By Nerma Albertorio Barnés, founder of Centro para Emprendedores y 100 Ventures
Our life and surroundings are subject to events that are beyond our control. What we can control is planning how we will react to them. Natural phenomena like hurricanes, earthquakes and the spread of diseases such as the new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) are capable of affecting the operation of any business, but you can lessen their impact by taking certain steps.
It is your duty to make sure your business remains as functional as possible when faced with adversities. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to focus on the basic things you should include when equipping your site—the things that will allow it to continue operating during and after an emergency:
- a plan for you and your employees to work remotely in case of a pandemic, like the one created by the spread of COVID-19
- safety guidelines for employees and clients who might still have to visit and work from your facilities
- a safety protocol that mandates social distancing (if your business is part of the fields currently exempted from lockdown orders)
- a power generator and water tank that are appropriate for your type of business
- a satellite Internet connection and up-to-date insurance policies, and among others.
These additional strategies can help you keep your business afloat while consumer usage patterns normalize.
1) Prevention is always best. Don’t put off creating or reviewing protocols, evacuation plans and emergency procedures. Establish protocols to check structures after earthquakes. Assign specific days for drills and/or trial runs and also to explain emergency plans to your employees. Does your business have high customer traffic? Create posters with earthquake and fire instructions using universal graphics. You could also develop an institutional video or a recorded announcement for these purposes. Establish evacuation strategies for your clientele and employees in case of fire. Don’t forget to include hygiene measures. For example, always have soap and disinfectants available in bathrooms and kitchens. If your business has shopping carts, have staff disinfecting them continuously to prevent the spread of coronavirus, influenza and other diseases. If you have doubts, seek an expert on these topics and have them guide you or create a protocol for your company.
2) Organize your finances. Talk with your suppliers and creditors about the possibility of setting up new payment agreements. Times of crisis represent an opportunity to analyze prices, study your profit margins and evaluate new suppliers that can offer you better deals.
3) If assistance is available, take advantage of them. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Small Business Administration (SBA) and some organizations and foundations have business support programs that are activated in times of disaster-related emergencies. Similarly, local and federal government aid can also be available. Check what kind of assistance is available and for which type of aid you qualify.
4) Create synergies. Analyze the possibility of creating alliances with nearby businesses to make combined product offers, joint marketing campaigns, share ideas or even possible expenses you might have in common. These synergies can be very beneficial.
5) Talk to your customers. Check on their well-being and inquire what you can do for them. They may be able to offer new ideas to incorporate into your business in times of recovery. This simple action is an excellent tool to optimize your customer service and create loyalty. Customers appreciate when they are heard and when their recommendations are taken into consideration.
6) Expand your market. If people come to your location, consider offering your services at their home, online or from a second location. There are tools that allow us to create online versions of our stores in a simple and easily maintainable way. Besides being an alternative for your clientele, this can give you the ability to expand your market and, consequently, increase your sales.
7) Diversify. Have you heard the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”? One way to strengthen your business model is to diversify it with new products and/or services. Diversifying adds different sources of income for your business. Some examples are:
a. Study the possibility of creating a new product or service that is related to those you already offer or that complements your original product.
b. See if you can create a different product or service according to consumer patterns or the demand you observe in your clientele.
Note: Fernando García and David De Sevilla from Centro para Emprendedores collaborated in writing this article.
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