If you are asking yourself: “How do I protect my business during coronavirus outbreak?” Read this to learn practical steps you can take today to ensure resilience in your business.
COVID-19, the diseases caused by the novel coronavirus is upturning our way of life. The World Health Organization back in March declared this disease a global pandemic.
Since then, governments around the globe, including the Lagos State government and the Federal government, have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus.
As a business owner or freelancer, you may be thinking about ways to protect your employees, business and customers from the fallout of COVID-19.
Many people like you are wondering how the total lockdown in Lagos is going to impact their business. And, if there are steps they can take to ensure seamless operation during this lockdown.
So, here are some practical steps you can take right now to keep your business running until this pandemic is over.
Protecting your business during COVID-19 pandemic
As the virus spreads, you have two options: to panic and close shop till the worse is over. Or, stay calm and plan how to weather the storm.
Create a plan of action
If you are in Lagos or Abuja or Ogun where the Federal government has already declared a 14-day total lockdown, there’s little you can do now, if you don’t already have a plan in place.
However, after the 14-day lockdown and going forward, you may want to design a pandemic action-plan to keep your people and customers safe.
But for businesses in other states with no restrictions yet, planning ahead of time for any eventual lockdown will ensure you have a playbook to implement.
So, what should you include in your COVID-19 business continuity plan?
Writing for Forbes, Mike Kappel advises small and medium business owners to ensure their crisis plan include the following:
- Steps to take to protect employees
- What to do if an outbreak occurs in your business
- What happens to business operations if your business is infected
Remember, nobody knows when and how long before things return to normal. So, you may want to plan for he long term.
Which means taking a holistic view of your business operations and identifying key stakeholders and areas to engage with will go a long way to build resilience in your business.
Speak to your suppliers, investors, partners and local officials on a daily basis to learn how you can start to implement safeguards that will help you stay above the red while officials work to contain COVID-19. It might be a while until your small business gets back to business as usual.Emily Heaslip, contributor at US Chambers of Commerce
Finally, look ahead in your plan towards recovery and post-recovery days. While. it is not yet clear when all these will be over, as a savvy business owner, you want to have a recovery plan in place.
The Harvard Business Review, in a recent article, coalesced 12 early lessons they learned helping Chinese companies with their recovery plan. Here’s a highlight of the points they raised:
- Be proactive and constantly reframe your efforts
- Create clarity and security for employees
- Reallocate labor flexibly to different activities
- Shift your sales channel mix
- Use social media to coordinate employees and partners
For the full article, visit HBR here.
Consider remote work option
While Nigeria presents unique challenges for employees to effectively work from home, remote work is an option your business will have to explore, especially if your goal is to keep critical operations on during the lockdown.
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The first step, however to creating a work from home policy is to assess essential business functions.
- Can these tasks be done remotely?
- Do you and your staff have prior remote work experience?
- What tools and resources will your team need to effectively work from home?
- Do you have those tools or would they need to be purchased?
- How do you intend to communicate with your team during the lockdown?
- What other infrastructure will your people need to work from home? For instance, who would bear the cost of internet connectivity and data cost? And, the all too well-known power issue.
To provide as much structure as possible to your employees while they work from home consider creating a detailed remote procedures and guidelines everyone will have to follow.
Be sure your employees eligible for work from home understand the rules and what’s expected from them.
Here’s an article on HBR that answered 15 questions about remote and everything you need to know before deploying this work style.
Reassure and communicate clearly with employees
Your people should be at the heart of your strategy to emerge from this pandemic unscathed. Many are probably concerned about what you are doing to ensure their safety – both in terms of their health and job safety.
Many businesses at this time are either laying off employees or cutting back on spending and costs to better manage their cash flow. Your staff are reading this news and wondering what will happen to them.
By communicating regularly with your staff and outlining company’s policies to ensure everyone is safe during this crisis, you not only reassured but make them feel seen and heard.
