In much of the US, small businesses have been given the green light to reopen after several weeks of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with new cases and deaths still rising and no vaccine on the immediate horizon, experts warn that the coronavirus will likely be with us for some time. Though some types of businesses may be able to implement adequate provisions for social distancing, it is feared that the loosening of social distancing restrictions throughout the country could result in another wave of cases.
There’s still so much we don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but we know a lot more than we did a few months ago. Every day, we are learning more about how businesses can safely reopen, and how they can pivot to stay profitable in these new times. As the weeks go on, we’ll also learn more about what’s not safe and what does not work. In this post, we’ll take a look at some precautions you can take to prepare your business for a possible second wave of COVID-19.
Why The Second Wave Of The Coronavirus Could Be Harder Than The First
You’ve probably heard a lot about the coronavirus possibly being in our lives for 18-24 months. The reason is that this is the amount of time it could take for us to either a) develop a vaccine or b) develop herd immunity against the virus. But what exact course the virus will take in those 18 months to two years is unknown.
A new report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) presents three possible scenarios for the coronavirus, which are based on what scientists know about COVID-19 as well as historical pandemics. Scenario 1 is that after the spring 2020 wave subsides, we get that big dreaded “second wave” we hear so much about this fall or winter, with some smaller waves occurring periodically thereafter. In that scenario, which emulates the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, the second wave is even bigger and deadlier than the first. This model also reflects the warning from CDC director Robert Redfield, who cautioned that a second wave of the coronavirus in fall or winter could potentially be even more devastating than the first, partly because it will coincide with flu season.
Another scenario presented in the report is that after spring 2020, we’ll see a series of peaks and valleys of the virus over a one- to two-year period, varying by geographic region. CIDRAP says that, depending on the height of the wave peaks, this scenario could require “periodic reinstitution and subsequent relaxation of mitigation measures over the next 1 to 2 years.”
The third scenario posited by CIDRAP is that we’ll see more of a “slow burn” with ongoing low levels of transmission but no major spikes. While this hasn’t happened in past pandemics, the scientists say it remains a possibility for SARS-CoV-2 and one which likely would not require reinstitution of stay-at-home orders or strict social distancing measures.
So it’s pretty clear to see how second waves, third waves, and so forth, will impact businesses and potentially require new lockdowns restricting business activity. While we can be cautiously optimistic that the worst-case scenarios won’t come true, we also need to be prepared for the possibility of a second wave of the virus that could result in more business restrictions and lockdowns.
It’s also a sad reality that even if the second wave is less severe from a health perspective, the economic toll of another prolonged closure (partial or otherwise) could be the final nail in the coffin for many small businesses still trying to recover from the economic effects of the first closure.
Is It Safe To Reopen Yet?
With no national quarantine or coronavirus-related business restrictions in place, states are each making their own decisions about reopening businesses. Individual counties and cities have their own business restrictions as well, with some cities and counties requiring masks at places of business and others having no such requirement. As both the pandemic and the recession continue to deepen, there’s a lot of discussion about how to balance economic health and public health, and also whether local governments are being too hasty about reopening businesses.
When you look at what businesses are doing now, there is a lot of variance from one region to the next, with some states, such as California, maintaining stricter social distancing protocols. For instance, California restaurants can offer takeout and delivery but not dine-in service. California is also doing some phased reopening — such as allowing curbside pickup for retail — in response to effective curve-flattening measures that have slowed the growth of new cases and deaths. Higher-risk businesses that require close contact with other people, including salons, barbers, gyms, and theaters, remain closed.
Meanwhile, in states such as Tennessee, dine-in restaurants are already open, as are salons and gyms. Tennessee is also lifting the 50% capacity restrictions on retail and restaurants, effective May 22. The state is even allowing large attractions, such as theaters, amusement parks, water parks, museums, and auditoriums, to reopen, also on May 22.
So, sticking with those two examples, are Tennessee businesses jumping the gun on reopening, even inviting a second wave? While California does have more than four times as many cases as Tennessee, the share of the population that’s infected is actually higher in Tennessee — one in 391 in Tennessee and one in 489 in California, according to New York Times data.
While time will tell the true impact of business reopenings during the pandemic, based on what immunologists tell us about where you are most likely to be infected by COVID-19 — indoor spaces with lots of people — it’s easy to see how even a single transmission event in a crowded gym or restaurant could cause a local outbreak and resulting business closures.
Again, some types of businesses may be able to reopen a lot more safely than others. It’s possible that, given the right circumstances, even higher-risk businesses such as salons may be able to safely reopen with stepped-up health and safety measures. It will be largely up to business owners (and their local governments) to decide if and how they can safely reopen, but generally, the better safety measures you can put in place, the better protected your business will be against a second wave of the coronavirus.
8 Things You Need To Do To Prepare Your Business
What do business owners need to do to get ready for future outbreaks? What should you have learned, and what should you be prepared to do the second time around? Let’s look at some specific things business owners can do to prepare for another wave of COVID-19.
