Yes, small businesses are suffering – but some are helping to fight coronavirus - The Guardian

Yes, small businesses are suffering – but some are helping to fight coronavirus - The Guardian


Yes, small businesses are suffering – but some are helping to fight coronavirus - The Guardian

Posted: 19 Mar 2020 03:03 AM PDT

The coronavirus pandemic is turning economies and our daily lives upside down. Some larger companies that provide home entertainment, hand sanitizers, delivery services, pharmaceutical research and even toilet paper (who would've guessed?) are poised to take advantage. But it's not just these large companies that are benefiting and looking for ways to help.

Challenging times can create opportunities for some small businesses too. And while many of my smaller clients are struggling, and no one is happy about their financial portfolios nowadays, some entrepreneurs are finding themselves in a better financial situation just because of the types of products and services they sell. Here are a few examples.

Revenues at PhoneSoap, a Utah-based company that makes devices to clean phones and other items with UV light, have grown more than 1,000% year over year in just the past week. Co-founder and president Dan Barnes told TechCrunch that the company's not into backorders yet, but expects to be soon. CleanSlate UV, another company doing similar things for "device hygiene", has also been seen their sales explode.

In Seattle, the team at Slightly Robot is now selling an iPhone and Android app designed for wearable devices for $50 that encourages users not to touch their face. Called Immutouch, the app was first designed for people that suffered from compulsive hair pulling, skin picking and fingernail biting. "We're not looking to make money," one of the founders, Justin Ith, told GeekWire. "We are selling each unit nearly at cost, accounting for cost of materials, fabrication, assembly and handling. We are a small team with limited upfront capital so we have to order components in small batches. Our hope is that as more people show reception to the idea, we can order larger quantities, reduce the price and make it more accessible."

The Wall Street Journal reported this week on Biofourmis, a Boston-based company that gathers information from patients using a special sensor and then leverages its proprietary artificial intelligence-based analytics to identify changes in their health. The technology can be administered remotely and would play an important role in determining if a person's condition is deteriorating because of coronavirus, or other viruses and diseases. The company hopes to enroll up to a thousand quarantined people in Hong Kong for monitoring in the next few weeks.

A Seattle teenager has built an amazing Covid-19 tracking website that has become wildly popular. The site, which scrapes data from reliable sources around the world, provides up-to-the-minute statistics on confirmed cases, serious cases, deaths and recoveries by country. "I am getting 1,000 messages a day," 17-year-old Avi Schiffman told the Times of Israel. "Some are from people thanking me for the site, some are from media outlets reaching out for interviews, and many are from PhDs who have suggestions for information I could add." Schiffman's not making any money on the site, which has been visited by more than 12 million people since it launched in December. But given the number of offers he's getting I'm betting he'll be doing well in the future.

As many companies are having their employees work from home, big collaboration apps like Zoom (which has added more videoconferencing users this year than in all of 2019 thanks to coronavirus), Microsoft Teams and Slack are seeing increased usage. But many smaller players such as Friday, FreeConferenceCall, Brandlive, Bluescape and LogMeIn are also experiencing dramatic demand for their services, according to another report in TechCrunch.

Companies big and small that provide telemedicine services are now finding themselves in demand. One example is AmWell, a Boston-based telehealth provider that already serves more than 150 million individuals across 55 health plans, is seeing an opportunity to expand its reach. "Telehealth is being rediscovered," Dr Peter Antall, the chief medical officer, told the New York Times. "Everybody recognizes this is an all-hands-on-deck moment. We need to scale up wherever we can." Other telehealth companies such as Ro, Teladoc and MDLive are providing free online assessments to help patients diagnose Covid-19, according to a recent report from Fast Company.

I'm just scratching the surface here. The coronavirus pandemic is a major issue and people are dying because of it. Let's be careful and kind. And let's also be grateful that there are many entrepreneurs and small businesses who are already helping to fight this battle.

