Since last Friday, so much has changed in the United States. As the president issued a travel ban and Americans rushed to get home, many schools canceled classes indefinitely, restaurants closed their dining rooms and replaced them with “touchless takeout” options, and large and small businesses found themselves “strongly encouraged” to permit virtual working whenever possible or simply close their doors for the next 14 days. It sounds apocalyptic (and that’s another discussion), but at Good Success, we believe that this doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the end of your small business if you follow some simple, practical steps to help your employees and your clients survive this pandemic and its economic fallout with you.
At Good Success, we have implemented a 12-step Coronavirus Contingency Planning Program within our own office and also walked our Good Success Mastermind Members through it as well. It is important to have an open, honest, transparent, and vulnerable discussion with your employees and clients. Find out what they need from you. Ask for honesty in terms of how much they may be able to work and on what kind of schedule. Many are suddenly dealing with home-schooling multiple children at many different points in their schooling or trying to care for older, at-risk parents without putting those dearly loved parents at risk. It’s a very stressful time, and you need to understand how your newly virtual co-workers, contractors, and employees are going to be dedicating their time both to your business and to other unforeseen factors.
It’s All About Communication (Steps 1-3)
The first three steps of our 12-step plan have to do with communication. Because The Olson Group is a real estate-based company, we include some real estate-related specifics for those readers who are currently in the middle of buying, selling, raising money, renegotiating, collecting rents, or attempting to borrow money. However, these suggestions can be applied more broadly to your small business or even personally to your own borrowing habits.
Be sure you immediately establish a plan for communicating with:
- Customers and renters
- Lenders and borrowers
You need to not only reach out to these individuals; you should also have a clear, consistent message for them. With the legislation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak constantly changing on local, state, and federal levels, the main thing you should let these individuals know is how you will communicate with them and what information you need from them.
For example, some cities and even entire states are toying with banning evictions for some indeterminate amount of time since they are requiring all non-essential employees remain at home. While you may not necessarily want to address this with your tenants, if you have a contingency plan that has been reviewed and approved by the proper legal experts, you may want to let tenants know how to talk to you about their changing income situation. During the housing crisis in the mid-2000s, so many people opted to desert their homes rather than talk to their lenders about modifications. This time around, your tenants may be tempted to abandon ship (quite possibly after neglecting or even damaging your property) if they believe there is no hope. Keeping communication open can help everyone see the situation clearly.
Just as you need your tenants to communicate with you, you need to communicate with anyone from whom you have borrowed money. They need to know how your business will be affected by this global economic shock and what you plan to do to help keep them in the black. If you are planning to borrow more money during this time, letting your lender know this in advance can help them keep the right pieces of their infrastructure active in order to support you.
Finally, communicate with your employees to make sure you and they understand what you expect them to do, where you expect them to physically work, and how you (and they) expect things to run during this uncertain time. The majority of your employees will have one or more school children suddenly at home and “home-schooling” or “virtual schooling,” a task that is far more intense in terms of parent involvement than most parents, children, or teachers would prefer regardless of how many online learning resources the schools have made available. Speak with your employees honestly about what you need from them, how deadlines should be interpreted, and what has to happen in order for them to continue supporting your business and remain employed. This is particularly important if your company environment has been inconsistent in the past. For example, if you typically assign deadlines but do not enforce them in the office, this will likely translate badly in a virtual work environment because you will not have the usual flow of information that happens in a physical office environment. You are less likely to know if things are falling behind or be able to make real-time adjustments to assignments. Talk with your employees about changes that will affect this type of office culture when you “go virtual.”
How to Handle Employee Issues (Steps 4-5)
There are seven things that the leadership in your business needs to get clear about as quickly as possible in order to keep your business afloat and give everyone the best chance of making it through the economic shockwaves accompanying COVID-19. You need to consider 7 questions about your employees and, to a lesser degree, your freelancers and contractors. While you may not feel the same sense of family with freelance and contract workers (or virtual assistants), they deserve clarity about your plans because they probably factor your projects into their own financial planning. If you are about to drop those projects, suspend them, or reassign them in-house in order to keep someone in your office onboard, then you owe your non-employee workers a warning.
Ask and answer these 7 questions:
- What work will be available over the next 2 weeks? 4 weeks?
- Will we have layoffs, and when are they likely?
- Will we cut hours?
- How can we best work with employees who may need to file for unemployment?
- Is it realistic for some or all employees to work from home?
(note: this is both an issue of job description and employee personality)
- What do my employees need during this time?
- How can we help our employees at this time?
If you plan to keep your business open and a physical office available, then you will need to institute some basic office policies regarding behavior, social distancing, and hygiene. Here are five primary factors to get you started:
- Use Lysol
- Wash hands (specify frequency and occasion to make things simple)
- Eliminate large meetings
- Establish a meeting schedule or time to touch base with different teams
- Plan your schedule for the next two weeks
Although most experts seem to agree that this will not be over in two weeks, it also appears unlikely that things will not have changed dramatically (again) after that period of time. Establishing some basic guidelines for operations for the next two weeks will give you and your employees a baseline from which to operate as the pandemic economy and environment continue to evolve in the United States and worldwide.