Invest In Safety
Both to reassure customers and prevent your business from being a source of infection, it’s essential that you step up the health and safety policies of your store or restaurant. Whether that means investing in better personal protective equipment for your staff, putting up signs to encourage social distancing, or improving your building’s ventilation system, you can’t go wrong with a cleaner, healthier business. While most businesses have already implemented some enhanced safety measures, it’s likely you still have some room for improvement, especially if you initially implemented safety measures made for short-term/temporary use.
If you’ve received an EIDL or PPP loan from the SBA, you might consider spending some of it on safety-related supplies, such as PPE, or enhanced sick leave for your staff to discourage them from coming into work sick. (Note that you can only spend 25% of a PPP on non-payroll expenses.)
Revisit Staffing Plans
As businesses reopen, they are having to reevaluate their staffing needs going forward. In some cases, businesses have received PPP funds, but their employees don’t want to come back; other businesses are shutting their doors for good because their loan still hasn’t come through. As the crisis drags on, it’s necessary to view staffing with a long-term view and consideration of what you will do if a second wave forces you to close again. For example, if you’re currently seeing an uptick in demand after reopening, do you need more staff urgently, or can you wait to hire till later to avoid laying people off in the event of another closure?
A POS with employee management can help you make smart scheduling decisions. It’s also a good idea to communicate openly with your employees about your staffing plans because they are probably just as anxious as you about what will happen.
Work On Your Online Presence
If it wasn’t clear already, the pandemic has shown us that having an online presence is an essential tool for communicating with customers about changes to your hours, policies, and other crucial information customers need. Before visiting a business these days, we are more likely than ever to check the business’s website or Yelp profile — we want to make sure they’re still open, and in what capacity. Ahead of a possible second wave, it’s absolutely necessary to get in the habit of routinely updating your website and social media profiles with your current information. You can also use your website and social media for marketing, including offering special online sales during a closure.
If you don’t have a website for your business, you may be able to set one up through your POS — for example, Square POS lets you set up a basic website in minutes. You can also use a website builder to set up a professional website; read Best Website Builders For Small Businesses to learn about options.
Set Up eCommerce Sales
Small business websites have also become an increasingly vital sales channel during the coronavirus pandemic, as eCommerce = socially distanced commerce. If your business doesn’t have eCommerce options, it’s time to set them up. Depending on your business model and industry, you may want to implement the following eCommerce options:
- Online Ordering/Local Delivery: Customers can order items or food from your website and have the items shipped or delivered to their homes.
- Curbside Pickup/Order Ahead: Customers order from your website and then visit your store to pick them up without having to go inside.
- QR Code Shopping: Customers can scan an item’s QR code in your store or store window and then buy the item online.
- Online Gift Cards: Customers can buy digital or physical gift cards from your website and spend them on your website or in your store at a later date.
- Contactless Payments: This is more of a POS option that can allow for socially distanced payments, but adding a digital payment option, such as Apple Pay,Â can also add another convenient option for customers to pay on your website with one click.
- Social Media Selling: Even if you don’t have a full-on eCommerce website, you can sell products and services on social media. Multichannel POS systems, such as Shopify, make it easy to sell on social media, and Square also has a new Square Online Checkout payment option that makes it easy for customers to buy straight from your social media page.
Gather Important Paperwork In One Place
Being organized is key when applying for financing or any kind of aid. If you need a second round of emergency loans, speed will be essential. Make sure you keep all your important paperwork in one place, so you can access it when you need it. If you have received a PPP loan, you’ll also need to keep good documentation practices for when it comes time to apply for PPP forgiveness or if you are unlucky enough to face a PPP audit.
Look At Sales Data
When you need to pare-down operations (reduced business hours, limited customer capacity, online-only, etc.), you need to be super-strategic about what you sell. To this end, your point of sale system should have a wealth of POS data about when you were busiest, what sold well, slow-selling items, etc. You can leverage that data to do things, such as raise prices on hot sellers, lower food costs on a higher-cost dish (for restaurants), adjust your hours and staffing based on your busiest times, and much more.
Small businesses that can use data wisely to adapt quickly are in the best position to survive a second wave of the coronavirus and even a prolonged economic downturn. If you do not have a modern cloud POS with good reporting and analytics, now might be the time to upgrade. Check out our top POS software comparison to look at some of your best options.
Prepare For Shortages & Price Fluctuations
The pandemic has drastically affected the global supply chain, and it is very likely that your business could see shortages of products, supplies, ingredients, or raw materials. Even if you can get the items you need for your business, you may have to deal with price increases. These shortages and resulting price increases could be exacerbated by future waves of the virus, even if your immediate region is not affected. For example, restaurants are now seeing meat shortages and higher meat prices due to outbreaks at meat-processing plants.