A 10-Point Small-Business Survival Plan for Dealing With the Coronavirus - Entrepreneur

Posted: 20 Mar 2020 01:47 PM PDT

This guide can help guide you and your business during difficult times.

12 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's safe to say that this current crisis is like none other faced by small business owners in the recent past, and it's certainly daunting trying to tackle all of the unique issues it presents. Regrettably, the predominant voice we hear hasn't offered a lot of specific steps to take or advice on how to save our business, let along come out on top.

Below are 10 issues to address with detailed considerations and action items that might make the difference in being able to keep your doors open and calm your employees and customers.

Related: Emergency Webinar: Weathering The Storm As A Small Business Owner

1. Immediate financial triage.

The greatest concern for most business owners, at least initially, is how am I going to pay my bills this week, next week, and how long will this last. Of course, this is a very difficult question to answer and moreover, most business owners are facing a reduction of business owners. Here are some important steps to take on the financial front as soon as possible:

  • Create a cash-flow budget listing with fixed versus variable costs. Fixed costs will generally keep the doors open and must be paid. Create a list of priorities about which ones are most important and try to set money aside based on the timing of when they are due. 
  • Analyze cuts to unnecessary costs that aren't producing revenue or securing key business functions.
  • Layoffs, terminations or furloughs of employees. Remember, your employees can be one of your greatest assets, and if you cut too deep, you may not get them back. 
    • Layoffs are considered to be a temporary request for an employee to take unpaid time off. These employees will most likely seek unemployment benefits, but our hope is to have them back as soon as possible.
    • Furloughs can be a variety of things and tailored to your situation. It may be that employees work at a reduced rate, maybe they don't work at all and stay home, they may be paid a minimal amount, or might be paid fully at some point in the future. However, don't ask employees to work for free — you will probably face problems for doing so under state law. 
    • Terminations are just what they sound like. You're letting someone go and they probably won't be coming back. They'll more than likely seek unemployment benefits as well. 
  • Find additional financial sources of revenue. Be creative in your sales and marketing (more on this below).
  • Consider any savings or resources, including possible loans (more on this below).

2. Tax payments.

Taxpayers have an unprecedented tax payment extension from the Fed for 90 days, until July 15th. This is up to individuals and small business owners of up to $1 million in taxes owed, and up to $10 million for C-Corporations.

However, taxpayers still need to file their taxes or extensions. Still file or extend by April 15th. There are penalties if you don't file, but again, no penalties or interest if you don't pay (for up to 90 days).

Taxpayers might also be able to find some extra money by filing their taxes, because there's a good chance they could have a refund. In 2015, it was reported that over $1.4 billion in tax refunds went unclaimed and were kept by the treasury department. 

Important note: Don't fall victim to thinking you can wait to pay payroll taxes. If you are an employer, those payroll taxes are considered sacred funds by the government. You're playing with fire! Payment of these taxes is not extended and penalties and interest are significant for not paying payroll taxes.

3. SBA Disaster Assistance Loan.

The Federal government through the Small Business Administration has authorized loans to small business owners of up to $2 million. These are mean to be used for business debt, covering payroll, costs to operate the business. The terms can be up to 30 years to repay and a low 3.75 percent rate. 

A business owner will need to provide financials to qualify and a personal guarantee from the individuals owning 20 percent or more of the company. At best it could take up to two to three weeks to get the loans as well, so don't think it's that quick of a turn-around either. 

On the face of it, this may seem like a safe or logical choice. However, remember this is still a loan that has to be paid back. If your business is already barely getting by, it may not be the time to do into more debt. Maybe it's wise to close the doors entirely and re-open in the future. Taking such drastic action doesn't make you a failure. 

4. COVID-19 policies within your organization.

Be clear with your employees regarding your specific policies within the business and safety protocol regarding the virus. It's probably wise to follow as closely as possible the CDC guidelines, social distancing, clean work areas, environments and good hygiene.

Be flexible on sick leave that employees want to take, and try to reduce areas of the company with groups of more than 10 employees. Cancel large events and use conference calls and webcams to communicate when possible. 

