How to reopen your business: The checklist owners should follow to reassure customers, keep employees safe, and grow profits
Businesses across the country have been disrupted for two months, and most are eager to get back to work.
But with varying guidance from governors, and conflicting information coming from the White House, business owners may feel like they are on their own.
Half of the companies polled by the small business referral network Alignable said they were working with local partners to re-open their operations. Half of those surveyed also said they could get back to work within a month of restrictions ending.
Business coach Bob Prosen told Business Insider that entrepreneurs' plans to re-open should have seven key elements.
Almost as important as making the plan itself is writing it down. Documenting your assumptions and rationale for a course of action — and noting when things change — is especially important during a time when circumstances can change in a matter of days.
"Now is the time to be actively involved as a business owner, to ensure that the extraordinary steps are taken above and beyond what's basic and required," Prosen said. "Companies that do that are the ones that are going to be more successful than anybody else right now."
Start with you've learned during the pandemic
Necessity leads to invention, as the saying goes, and that holds especially true now.
If the pandemic has forced your business to find a better way of doing things, Prosen says, "those need to be documented somehow and inculcated into our business going forward so that we don't lose that knowledge."
Make a detailed financial forecast
Prosen recommends a detailed cash-flow forecast of at least 12 weeks (24 weeks for larger businesses) for three different scenarios: best-case, worst-case, and most-likely.
"That whole cash flow model is probably the most essential thing you need to put together," he said.
Your cashflow forecast is the only way to tell if a financial option like the Paycheck Protection Program is a life-preserver or a lead weight for your business.
If you're able to meet the conditions for PPP loan forgiveness, or you can afford to take on new debt, then now is a fine time to borrow money to stay afloat. But if you can't meet those criteria, or you don't expect to have the cash flow to pay down a loan, then new debt could sink your company.
Reassure your customers, and reach out to new ones
Data from states in different stages of lockdown suggest that simply ending a policy won't in itself bring business back. In order to bring back your customers (and maybe even gain a few new ones), communication is key.
In addition to raising awareness about what your company is doing during this time, Prosen says it's also an opportunity to listen and learn what people in your community need most.
Nearly 40% of businesses in the Alignable poll expressed worry that their customers will be too afraid to return. That's why Prosen recommends having empathy about the struggle that customers are going through during this time.
"How we deal with our customers is important," he said. "If we want to continue to have them rely on us, we have to be sensitive to what their needs are."
Rethink your organizational chart
There are a number of potential challenges to getting the team back together, and each challenge calls for a different solution: Some members may not want to return from a remote-work situation; others may receive more on unemployment than you can afford to pay them; still others may have serious health or family concerns that complicate matters further.
"Have your HR person involved in this, and if you have legal counsel, get them involved. Make sure that you're doing it right," Prosen said.
Alternatively, if your business has adapted well to cuts in your workforce, Prosen says now may be a moment to re-draw your org-chart to reflect the reduced headcount.
Examine your return on every investment
Breaking even in the midst of a crisis is a tremendous accomplishment, but at some point your business will need a growth plan.
Prosen recommends examining your sales and marketing strategies to see where your effort and investment produce the best returns in the so-called "new normal."
Whether that involves expanding your e-commerce or delivery channels, introducing new products, or shifting your sales team to virtual visits, a successful re-opening will require finding both new sources of revenue and savings to boost the bottom line.
Brainstorm backup supply chains
No man is an island, and no business operates on its own.
"We're all integrated into a longer supply chain, and we depend on other organizations, people, products, and companies, to help us fulfill commitments to our customers," Prosen said.
Just because your business is getting ready to re-open, that doesn't necessarily mean that the partners you depend on will be on the same page. Furthermore, Prosen recommends identifying alternate or backup solutions in the event that one of your key partners is unexpectedly unavailable.
Designate a health and safety chief
Saving the most important item for last, Prosen says health and safety considerations should wrap around all six other facets of your re-opening plan.
"You've got to take this so darn seriously," he said. "You need somebody in charge of reopening and coordinating all of these aspects of health and safety inside of your company, for your employees and your customers."
Health considerations could have an impact on your workforce plans, sales strategy, and cash position, and will likely require the undivided attention of a member of your team.
Prosen recommends going "above and beyond" the official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, and he pointed to a Department of Labor program that provides free site safety consultations for small businesses.
"A lot of companies unfortunately don't actually document their plans — they're in their heads. This one you need to document," Prosen said. And "you need to have a coordinator — somebody to ensure that whatever is in your plan, in fact gets enforced."
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