In some cases, however, you might get lucky and see price decreases for some supplies, due to decreased demand and possible deflation. For example, gas prices tumbled during the early days of the pandemic. Overall, US producer prices posted their largest annual drop in five years in April 2020. The downside to falling prices is that customers will expect lower prices as well.
For more insight into the supply chain and COVID-19, read Why Small Business Owners Need To Understand Supply Chain & Risk Mitigation: COVID-19 Edition.
During times of uncertainty, it’s important to keep a close eye on your business finances and your cash flow in particular. Crunch your numbers and project your future earnings under different scenarios. If you’re facing another closure, how could your cash flow be affected? What about debts? If you’re not used to making these sorts of calculations, it might be a good idea to employ the services of a financial advisor who can offer a cash flow analysis and give you sound advice about how to handle your business’s finances in the current climate. Accounting software can also help.
15 Resources To Help You Weather Another Wave Of COVID-19
Here is a list of resources you can use to adapt your business to the new times we’re living through. Use these resources to learn more about socially distanced selling, emergency financing, and software that can help you sell smarter during COVID-19.
- Take Advantage Of These Small Business Grants For Coronavirus Relief: Find out if your coronavirus-affected small business is eligible for a COVID-19 relief grant from an organization, such as Facebook, Amazon, Spanx, or others.
- 5 Clever Marketing Tactics For Small Businesses During The Coronavirus Pandemic: Keeping in touch with customers is even more important as businesses temporarily close or switch to online and delivery. Here are five marketing tactics to help.
- Social Distancing For Small Business: How You Can Adapt & Survive The Coronavirus:Â Social distancing can help contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has hit small businesses hard. Your business can weather the storm by getting creative.
- Coronavirus Payments Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Switching To Online & Phone Payments: This article has everything you need to know about accepting payments online and over the phone instead of in-person.
- Quick Business Loans: The 6 Best Lenders & 10 Tips For Fast Approval:Â Looking for fast cash for your business? Read this one for a look at six reputable lenders that provide quick business loans and fast approval.
- What The Coronavirus Means For eCommerce & What Your Business Can Do About It:Â What does the coronavirus mean for eCommerce business? Learn the top eCommerce trends and how your small business can leverage them.
- Everything You Need To Know About NFC Technology & Why NFC Payments Are The Future:Â Are you ready for the future of payments? Business owners should learn how NFC works and adopt contactless to protect customers — and yourself.
- The Business Owner’s Retail Guide To Surviving The Coronavirus:Â Are you a small business retailer worried about the state of your business? Check the top tips and resources to keep your business strong during COVID-19.
- Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants:Â Learn how your restaurant business can adapt to new business conditions in the age of coronavirus, including resources on how you can save your business from closing and continue serving customers during this crisis.
- 5 POS Systems With Exceptional eCommerce Integrations For Online Sellers:Â eCommerce sales are growing, but retail stores arenât going away any time soon. Get the best of both worlds with these great eCommerce-friendly POS systems.
- Restaurant Delivery Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Implementing In-House Delivery: Considering expanding your restaurantâs services to include delivery? Hereâs what you need to know to implement restaurant delivery successfully.
- What Is Square Online Checkout? Your Guide To Using This New Square Payment Option:Â Square just launched a brand new payment service called Square Online Checkout. Learn about this online payment option and how it can help businesses in the age of coronavirus.
- Why Point Of Sale Data Is The Secret To Understanding Your Business And Making More Sales:Â Your small business is sitting on a gold mine of information locked away in your POS system. Learn how to use that point of sale data to your benefit.
- Easy Accounting Software For Small Businesses: Find easy accounting software for your business no matter what your level of accounting experience is. These top seven choices are easy to learn, set up, and use.
- Employee Management With A POS System: The Secret To Simplified Timekeeping, Scheduling, & Reporting:Â Your POS system probably has employee management features that can make timekeeping and scheduling much easier. Hereâs how to make the most of these tools.
The Bottom Line: Your Business Isnât In The Clear Yet
We are starting to see some signs of small business recovery, and that’s a great thing. But business owners must stay vigilant and be prepared for the very real possibility of more pandemic-related business disruptions in the near future.
It can be difficult to plan for the future when you’re still working through the first wave, and there is still so much uncertainty. You might also have the thought that you don’t want to over-prepare for something that might not happen (at least, not in your local area). But the fact of the matter is that even before the pandemic, businesses were moving in the direction of eCommerce, contactless payments, online ordering, cloud POS, etc. The pandemic only accelerated the changes that were already in motion. Also, even after COVID-19 is over, customers will likely remain more mindful of health and safety and will continue some socially distanced shopping practices that they relied on during the pandemic (e.g., curbside pickup). So even if you get lucky and don’t have to deal with a resurgence of this particular virus, your business will benefit from adapting to modern sales technologies, safer health practices, and data-driven ways of making business decisions.
For more information on COVID-19 and small businesses, be sure to check out our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guides & Resources.
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