Following any federal, state or local government directives regarding guidance for employers and looking out for the safety of your employees and customers, although a pain, will be appreciated in the short and long run.

Related: 4 Ways to Boost Your Immune System During the Coronavirus Outbreak

5. Employees and your talent.

It's not all about cutting costs with payroll. It's important for business owners to show leadership. Set the tone and be the calm in the storm. You're riding a wave, you're on a surfboard. Don't complain about the wave or gripe. It's not going to change. Pay attention to it though and adapt. 

Don't plan too far out and remember things are changing often. Make a plan for the next few weeks, then the next month. These plans will change, but here are a few specific ideas or steps to consider with your team:

  • If you have employees, make sure they are assured about being protected. You want to retain the key people who drive your business. In the end, it's people who make every business successful so focus on your key people. 
  • Don't get stuck in decisions you made last week. Be willing to adapt and have new plans. You are going to have to live with these changes once the crisis is over.
  • Communicate any changes to your sick leave policies. Make sure your employees know to not come to work sick and that you are being generous with sick leave at this time (helps your payroll costs too). 
  • Stop hiring unless there is a candidate you've been trying to recruit and don't want to lose. Communicate with them.

Unfortunately, hard decisions will need to be made. Make a talent assessment in your company on who is valuable and how your business will be different if this person isn't working for you next week. 

6. Marketing and sales.

Make sure to communicate clearly and consistently with your customers. If you are open for business, make sure they know that and how to interact with your organization. Make it easy for them to purchase your product and services.

Use your social media presence to keep your customers up to date. If you typically don't use social media, it may now be time to build one. 

Implement a newsletter or series of emails to your customers if you aren't already doing so. Use it to communicate your ability to help customers and any changes to how you regularly provide them. 

Be creative and find new opportunities to market and sell. Given the current conditions, what resonates with customers right now that you can provide? This is a good time to focus on your existing customers, provide excellent service, make sure you retain your important relationships and customers. Let any key relationships know you are still there and how you can be of service. 

Finally, consider new ways to deliver your service or product. It may be through home delivery, mail or through virtual web-based services. Offer discounts if necessary and think outside the box.

Related: Taking Coronavirus Uncertainty Head On: A Small Business Owner's Guide

7. Operations, research and development, product or service improvements.

If things are slow, this is an ideal time to tackle those projects you have been putting off. Invest in this time, don't waste it on Netflix or getting sucked into the never-ending news coverage. Instead, consider this time for you or your team to be invested in improving products, services and finding efficiencies. 

If you or your team have more time available (because you have less work or fewer customers), use this time to improve your processes and efficiencies, improve products and services or make the changes you've been meaning to do over the past few years or months. We know we all have them in our business, and we've been too busy to get to them. Well, use this time now. Come out of the storm stronger and have a better product or service. 

Conduct training in your company or get training yourself as a leader in areas you know will improve your company. If you know you are weak on social media marketing, or accounting and budgeting, IT, or a niche thing in your business category that could drive your business, invest your time into this. Get your team doing the same. 

8. Remote work for your employees.

Many small businesses are having employees work remotely for the first time. Make sure you set the expectations for those working remotely. Many business owners already operate on nights and weekends remotely, but your employees probably don't (at least, that's been my experience this week). 

Increase your level of technology if necessary as quickly and as affordably as possible. Hopefully, you aren't on an old-school server and have your key software and company functions in the cloud. If you are on a server, you will need to set up VPN accesses for employees to access their work computers from their home computers. If you are on the cloud, this is much easier (Gmail/Google, Outlook 365, Salesforce, most modern CRMS, etc.).

Implement a work-from-home agreement in writing with your employees and have them sign it. Set-forth expectations and implement a procedure for a weekly productivity report to be completed each day and then summarized by the week (excel spreadsheet is what we use) so that employees are tracking their workloads, customer interaction, and projects. You can also include in this agreement terms for reduction in pay if necessary based on productively or sales.

