By Kieran Westlake
The COVID-19 pandemic is arguably on course to be the most destructive economic issue since the GFC due to its unprecedented nature and scale of the outbreak. This is especially true for individuals and families living week to week, as well as businesses that are reliant on ‘face to face’ customer transactions.
As entrepreneurs and business owners, how do we help protect our businesses and our people? Well, the first step is to secure your families safety, then that of your lively hood – the business.
So in these times of containment measures, like social distancing, what can we do to protect our business and survive in these turbulent and novel times?
Before we start the list of things to action, we need to establish a vital mindset – Communicate, Communicate and Communicate. Unless we tell, voice and make known our circumstances, our network of suppliers, customers and creditors cannot be expected to divine the pressures we may be facing. This isn’t weakness; it is an act of pure strength. So with this new mindset of communication, we press on to the practical steps.
We start here as a lack of revenue doesn’t kill a business; it’s the costs and the lack of capital to pay them that does. Unless your business is flush with cash reserves of 6 months bills, then this will be your most important action item.
- Contact your landlord – Will you be able to make your next rental payment, the one after?
Your landlord has to consider that if your tenancy ended today or next month, what is the likelihood that a new operator will want to take up the vacancy? For the same amount of rent? The answer is most likely ‘no’, so use this to find an arrangement that will allow you to continue to occupy and trade from your business premises.
- Contact your creditors – Business loans, Equipment Leases or Rentals.
If you are finding it difficult to make repayments, you should contact your financial firm straight away. Many financial firms have a dedicated financial hardship team that you can speak to. Be prepared to tell them about
- Your income and expenses
- When you think your situation will improve
- What help you would need and for how long.
You can ask for any reasonable change to your credit contract that may help you to repay your loan. This may include –
- Extending the period of the loan and reducing the amount of regular payments
- Delaying payments due on a specific date
- Stopping payments for a period of time and adding the missed payments to the loan
- Returning surplus rental equipment
Your financial firm should work with you to help you try to overcome your financial difficulty.
- Fixed Costs – What can you reduce?
By their very nature and namesake, we tend to believe we are unable to change our ‘fixed costs’. But is this reality? No, so lets look at some of these now.
- Equipment Finance contacts – Can you refinance these to a lower weekly or monthly cost. Will this help more than just a small payment reprieve you negotiated in the previous step?
- Phone and Internet – A lot are month to month, can you scale your costs back by changing your plan?
- Electricity and Gas – A lot are month to month. Call them for a better deal or change suppliers. Can you landlord help you negotiate a better deal?
- Labour Costs – How to protect your business and your people
This is one of the most challenging items to handle, as your people make your business what it is. Still, your business ultimately needs to survive if it is to provide a livelihood to both employer and employees.
Again, communication, communication, communication. Talk to your people and brief them on the situation and what that means for them. Is it
- Reduction in hours?
- Reduction in staff number?
If your revenue is down 50%, your staff costs can’t be more than 50% of that lower number. Simply because you still have 30% towards COGS and 20% towards fixed costs.
- Stock Levels
Pretty simple here. Use what you have on hand; don’t order more unless you have to.
So we have our high impact costs strategies executed, how do we now focus on protecting, growing or supplementing revenue in a downturn and potentially for an extended period of time?
- Pre-paid services
This means your loyal, regular customers pre-purchase your goods or services in bulk and for use in the future, typically with a discount applied upfront. This means you, as the business, get this vital capital into the business allowing you to more easily cashflow your fixed costs during this downturn and then providing those services in the future.
For your customer, they get to support their favourite businesses – café, retailer or restaurant - now to ensure they are around after this crisis has passed.
A great example of this is the hospitality industry – inKind. Besides restaurant funding, these hospitality entrepreneurs provide their loyalty platform that enables cafes and restaurants to sell pre-paid credit with a discount to their customers. This can give the much-needed cash flow to get through the downturn over the next months. Check it out HERE
- Sales Channels – Pivot or strengthen sales channels not linked to “face to face” transactions
In our new world of social distancing and self-isolation, we may need to supplement regular sales in-store with other channels. So, what are we talking about here?
- Selling your products online – Boost your online store, create a new one or start a subscription service
- Meal delivery services (uber eats, deliveroo etc.)
- Promote Takeaway
We also need to market these and get our messaging right
- Marketing our new pre-paid offer, eCommerce store, meal delivery or takeaway service
So we have the strategy, now we need the execution. Social media will most likely be the most cost-effective way to market as we can -
- Target our current customers
- Build look-a-likes of our existing customers
- Target them in close geographical proximity
- Communicate our story effectively
Our target audiences viewing time of these platforms is likely to rise during any form of social distancing or isolation, so this further improves our marketing efforts
If you aren’t good at these things, never fear! There are plenty of freelance social media marketers out there that are effective, but also cost-effective. Just because revenue is down, doesn’t mean we skip the investment in the strategies that will have the most impact.
- Promote how all consumers can help there favourite Small Businesses
Again we have to tell people why and how to help; if we don’t, we can only blame ourselves for staying quiet, when we may have a fan base will to support us in our time of need.
A prepared guide for consumers can be found here for distribution through your new social media and email campaigns!
Kieran Westlake, Advocate Director @ Bloomed Capital. Kieran has over 20 years of experience owning, running and financing hospitality businesses across five countries. He is also the President of the Australian Specialty Coffee Association, the peak industry body for Australia’s Coffee Industry.