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Ask SCORE: Survive and recover

Many small business owners are being hit from both sides in this current economic situation. We need to focus on the survival of our businesses, while at the same time we worry about the health and safety of our employees and our own families.

There are some businesses, of course, that are benefiting from the pandemic because they sell services or manufacture products that are in high demand. But many small businesses are struggling to survive, facing serious, ongoing declines in sales and orders that could lead to business failure. This is true for small manufacturers, traditional retailers and service providers.

The most important advice right now: Don’t panic. Yes, that’s easier said than done. But you need to stay calm and logically consider all your options.

Pay attention to the new rules. You need to know and abide by regulations regarding if or when you can stay open, the percentage of employees you can have working at one time and other regulations put in place by government agencies. Be sure you are getting information from trustworthy, reliable sources or government organizations. The posts on social media may not be accurate.

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate right now.  With SCORE, you’re never alone.  Here are the top 10 things we’re advising clients to focus on now to help them survive and recover when this disaster ends.

1. Assess your business situation

Determine what really needs to be done now, and make a plan for what is happening. Be creative. This is not the time to just throw your hands up.

2. Know your numbers

Your business survival, now more than ever, depends on knowing your numbers. You can’t determine how to proceed unless you know what your fixed expenses will be in the coming months,  what your discretionary spending is, what your normal sales are for this time period and a realistic estimate of how badly sales might fall. Sit down with your bookkeeper or accountant, and get all of the numbers down on paper. If you think you will be applying for any type of loan or funding, gather the bank statements and financial statements the lender will require. Submitting a loan application without them will delay a decision.

3. Be brutal about cutting costs

Being lean may be an asset in recovering quickly. In addition to trying to reduce or postpone rent and loan payments, think about other costs you could reduce or eliminate to avoid business failure. Consider big expenses as well as little ones.

4. Reach out to experts for help

Reach out to local resources such as small business development centers, minority development agencies and SCORE chapters in your area. These organizations provide free assistance for businesses. Their advisors are experienced in helping small businesses solve problems. They are staying on top of resources and developments, and they can help you with all of the SBA grants and loan programs being made available right now.

5. Communicate with everyone

Reach out to customers, and let them know if you are staying open and if your hours of operation will be changing. Let them know what procedures you have put in place to ensure their safety, or if they might experience delays in getting help or receiving their orders.

Talk to employees about changes to their schedules or the nature of the work you’ll need them to do. Let them know if you will be forced to lay off workers or if you will be able to let them (or require that they) work from home. If so, what procedures will they need to follow?

Call your vendors and let them know what they can do to help. Will they give you a break on prices? Can they provide anything you’re not ordering now that your customers are asking for? Will they let you delay payments? If you are a good customer (and you pay them on time), they may be willing to work with you.

6. Reinvent your business

Take a cue from car manufacturers and other large companies that are switching over their operations to produce face masks, disinfectants and other needed supplies. You don’t have to be a big corporation to make changes. In fact, the smaller and leaner your business already is, the faster you can shift gears.

7. Consider selling online

Are you selling your products and services online? If not, why not? It’s time to get your head out of the sand. Even when people buy in-person or on the basis of personal relationships, they are likely to research the products, company or consultant online before making a decision on what to buy and from whom to buy it. If you have a business, you need a website. The type of website and what should be on it depends on what you sell.

8. Be mobile-friendly

An ever-growing percentage of businesspeople and consumers are reachable electronically via computer, smartphone or tablet. They search the Internet for vendors, products and prices (as well as find the nearest restaurant or gas station). It’s on their tablets and smartphones. You need to be accessible by the devices and methods the customers you want to reach prefer.

9. Start pickup and delivery services

Even if you’re not in a business that normally offers delivery, consider offering pickup or delivery services. If you provide a way for customers to place an order in advance, they might be willing to come and pick up items or perhaps have you deliver their orders to them. Be sure to ask your insurance agent what you need to do if your employees are driving their own cars and delivering for your company.

10. Ramp up your marketing

Hopefully, you already have a customer mailing list. If you don’t, start building a list immediately. Use your list to communicate with your customers. Tell them what’s happening with your business. Give them tips on how to use what you sell. Tell them what products you have available. Include coupons, links to buy, and your phone number.  Remember, it’s not your customers’ job to remember you — it’s your job to remind them that you’re still here to serve them.

It’s time to take action!  Your business depends on it. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and our economy.  Proposals in Washington calling for billions in aid to small business are enormous and may feel out of reach as we work from our homes, miles away from our nation’s capital. As a business owner, we often feel alone and overwhelmed, even in good times.  We’re all in this together though, and we will survive and thrive once more. We are the greatest nation in the world.  We are citizens who always rise to the occasion when things get tough. The volunteer businessmen and women of SCORE are with you, ready to help. You can find them at www.Score.org/find-mentor.

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” have helped more than 10 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in more than 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, call 1-800-634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you or visit SCORE at www.score.org.

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