Assess what functions can be done remotely and what must be completed in the office. For most businesses, not everything can be remote. A small team may need to be on-location for certain functions (mail, packages, shipping, etc.). Try to have a measured approach and get as many people as possible to work remotely but realize it's probably not possible for all, depending on job function, employee skill, family situation at home of the employee and more. 

Related: Twitter Won't Remove Elon Musk's Coronavirus Misinformation Tweets

9. Assess your business's 2020 strategic plan. 

If you didn't make a Strategic Plan for this year, it's certainly time to make one now.

This is a great time to make modifications. Start on projects that have been on your wish list and revaluate your objectives for the year. Adjust the plan and outlook for 2020 as you know more about your business. 

You're going to have weeks or months dealing with this mess. Are you going to use the time wisely or waste it? 

10. Be charitable, show humanity and note what you are learning from this.

We are all learning a lot about how we could have better prepared for this disaster. Use this time as a wakeup call and learn from this experience. Start taking notes and don't return to the status quo when this is all over. 

  • Have a financial reserve or savings account for your business that could help in times of need or disaster.
  • Have a personal financial reserve of a few months of living costs. 
  • Build a small food storage at the least. Maybe a few months' worth of household goods, such as toilet paper, soap, feminine products, laundry soap, etc. Do your best with the resources and space you may have.
  • Consider new revenue sources and small diversifying your business.

Finally, try to serve and help those in your community. The more you help others worse off than you, the better you'll feel. As even a short history of the United States has shown, this too will pass and we should do all we can to help one another through it while we all learn and grow from this trial.

How to protect your small business in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak - CNBC

Posted: 24 Mar 2020 07:16 AM PDT

A medical worker in protective clothing attends the COVID-19 coronavirus response-training exercise, at the Oleksandrivska Clinical Hospital in Ukraine.

Pavlo Gonchar | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

Stock markets are plunging — down about 7% at Monday's close — oil prices are in free fall, supply chains are being disrupted, and in the middle of it all, small- and medium-sized businesses are dealing with frightened employees, skittish customers and an uncertain future. The situation is so dire, President Donald Trump plans to meet with Senate leaders Tuesday to discuss a payroll cut, small business aid and help for hourly workers who might become sick.

Ever since the coronavirus started infecting people in China, Eric Plam, president of Skyroam, a San Francisco-based company that creates and sells Wi-Fi-enabled hotspots to businesses, has been busy figuring out how to keep his staff safe and his business operating. 

The business has about 120 staff in Shenzhen, China — out of 180, including 20 in the U.S. — all of whom were told by the Chinese government not to come into work after the virus started spreading. At the time, Plam didn't understand what was happening. "I first thought it was the flu," he says. "I was wondering why they weren't going into work."

He's since called off several in-person meetings, told employees they can work from home and turned a board meeting, which was supposed to take place in Beijing, into a videoconference call using Amazon Chime, an online videoconferencing program.

"It went really well," he says. "Everyone was able to join without having to travel, and we were able to translate live, so people were able to speak in Chinese and English as they usually do."

About 807 miles north in Seattle, Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, an employee engagement software company, has been reacting in much the same way. He too has canceled all nonessential travel, while most of the 160 or so employees that work from the Seattle office (100 more already work remotely) are now stuck at home. "There are 12 people here," he says. "Luckily, we're in the software business, so working from home is an option."

Not too late to plan 

Plam and Albrecht are just two executives out of thousands who run small- to medium-sized businesses now scrambling to figure out how to handle all this disruption. 

This wouldn't have been an issue a decade ago, when American businesses mostly conducted business closer to home, but now many companies are global. "We encouraged small businesses to be more global and to export more, and now they're more vulnerable to things like the coronavirus," says Andrew Sherman, a Washington, D.C.-based partner with Seyfarth, a global law firm. 

Despite cases continuing to rise and markets sending people and companies in a panic, it's not too late for businesses to set up remote workforces, communicate with staff and prepare for a worsening outbreak. Here are a few things you can do now. 