Business Operations and Investment Strategies (Steps 6-10)
As you’ve doubtless heard before, times of economic upheaval are also times of economic opportunity. This will be true during this crisis just as it has been in every other crisis in history. Fortunes will be made as well as lost. It is up to you as a creative investor and entrepreneur to determine how to thrive during this period rather than simply stay afloat or drown.
To that end, take a look at the market. As we mentioned and you probably well know, we work with a lot of real estate investors and we are, ourselves, real estate investors here at Good Success. We are constantly monitoring different markets and different market sectors. Now is the time to take advantage of all the economic data out there and ask yourself:
What opportunities are there in the market today that we should go after?
This includes buying properties, raising capital, making loans, and leveraging your unique abilities and insights to make opportunities for yourself and, by extension, do what investors and entrepreneurs do best: bolster the economy in times of weakness and volatility.
Of course, that question has a follow-up:
What do we need to stop doing?
There are things that you have been doing in your business that have been “business as usual” for quite some time. Now, those thing may be the equivalent of “spinning your wheels” if they are not yielding actionable results or real returns. Look at your operations, then stop doing those things either temporarily or permanently.
Remember, you must communicate these changes to employees, colleagues, and clients once you make these decisions!
Financial Impact Research
Another area of your business that will require immediate review is your finances. Here are a few basic questions that you must answer even if you fear learning the truth about your finances:
- How much cash do you have on hand?
- How long will that cash last?
- Can you access contingency loans to get cash or credit if you need it?
At Good Success, we believe that your marketing strategy over the next two months must include the coronavirus. That does not necessarily mean you need to make everything in your business about the coronavirus, but this type of global event is going to impact every single business. You have to be clear about how your business will respond, and your marketing needs to be adjusted to account for major economic shocks like 20 percent unemployment (predicted by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in mid-April as part of a worst-case scenario description) or the loss of entire industry sectors, such as the hospitality sector, in certain areas of the country.
People are already sick and tired of hearing about the coronavirus, but that does not mean your marketing should not include this information. Ultimately, your message elicit a better reaction if you are able to demonstrate how you are going to continue to serve your customers and clients during this time.
Events & Travel (11-12)
Finally, let’s take a minute to talk about events and travel. Physical interaction is still so important for humans – no matter how much we talk about the gig economy and cherish our status as “introverts” who are going to love being at home in isolation for some indeterminate amount of time. If your business requires you to travel or that you host events, keep this issue on the radar and discuss it regularly. Determine:
- If you need to move events (and when that decision needs to be made for each event in question)
- Whether you need to travel (and when you need to opt to postpone or cancel for each trip in question)
This is not just a logistical issue, but also a practical one in terms of your reputation. Even if you do not believe that traveling puts you or others at risk (despite a lot of evidence to the contrary), you may still need to bow to the demands of your local government or respect the beliefs of clients and customers who say that travel needlessly endangers other populations. If you have to cancel travel or events, bite the bullet and estimate the magnitude of the losses your business will face. This will help you make better decisions about other aspects of your business.
Examples from Good Success Offices
At Good Success, we are engaged in our own ongoing process of identifying issues, making plans, and discussing things with clients, customers, employees, and associates. Here are some examples of actions we have already taken after working through this 12-step contingency planning program:
- We decided sales and closings must happen, and are placing a particularly high focus on properties under contract to sell. We owe it to our clients and investors to make these transactions happen.
Action item: made a list of these properties and designated individuals to focus on the list every day until the deal closes.
- We have determined we will collect rent in a timely fashion on April 1.
Action Item: communicate with tenants and investors for whom we manage properties about this decision.
- We will not bridge social distancing parameters to make unnecessary repairs in inhabited rentals, nor will we conduct inspections for the next month.
Action item: communicate with tenants and investors for whom we manage properties about this decision.
- No meetings next week
Action item: communicate this to everyone involved in Good Success meetings.
- Use the WhatsApp text threads
Action item: make sure everyone knows how to use this tool, why we selected it, and who should be included on these correspondences.
- Identify any employees with preexisting health issues
Action item: communicate on this topic within legal boundaries to keep everyone as healthy as possible and on the same page
- Make masks and Lysol available in our physical office
Action item: assign responsibility for keeping these items stocked and available.
- Clean desks and door handles daily
Action item: assign responsibility for these tasks.
You Can Thrive in Today’s Environment
Finally, we at Good Success just want to say, You CAN Do This! This is going to be a tough time for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be a total loss. Approach the coming weeks with determination and excitement, knowing that if you need guidance, the Good Success Mastermind and the Good Success team is just an email away.