Reopening strategies and reevaluating business plans are the key to navigate through a new reality.
As the world begins to reopen after pandemic-induced closures, many small businesses are wondering what they can do to keep their doors open (literally and figuratively). For some, the changes are as simple as adopting remote work software and doing business digitally. For others, on-site interactions are unavoidable.
If you’re in the latter group, there’s a lot of noise to sort through: ever-changing guidelines, advice from businesses that have already reopened, news about your competitors, and the internet at large.
Don’t panic: We’re here to help with 10 tips to guide your reopening strategy.
Use these 10 tips for a safe and successful reopening
Whatever state of functioning your small business is currently in, these 10 reopening tips will help keep your employees, customers, and bottom line healthy.
1. Stay informed and up to date
First things first: know your stuff. Familiarize yourself with county, state, national, and industry-specific safety guidelines from reputable resources. That way, you can be sure you’re ready to address customer questions and quickly pivot when regulations change.
2. Remake your space
This June, Software Advice surveyed over 550 individuals across the U.S. to understand how their priorities and preferences have shifted due to COVID-19 (you can find our methodology here).
That survey revealed that 46% percent of respondents think retailers need to alter their space to encourage social distancing, and 49% feel retailers should insert a plexiglass divider at customer service points.
If your storefront/retail space is large enough for customers and employees to practice social distancing, clearly mark spots for customers to stand, and designate specific areas for different types of transactions.
If your space isn’t cut out for social distancing, curbside pickup and delivery service may be the safest and best option for your business. Online ordering software and VoIP phone systems can help ease the transition from in-person to contactless service, as well as provide a smooth customer experience.
Every kind of business should limit capacity, but it’s especially important for establishments that host customers for extended amounts of time (such as restaurants and bars). If your business falls into this category, make sure that tables and seating areas are at least six feet apart and consider a reservation system to help limit capacity and prevent long wait times.
3. Keep it clean
The health of your customers and employees is in your hands. Make sure you’re sanitizing regularly with a disinfectant or soap-and-water solution. You should also provide hand sanitizer, and require workers and customers to wear face coverings and regularly wash their hands.
The majority of respondents in our June survey feel these measures are important; 65% believe hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes should be widely available in-store, and 58% would prefer that all employees and customers be required to wear face masks.
4. Listen to your employees
Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVoIP, told us the key to a successful reopening of his New York office:
I would advise other business owners to listen to their employees. Let them give you ideas on which reopening plan or strategy would work best for them. Factor that in when reopening, and you will have happy employees who will give their all in the rebuilding efforts.
Of the employees surveyed in June, 63% are minimally to not at all comfortable returning to an office setting, with 37% of those same respondents stating that they would quit if their employer mandated a return.
Listening to your employees’ concerns and ideas is pivotal to reopening success. Set up weekly or biweekly meetings to check in with your employees and brainstorm solutions to any problems they’re experiencing. Now is also a great time to invest in team communication software, so your team can stay connected with ease.
5. Know your business needs
Before reopening, ask yourself: What is absolutely essential for your business to operate? How many employees do you need? Do you have enough cash to cover payroll, rent, and other expenses?
Answering these questions will help you assess what your first steps should be. Maybe you need to bring back furloughed employees, adopt cost-cutting initiatives, or even apply for a grant.
6. Know your customers’ needs
We asked Brian Mac Mahon (CEO and founder of Expert DOJO) what he thought small business owners should focus on when it comes to reopening. He told us:
I would advise business owners to think about the problems their customers are facing during the pandemic and how they can solve these problems for them. Then, think of ways to streamline these solutions as much as possible, because the world is shifting to digital and their business should not be left behind.
What your customers need now is different from what they needed pre-pandemic, and identifying their new needs is the first step to fulfilling them.
Our survey found that 70% of consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer that asks for their input on how to keep customers safe.
One way to figure out what your customers want is to ask them. Conduct a survey via social media or collect feedback with customer experience software.
7. Update your products or services
We asked Sean Nguyen, director of Internet Advisor, what advice he’d give to small business owners.
Remain flexible, open, and be ready to adapt or pivot. I know everyone is throwing that word at you these days, but it’s so important. Being able to do what you’ve always done and not have to change anything is a luxury few of us can afford right now. The market is changing, and you need to, as well.
Now is the time to make changes to better serve your customers’ current needs. Start by continuing to offer the products or services you’re capable of safely providing. Within a month or two, it should be clear what customers are actually buying.
Narrow down your product or service list to those with the highest demand, and keep listening to your customers so that you can identify opportunities to fill gaps and improve your offerings.
8. Make the most out of digital tools
In a different Software Advice survey conducted in April, we polled over 500 small businesses and found that 33% needed new software for at least some parts of their business due to the pandemic (survey methodology here).
Many of those purchases were necessary to continue business as usual, or as close to usual as possible (think video conferencing software, online ordering systems, and ecommerce software to serve customers remotely).
If purchasing new software isn’t financially viable for your business, you still have options. Open source or freemium versions are available for many solutions, and offer key functionality without breaking the bank.
9. Prioritize customer service
Great customer service can’t be overvalued during this time of uncertainty. Many consumers are still apprehensive about visiting retail stores in person, and are relying on businesses to be transparent about the measures they’re taking to ensure a low-risk experience.
In addition to those concerns, almost every business has made changes to their operations due to the pandemic, which in turn has caused more calls from customers with questions.
Create a communication plan that includes processes for proactively updating customers, answering their questions, and addressing their feedback. Customer service software can streamline many of these tasks and lead to a better customer experience overall.
10. Reopening and Staying flexible
If there’s one thing to keep in mind as a small business owner looking to reopen, it’s this: stay flexible. Pandemic or otherwise, there’s no way of knowing what the next year will hold.
Willingness to adapt and adjust to whatever comes your way is the best strategy for creating a sustainable business plan.
Don’t just reopen; rethink
Despite the obvious pain that COVID-19 has caused, some positive and unique experiences have emerged as well. Coworkers are more empathetic toward each other than ever, and innovative problem solving is all around us.