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Carrying On in the Time of Coronavirus

Danielle Leber (dleber@AwardsPersonalization.org)

 

What to Do Right Now to Help Your Business

(April 2020) Although experts frequently advise all business owners to develop emergency preparedness plans, the processes we put into place most often deal with natural disasters like earthquakes or failures in key utilities. But very few companies—large or small—anticipated what would happen during a global pandemic.

To help you amp up your emergency business planning and handle this pandemic, we asked fellow awards and personalization professionals for their best advice to ensure you and your business stay healthy despite COVID-19 and its economic effects.

Continue the Conversation with Customers

Social distancing saves lives, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep in close contact with your customers. Communicating with your clients can give you opportunities to increase your current cash flow.

“Contact customers who normally place large orders in the summer and fall. Some of those organizations may be able to order early and provide prepayment to help with cash flow,” said Mark Warren, owner of American Awards & Promotions in Milton, WI. “And if you extend credit to customers, reach out to those who may owe but haven’t yet paid. Let them know your status, and they may be willing to help with faster payments.”

Encourage your customers to think of a time after COVID-19, when life will be back to normal. Not only can your optimism and forethought result in orders, it also can offer hope—something from which both you and your clients can benefit.

Contact Your Creditors

Needed communication includes reaching out to your own creditors and other financial partners to keep them abreast of changes to your own situation.

“Contact your creditor and give them your status, whether good or bad,” Warren said. “Inform them ahead of time if you think you may be paying late, and what you are doing to ensure they are made whole. This builds goodwill, and most creditors will appreciate and understand (your situation). Long-term relationships can be maintained or saved if this is a standard practice.”

Even if you can defer or change payments on existing loans, you may also want work with organizations like the Small Business Administration (SBA) for additional options to bolster your reserves, said Dan Bencsik, president of Bux-Mont Awards in Sellersville, PA. “We have started exploring all options for SBA short-term loans as well as any and all financing options available.”.

More funding has been provided to the SBA specifically to provide loans to help small businesses survive the pandemic’s economic effects. For a list of financial options available to help your business, visit COVID-19 News and Resources  for more information and direct links to resources.

Check Your Insurance

Investigate your current insurance policy to ensure you’re not missing any options for reimbursement of lost wages.

“You want to make sure your commercial business policy has adequate liability and asset replacement coverages, but also includes business interruption coverage, which is designed to cover lost income when a business has to close temporarily because of events beyond your control,” said David Takes, owner of Expressions Engraved in St. Joseph, MO. “Most business interruption coverage requires that there be physical damage to the building covered on the policy to qualify for business income benefits.”

But with the ever-changing situation and disaster declarations coming from across the country, it’s worthwhile to talk with your insurer. That way, you can be sure to capitalize on any changes to policies or aspects of your current policy that could be relevant to disease-related disaster scenarios.

Evaluate Your Cost Centers—and Make Cuts

It’s not just external partners that can help you manage your finances. You also should carefully evaluate your current expenditures and greatest cost centers to find ways to immediately save money and eliminate preventable future losses.

Large Cost Centers
For many suppliers and retailers who do large orders, carrying excess inventory can result in compounding costs.

“A few months ago, we were concerned with making sure we were heavily stocked for our customers going into busy season, not knowing at that time how long it would take for Asian manufacturing to recover,” said Mike May, chief operations officer at JDS Industries. “That mission has now turned into managing for a drastic decline in demand. Our focus now is adjusting our forecasting so our warehouses are not overstocked for too long. Inventory is our single largest consumer of capital.”

If you store your inventory onsite, this is less of a concern, but if you’re paying for offsite storage or have limited usable space as a result of excess inventory, now is the time to identify how you can use pieces more creatively in current projects or re-evaluate your storage solutions.

Cutting Incremental Costs
Although managing your large cost centers, like inventory, is important, addressing smaller costs, like unused subscriptions and services, also can go a long way.
“Are there reoccurring charges for services that you can drop or postpone?” Warren asked. “We have a window washer who comes regularly. We can cut that expense for a few months and most people would never know the difference. We also have six phones on our VOIP system. We could cut three of those and get by, saving half of our monthly charge.”

Small, incremental changes can make a difference, so evaluate what you absolutely need to manage your business in the meantime and eliminate the rest. You may even find some ingenious new ways to work that will continue to save you money after the current crisis.

Create an Evolving Emergency Plan

Even businesses that had a business continuity plan for this type of catastrophe have had to be flexible to address the new challenges and changing requirements COVID-19 is presenting.

“We have many different levels of business continuity plans that are continuously evolving. It is difficult to be fully prepared for a pandemic such as this one because you can never know in advance what it’s going to look like,” May said. “We believe in very high awareness with lots of internal communication. Our practices include all of the things you would learn from the CDC and our media streams—lots of sanitation and social distancing. Plus, we have very proactive measures in place to encourage staff to stay home if they are sick or if they are returning from travel.”

If you are able, reposition customer-facing staff with computer skills to instead work on your online store to encourage online sales, amp up your social media to encourage support from the local community, or research small business resources (like those offered by the SBA) on your behalf. This can be effective whether staff is working from home or on site, and even if your state is under a shelter-in-place order that closes nonessential businesses.

Keep a close accounting of what measures have worked—and what haven’t—to help you prepare a complete disaster plan for the future.

“I would recommend that retailers journal on a daily basis as to where they feel they have fallen short in their preparedness for this virus and its impact on their business and personal life,” Takes said. “It will be easy to forget details and the anxiety when it is all over. That record will be priceless when making future plans and life changes.”

Get Creative with Your Offerings

Although foot traffic and event orders are drying up, you don’t have to stop selling. Continue earning income by getting creative with your current inventory and capitalizing on any online selling you are able to do.

“A couple of things we are doing in the meantime is creating a pin fundraising program for local communities. Ours are going to be ‘our community strong’ pins and will help raise funds for our community preparedness,” Bencsik said. “We are also selling those fine JDS journals as ‘Corona journals,’ where we are engraving the front (free personalization!) with a coronavirus journal logo we created. Also, we are going to offer our local community the opportunity to put kids’ pictures on magnets and mugs and offer them as grandparent gifts for those stuck in a retirement community who can’t get to or otherwise can’t see their grandchildren.”

Others are following suit. Member retailer Winning Imprints is now offering limited-time products like “Quarantine University” apparel for children who are attending the “school of social distancing” and marketing other personalizable (and fun!) options for those who are staying home.

Keep Calm and Support One Another

One of the most important parts of protecting yourself during the coronavirus crisis is supporting those around you and accepting the support of your community of awards and personalization professionals.

“To protect our employees mentally and emotionally, (this is very important!) we continue to communicate with all of them daily,” Warren said. “We provide factual information so they don’t panic. We let them know how important they are to us and our business, and that we would never do anything or allow anything where we believe they would be in danger. To protect them financially, we continually do research to let them know of their rights and new benefits because of recently passed legislation. We provide written documentation explaining what their options are in worst-case scenarios of reduction of hours or termination.”

And to protect yourself, “stay calm, stay informed, stay positive, communicate a lot with your team and take care of each other and your customers the best you can. We will get through this, together,” May said.

This pandemic is shining a spotlight on a lot of everyday heroes, including the medical staff working relentlessly to save lives, grocery store stockers laboring to keep shelves filled amid panic buying, and janitorial staff disinfecting the surfaces that put us all at risk.

There are a lot of people deserving of recognition, and Bencsik isn’t losing sight of that.
”Hang in there!” he said. “We are the industry that recognizes achievements and, when this is done, there are going to be a lot of exceptional people who need recognition.”

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