Be open with what’s happening in the business. Let your employees in on the challenges your business is facing and what you are currently doing to navigate through it.
Sure, you may have to make difficult decisions like laying off some people during this time. Be open and honest about it. Find time to talk to affected staff. Remember, your other employees are watching to see how you handle this.
Read more: PWC’s seven steps to crisis communications
Redeploy sales efforts to new channels
With heavy restrictions on person-to-person contact and many brick and mortar businesses closing shops, redeploying marketing and sales effort to focus more on virtual and online channels will ensure you keep generating revenue.
Nigerian deposit money bank Access bank has had to close some of their branches in Lagos following contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient by their staff. However, they redirected efforts towards their online channels to serve customers. (Source)
A case in point, as highlighted by Harvard Business Review, is a Chinese cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan which was forced to close 40 percent of its stores across China, including all their stores in Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
However, the beauty brand quickly redeployed all its 100+ staff from the store to become online influencers where they used tools like WeChat to help customers.
The result, according to Hbr, is a 200 percent increase in sales in Wuhan compared to last year’s. (Source)
The US Chambers of Commerce advices that,
“If you’re closing your store, find ways to keep your employees earning a paycheck by selling on social media, putting your email list to good use or using a video tool to reach new leads.”
You may also like this: How to Generate Hot Leads Using Organic Search
Communicate transparently with customers
You may be tempted to want to cover up what you are going through during these uncertain times. But as a report on HBR indicates customers are more likely to show empathy and understanding if they have a sneak peek into what’s going on behind the scene.
Ryan Buell, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and the author of HBR article “Operational Transparency” writes:
“When customers don’t see the work that’s being done in back offices, offshore factories, and algorithms, they’re less satisfied with their purchases.”
He argued that:
“When customers are separated from the people and the processes that create value for them, they come away feeling like less effort went into the service. They appreciate the service less and then the value the service less as well.” (Source)
So, in light of this, you may want to let your customers in on the steps you are taking to minimise risks. And if you are providing any community relief, describe what you are doing to help people in your local community.
Take advantage of Federal Government’s Relief package
The Federal government of Nigeria through the Central Bank on March 23rd announced a series of economic stimulus package to help businesses including small and medium sized businesses weather the impact of the COVID-19 pandemium.
The 50 billion naira COVID-19 relief package is aimed to minimize the “significant adverse consequences” of the outbreak on Nigerian’s SMEs.
According to CBN’s guideline for accessing the loan facility, eligible businesses must:
- Be households with demonstrable evidence of livelihood adversely impacted by COVID-19
- Be small and medium businesses with demonstrable evidence of business activities adversely impacted by the virus.
- Or businesses with bankable plans on how to take advantage of opportunities arising from the pandemic.
- And your business must be in either of the following niches: Agricultural value chain activities; hospitality (accommodation and food services); health (pharmaceuticals and medical supplies); and airline service providers.
Amounts you can access:
Households can access up to 3 million naira while working capital would be a maximum of 25 per cent of the average of the previous three years’ annual turnover
SMEs can access up to N25 million naira though the final amount is determined by the cash flow, activity and size of the industry.
How the money is disbursed:
The CBN said “The scheme would be financed from the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund and the eligible participating financial institution for the Scheme would be NIRSAL Microfinance Bank.”
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How Do I Protect My Business During Coronavirus Outbreak?
The Coronavirus outbreak calls for a measured, practical and informed approach from business owners.
Your goal should be to build resilience in your business so it can continue with minimal disruptions.
Identify critical business operations and then create a Coronavirus specific crisis response plan, be sure to work in recovery and post-recovery strategy too.
Speak to relevant stakeholders including suppliers, employees, partners and customers. Finally, see if your business is eligible to access the Federal government’s economic stimulus fund.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a story with unclear ending. However with proper planning and a belief in our shared ability to overcome, together we will defeat this and come out on the other side stronger.