks.
In addition, Enterprise Ireland is administering a €200m fund of enterprise supports for businesses that need to be rescued.
There’s a €200m working capital loan scheme set up by Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) to support businesses that are struggling due to the coronavirus outbreak.
And Revenue has put a number of support measures in place. One of them covers debt enforcement – no activity in this area will occur until further notice.
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 Ireland.
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.
Some 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.
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. You can also find out about support for Sage solutions, including enabling home working.
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