Perspectives: Practical advice for small businesses when a pandemic hits

Posted 4/3/20

Editor’s note: Jon Spoon, the director of the CCCC Small Business Center on the college’s Pittsboro campuses, shares some tips for small businesses as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. You …

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Perspectives: Practical advice for small businesses when a pandemic hits

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Posted

Editor’s note: Jon Spoon, the director of the CCCC Small Business Center on the college’s Pittsboro campuses, shares some tips for small businesses as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find the Chatham Small Business Center online at chathamsbc.com.

The past couple of weeks have been the most difficult of my professional life. I have heard from many people that are struggling desperately to keep their businesses and lives on track. The uncertainty can be debilitating. However, with some creativity and grit, we will make it through this. Here are a few tips for small business owners during the crisis.

Come up with a plan: If you have never had a business plan, you will need one now. At the very least, write out what your business will need to do to operate for the next six months. Explain how your business operated before the crisis, how it will have to adapt during the crisis and what benchmarks you will use to know if things are going well enough.

Reach out for assistance: Seek out webinars and help from support organizations. The Small Business Center, Chatham EDC and Chatham Chamber of Commerce are here to help. Check their websites for information and register for online trainings.

Let everyone know how you are handling the crisis: If your business has changed its operations and hours, you must let everyone know it. If you can operate with social distancing measures in place, do it and explain what changes you have made. Make sure your messaging is consistent and uses all communication methods you have available. Send out a newsletter, post on all your social media pages, and search for your business online. Make sure every account has up-to-date information.

Get in touch with your creditors: Talk to your landlord, your suppliers and your bank. Let them know that you have had to scale back your operations and ask for flexibility with payments.

Consider a loan to provide cash-flow: If you were profitable or have prospects for when we are able to return to normal, consider taking out a loan for the next few months. The SBA has a loan program for Economic Injury during the disaster and the CARES Act may provide more help. Figure out if one of them is right for your business and apply.

Talk honestly with your employees: If you are unable to maintain their hours or employment under the current conditions, help your employees seek benefits and make plans for when you are able to operate again. The unemployment offices are dealing with record numbers of claims, but be sure to be responsive and proactive in seeking benefits for your employees.

Be creative: Now, more than ever, you will need good ideas on how to stay afloat. Sell gift cards, create subscription programs, or find new avenues for sales.

Make a digital marketplace: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but if your business model fits, find a way to do business online. People will be at home and on their computers; they will not stop caring about you. Find ways to let them help you from home.

Act quickly to take advantage of help as it becomes available: Talk to other business people and read newsletters to learn what programs are being created to help small businesses. If the program fits and could really help your business, apply quickly. Many grant and loan programs are being overwhelmed immediately with applications. If you read about something and say you will put together an application next week, you will be too late. If something comes up that can actually help, put your name in the hat as soon as possible.

Be wary of scams: People are going to try to take advantage of the uncertainty of all this. If something sounds too good to be true or you got it from an unreliable place, reach out for guidance before you waste your time on it. Ignore offers that ask for money upfront to assist your business in finding funding.

Maintain contact throughout the crisis: This goes for your best customers, your suppliers and the public at large. Spend time each week to let people know how you are weathering the storm. Make a call list of your most important connections and touch base with them to see how they are doing. If you want to get back to normal after this is over, you will need to assure people know that is your intention.

I hope this list will help you during these difficult times. Small businesses are vital to durable communities. We live in a wonderful place and it will return to growth once this has passed. Stay in touch with your community and do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Jon Spoon can be contacted at jspoon@cccc.edu.

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Anthony Constantinou

Unfortunately, the Coronavirus epidemic has already suffered small businesses hard. What’s worse is that some professionals are saying this is only the start, the pandemic ends within year or run into the long-term. Small business owners have to be ready to buckle down, reassess and make changes in their business strategy.

| Thursday, May 14