The COVID-19 outbreak has wreaked financial havoc around the globe, leaving many small-business owners struggling in its wake. According to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), as of March 30—still early in the crisis—92% of small businesses said they had suffered negative effects as a result of the pandemic. Just 5% of small-business owners said they had experienced no effects at all.
While the short-term outlook for small businesses varies greatly by industry, it’s important to consider what recovery mode will look like once the economy begins to return to a state of normalcy—or establishes a new normal. Having an exit strategy in place for after COVID-19 can help you be prepared to hit the ground running and rebuild. If you’re not sure what your coronavirus exit plan should include, this guide can help with getting your business back on track.
1. Assess the Financial Damage
The first step in developing a rebuilding plan for COVID-19 is determining just how deeply your small business has been affected.
There are different layers involved, starting with the hard numbers. If you haven’t updated your financial statements—such as profit and loss or cash flow statements—recently, it’s helpful to do that now. You can then compare them to last year’s numbers to see how much your business may be down. And while only a small percentage of business owners say they’ve benefited from the pandemic, 3% according to the NFIB, it’s possible that the damage might not be as bad as you think.
Aside from the hard numbers relating to sales, profits and cash flow, consider other ways in which your business has been affected. For example, if you’ve had to lay off some or all of your employees, you’ll need to factor that into your rebuilding plan. If you’ve cut your advertising and marketing budget down, or some of your customers have migrated toward competitors, then those are things you’ll need to account for as you identify financial resources to help you recover.
2. Take a Second Look at Your Business Plan
Your business model may have worked perfectly fine pre-COVID-19, but coming out of it may mean you have to do some fine-tuning.
Specifically, you may need to consider how your business can pivot to adjust to a new normal. For example, if you previously relied on foot traffic to a brick-and-mortar location for sales, you may need to look at a digital expansion to accommodate the higher numbers of people who are shopping from home.
You’re not in this alone, however. In partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA), SCORE offers small businesses access to mentors who can offer guidance and resources as you look to build—or rebuild—your business after the crisis. Remote mentoring services are available, along with free webinars that address coronavirus-specific issues.
Analyzing how your overall industry has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic also is helpful. When looking at your competitors and the industry as a whole, pay attention to the trends and focus on finding the opportunities. Being able to find a gap or need that your business can fulfill that’s been neglected up until now could be critical to reclaiming and expanding your customer base going forward.
When going over your business plan and business model, get clear on your business’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, look at what was working before that may not work as well now and see where you can adjust or improve to remain competitive. Finally, don’t forget to revisit your business goals to make sure they’re realistic, given the current circumstances. For example, you may have set a target revenue goal for the year that will need to be scaled back now to account for the damper COVID-19 may have put on your Q2 sales.
3. Consider Whether You’ll Need Funding to Recover
Unless you had a large amount of cash on hand going into the pandemic, it’s likely that you may need some working capital to jump-start your business operations coming out of it.
When it comes to financing your small business during a COVID-19 rebuilding period, there are several options to consider. The SBA is an obvious choice for business loans, and there are a few programs that can help. The Paycheck Protection Program, for example, is designed to provide funding to small businesses that are struggling to retain their employees during the coronavirus pandemic. Economic Injury Disaster Loans also can help with short-term financing if you need money for things other than employee retention.
The challenge with both of those federally mandated programs, however, is that the funding is limited. It’s entirely possible that funding may be depleted before your application for a loan is ever reviewed. For this reason, it’s important to consider other sources of small business funding, including:
- Traditional SBA 7(a) loans and microloans
- Small business term loans from banks, credit unions and online lenders
- Business lines of credit
- Business credit cards
- Vendor tradelines
- Accounts receivable financing
- Merchant cash advances
- Inventory financing
- Purchase order financing
- Equipment financing
Each option can have pros and cons. Accounts receivable financing and merchant cash advance financing, for example, can be convenient, and neither one requires perfect credit to qualify. Either could be useful for funding your business in the short term.
But they both require that you have something to leverage, i.e., outstanding invoices and credit card sales, respectively. If sales are slow or nonexistent, you might have a hard time getting approved. Alternative financing options like these also can have much higher effective annual percentage rates compared to other types of small-business loans and lines of credit.
If you’re considering financing to help rebuild, keep in mind that borrowing may be competitive, as lenders want some reassurance that loans can be repaid. Reviewing your business and personal credit scores, as well as your business and personal financials can help you gauge how likely you are to get approved for funding.
4. Revamp Your Budget to Account for New Spending
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have to spend money before you can make money.
For example, you may need to spend money on hiring and training new employees or rehiring ones you had to lay off. Inventory may need to be purchased, and you might have to rev up your advertising budget again to start building fresh buzz.
As part of your coronavirus recovery, you should have a clear idea of what you need to be budgeting for and what you can cut to make the most of the revenue you do have coming in. The goal is to eliminate the monetary waste and get your operating budget as lean as possible so that when the chance to invest in growth comes up, you’re able to take advantage of it.
An extreme step you could take during this time is deferring paying yourself a salary or taking a pay cut. Whether this makes sense depends on how well you’re able to manage your personal financial obligations, depending on what you have in savings or from a spouse’s income if you’re married. But skipping out on paychecks in the near term could help your business to get back on its feet faster.
5. Develop a Time Line for Rebuilding
You may have several things you need or want to do to recover following COVID-19, but doing everything at once may not be realistic. What can help is having a time line to follow that prioritizes your most important actions first.
For example, your immediate goal may be securing funding for your business. Once you’ve done that, you can set a time line for rehiring employees, then restocking inventory and, finally, reopening your doors if your small business closed as a result of the pandemic.
As you take individual steps toward recovery, remember to track your progress. This is particularly important if you’ve secured capital to fund your business, because you don’t want to waste time on activities that aren’t delivering a solid return on your investment. In the initial stages of COVID-19 recovery, you may want to check in weekly to see what’s working and what’s not. Later, you can shift to reviewing your business financials monthly as things begin to stabilize.
6. Create a Contingency Plan for the Next Crisis
While the coronavirus pandemic may seem like a once-in-a-lifetime event, the reality is that an emergency can come along to disrupt your small business at any time. Using what you’ve learned during the current pandemic to prepare for the next crisis can help you insulate your business from future shocks.
For instance, building up liquid cash savings may be a priority for your business if you had little or nothing set aside before the COVID-19 outbreak began. You may choose to focus on paying down your debt and trimming nonessential spending to keep your budget in check. Or you may need to find ways to help your staff work more efficiently to cut operating costs.
The pandemic also may have taught you a thing or two about how important it is to be able to adapt and keep your business fluid so you can reasonably weather storms. For example, if your employees didn’t have the option to work remotely before, that’s something you may want to incorporate in your business model going forward.
The more outside-the-box thinking you can do to prepare for a worst-case scenario, the better. Having a Plan B (and even a Plan C, D, E and F) can help improve your business’s odds of surviving—and eventually thriving again—during tough financial times.
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