What small businesses need to do right now

We’ve compiled a check list of questions you might find helpful in your recovery which will affect most businesses right now. Some might be familiar and you can have the pleasure of mentally crossing them off but as you bring more staff back there may be other issues to address. We’ve broken it down into three key areas here, staffing, finance and customers. Really good luck with it all. It’s testing times, that’s for sure.

Staffing issues

  1. Local regulations do change over time it seems. So find a reliable online source and think about having someone in charge of keeping up to date with everything
  2. You’ve probably already sorted out how your staff will work safely, with air flow ideally and screens if their desks are too close together, but please make new health and safety policies/statements which reflect these changes (this may protect you if the need arises)
  3. Look into ‘after hours’ cleaning and hygiene services for the business
  4. Make simple signs and notices online about how you will deal with customers/clients, especially in the ‘personal’ service areas such as salons
  5. Think about the travel your team conduct in carrying out their role – what is expected now
  6. Put a system in place regarding how you will trace the people your business comes into contact with in case of infection
  7. Agree how you will communicate with staff who are working across the office and home environments moving forward to create a sense of cohesion and team spirit
  8. Reinforce what action needs to be taken if an employee becomes ill or has any of the symptoms and clarify their position on paid sick leave
  9. What are the procedures if anyone does become ill with Covid? Will you close the office etc? How will you let everyone know and how will you keep in touch with them
  10. Decide how and at what (financial/work load) points you can bring more staff back from furlough and the hours they can do. Think about flexible working and shifts (especially if you usually do 9-5). You can be kept up to date with changes to the furlough scheme here
  11. Have a long hard look at salaries, commission structures and bonuses to check that 1) the business can still afford them and 2) that they are attainable (so as not to demotivate at this delicate time). Consider temporary changes in three month increments if these need to be adjusted
  12. Dig out your employment contracts (which should have been adjusted already if you’ve been furloughing) and look at the terms and hours. Consider creating a new contract if things have changed since they were last updated

Financial Rebalance

  1. Plan for four different scenarios: things stay as they are for the rest of the year in terms of turnover, b) things stay as they are for the next two years, c) things gradually improve d) things gradually deteriorate
  2. What are your monthly costs and make a projection until at least the rest of the year
  3. If there’s not enough expected income to cover costs, how long have you got before you need to make more hard decisions
  4. Have another look at the regular payments your business has been making. Contact suppliers/landlords to discuss extended payments or monthly payment terms and revised lease terms/payments
  5. Look hard at your debtors/income. Can you offer incentives to clients for payment or (even) early payment, deposits, varied payment options
  6. Analyse your stock levels. Can you shift ‘gluts’ with offers to help with cash flow? Can you refocus the marketing onto a more limited range which you expect to be the most popular lines for a few months?
  7. If you need to, approach your bank/investors/friendly accountant to discuss how you will trade your way through this
  8. What will be your short and medium term goals for the business (other than survival!!)
  9. Revise the business plan/value/mission statement if you have one and involve the whole team in your decision making. This will help everyone feel they are part of the survival and business in general moving forward. Will encourage their ‘buy in’ to changes to their work load and work flow, as well as working conditions and any teams you have. What you decide upon in this area will have a big impact on your sales and marketing approach and everyone needs to be on the same page. If you want to create a simple business plan from scratch you could use this as a guide
  10. Consider reinforcing an ‘open door’ policy with remote communication methods to help you. Make sure your team know who they can talk to about concerns and don’t try to make out everything’s great if it’s not. People can smell it a mile off and deceit and general bravado and ‘gung ho’ attitudes (no matter how well meant) are not going to help bring them on side.

Who are your customers now?

  1. Which customers are likely to be able to continue to use you or even buy more from you. Get even closer to them. Be there for those in crisis/survival but make it clear you don’t look like you are expecting any extra business from them when you contact them
  2. Which areas of growth can you focus on for marketing, these may be different to traditional markets for your business and will require some research
  3. What message are those people going to need to hear? Consider contacting some companies and asking them what’s going on for them, using the phone, or research the sectors online
  4. Re-organise anyone involved in direct sales to capitalise on growth areas rather than their usual client sector, it might mean that everyone in the business is actively encouraged to seek out new business. Incentivise accordingly. Or it may be that everyone is involved in product delivery or manufacture. ‘All hands on deck’ springs to mind here.
  5. Check your sales message – update your website, your email tone, your ads/flyers, your phone call approach and update all your social media profiles to make sure you are relevant and empathetic in today’s business climate. Here’s an article about making sure your message is heard
  6. Start using social media again if you’ve had a break. Whether it’s LinkedIn, facebook, twitter, instagram, whatever is your thing – and ideally as many different channels as possible. Seek out opportunities to share things which you think your customers will find useful, as well as community based news and initiatives rather than only things about how great your business is. Also share posts from your clients and your target clients, the ones you know are expanding from their social media or press pieces, who will be more likely to use you. They WILL notice. Follow them on all platforms you use and be generally helpful and supportive. It’s all part of the marketing mix to remind them you exist. A concerted effort here will really pay dividends
  7. Really think hard about what you can offer, perhaps for no direct fee/charge, which will add value to the client right now. I know it’s an old cliché, adding value, but with a completely new territory to navigate many of us are like sponges picking up tips and ideas here and there. If you’re not sure what would be helpful, use this as an opportunity to pick up the phone to them or send them some simple questions (no one has time for anything more elaborate) to establish their concerns, challenges and priorities. You can probably have quite a good stab at these yourself, though having said that, if it comes from them, it’s much more powerful in terms of relationship building.
  8. You might be in the position of being able to coach clients in areas which they could save money for themselves. Or help them use the technology you use more effectively – also has the added benefit of less ‘help’ calls from them fragmenting your day. So a win/win!
  9. Consider your products and services and perhaps focus on a selection of your most popular offerings for the marketing you might undertake
  10. Have a good look at the pricing and payment terms. Try to remove the risk associated with ‘what if I buy it /use them and it doesn’t work out’. Some business skills trainers offer money back guarantee for example. The one we use does. It’s reassuring and helps us take the plunge. A no quibble guarantee is good too if your product suits it. Having any sort of ‘reassurance’ in place is a good discipline as it also means you need to be clear about outcomes with the client/customer from the outset to everyone’s expectations are met. If you have a product based business, think about associated products and ‘deals’ which you could provide at a discounted price if the ‘high profit’ one is bought, or consider bundles at attractive prices
  11. If you are considering discounting some of your range or services, try to do it so you don’t look desperate. Even if you are! Try to find out what they can do for you in return. Perhaps they can pay the bill sooner? Or pay some upfront/ pay in installments?

We really hope these questions help you moving forward. We’ve had to address them ourselves and  are on hand if you’d like to discuss any of them with us.

We’re also aware of a great new business mentoring scheme for businesses in Hertfordshire. It’s free for up to six months and you are matched with an experienced business person who can help guide you with an objective eye. Who can also link you to the various support available in the county. Our Helen Froggett-Thomson is leading one of the teams of 25 volunteers. The scheme has been created by the leading business support agencies in Herts : Hertfordshire Growth Hub, Herts LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) and the University of Hertfordshire. If you are interested in having someone to talk to over the next few months, to keep you on track (or even create the track with you) please find out more here

If you are interested in talking to us, we’re on 01763 257882 or david@testingspace.co.uk.