1. Communicate with staff 

One of the most important things you can do is communicate with your employees. Many are likely concerned about their health and how they can continue working as more things get shut down. 

Albrecht's own Limeade ONE platform comes with an internal communications feature where people can instant message each other. As soon as the outbreak's seriousness became clear, Albrecht set up what he calls a "care in crisis" channel that automatically sends push notifications to staff whenever he posts. "There's an intentional importance attached, because the messages are coming from me," he says. 

It's in that channel where he provides updates on the virus itself — he's posted a number of CDC videos on COVID-19 and how to monitor oneself for the disease — along with recommended handwashing and social-distancing procedures, travel updates (most are canceled) and ideas on how to work effectively from home.  

Employees can also post their own messages in that channel, which he says is key. "It's powerful," he says about the two-way communication. "We want to hear from our people as well. We also have the ability to ask people to take a quiz so they can tell us if they need more information on something."

2. Invest in work-from-home technology

While most people likely have a phone, a computer and an internet connection, some may not have enough bandwidth to do the kind of work they do at the office at home. Some companies may also not be set up with the right collaboration tools, such as internal communications programs or secure Wi-Fi networks to allow for remote work. 

With coronavirus cases surging, Eric Plam, president of Skyroam in San Francisco, told his employees to work from home.

Skyroam Inc.

While Plam has only 20 employees in San Francisco, anyone who is feeling a bit under the weather is encouraged to stay home. At the moment, though, most are at work. If anyone does decide to stay home, whether in the U.S., China or in his other offices, in France and Germany, they can use Skyroam's own technology, which creates Wi-Fi signals by tapping in local data networks. This gives them office-grade internet without having to pay for it themselves. 

His phone has been ringing off the hook over the last couple of weeks with more companies than ever wanting to find ways to help their staff work remotely. 

For Albrecht, Microsoft Teams is coming in handy. It's a collaboration program that allows people to video chat and work on Word files together from wherever they may be. Google's G Suite, which comes with collaborative software like Google docs, sheets and hangouts, is another alternative.

3. Create a disaster preparedness policy 

A lot of companies haven't planned for a crisis on this scale, but as many are finding out now, they need one, says Sherman. A good plan will cover a number of things, including procedures around remote work. It should spell out how people should work from home and what tools they'll need to get the job done; how to handle travel; what to do about meetings and more.  

It's also important to include things such as insurance coverage for business closures or trip cancellations, how to get financing when no one is investing, what lines of credit are in place, supply chain alternatives and more, says Sherman. 

While service businesses may be able to continue operating in some way, other companies, such as restaurants or local movie theaters, will have to think hard about how to manage staff and cash flows if people stop going out. "What is plan B?" he says. "If something were to happen, do I have the right alternative business models in place?" 

All of this should be documented, says Sherman, as it shows that people are thinking about what could happen in a worst-case scenario, and it acts as an easy-to-reference guide on what to do, how to communicate and how to keep business running in difficult times. "You need all the elements of a crisis-management or disaster-preparedness plan in place," he says. 

You need all the elements of a crisis-management or disaster-preparedness plan in place.

Andrew Sherman

a partner with global law firm Seyfarth 

No matter what happens, small- and medium-sized businesses will no doubt take some sort of hit to their bottom line. While the government may step in to help — some democrats have introduced a bill in Congress to provide up to $2 million in interest-free loans to companies affected by the outbreak — business owners need to be proactive and do what they need to do to keep their doors open, even if their employees aren't there. 

While COVID-19 appears to be getting worse in the U.S., Plam isn't panicking. His staff are set up to work from wherever they can, and while he does anticipate busier times ahead when people start traveling again, for now it's mostly business as usual.

"We remain optimistic that we'll get past this and the economy will roar back to life," he says. "We may have to catch up on some things, but employees are prepared." 

More from Invest in You:
How to build a cash reserve if coronavirus causes you to miss work
Avoid this investing mistake as coronavirus fears grip markets
Save $1,000 without sacrificing anything you really love

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