From remote work to business interruption insurance, there are several things that small business owners need to consider in both the short and long terms surrounding COVID-19. — Getty Images/jacoblund

The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading rapidly, with new updates flying in every minute. As the situation evolves, many small business owners are unsure of what steps to take to mitigate risk, protect employees and support customers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers a coronavirus toolkit with a compilation of the CDC’s recommendations for businesses and workers across the country. Here are the key points and immediate steps the CDC recommends.

Establish a remote work option

With plenty of people already working remotely, there are a lot of free tools business owners can utilize so that teams can stay in touch and keep working even if they aren’t in the same place.

Implement a remote work policy that covers when you expect your team to be online or available, how to communicate (via email, Slack, or video call, for instance), and what deliverables each team member is responsible for completing.

[Read more: 4 Ways Your Business Can Support Remote Workers]

Reduce meetings and travel

Try to keep opportunities for exposure to the virus to a minimum. Postpone any team meetings or hold them virtually. Skip any conferences or other planned business travel. If your workers get sick because of travel or meetings, you could have a liability issue on your hands, or you will have to manage low morale and sick leave requests.

[For everything you need to know about applying for a small business loan, see the U.S. Chamber’s Small Business Loan Guide.]

Give employees flexibility

Schools across the country are closing, as are offices, stores, businesses and commercial centers. With the country slowly moving toward total lockdown, you will need to be flexible with your employees’ time. Some team members may have to leave unexpectedly if their child’s daycare closes. Others may have students who come home from school for spring break and aren’t able to return. Try to be as understanding as possible when something comes up and have a contingency plan in case you suddenly become short-staffed.

Communicate transparently with your customers

Everyone is facing this crisis together, so be transparent about what your business is going through. Customers can empathize with brands facing a crisis, as long as you communicate with them properly.

As Harvard Business Review reports, “When customers are separated from the work that’s being done behind the scenes to serve them, they appreciate the service less and then they value the service less.” Describe the steps you’re taking to mitigate risk and give them insight into the steps you’re taking to help the community.

Keep your employees and your customers safe by being as proactive as possible about cleanliness.

Coronavirus Guide for Small Businesses

CO— is working to bring you the best resources and information to help you navigate this challenging time. Read on for our complete coronavirus coverage.



Be obsessive about hygiene

Stop the spread of the virus by following these health and safety tips from the CDC:

  • No handshakes: Use a non-contact method for greetings.
  • Wash your hands: Employees should wash their hands when they arrive and every time they enter the premises, as well as frequently throughout the day.
  • Try not to touch your face, and remind employees to do the same
  • Constantly and regularly disinfect surfaces, including doorknobs, handrails, the POS system, tables and desks.

Keep your employees and your customers safe by being as proactive as possible about cleanliness.

Shift your sales strategy to online

Chinese companies, forced to confront the reality of coronavirus shutdowns before most American companies, provide a blueprint for weathering this storm. As storefronts shuttered their doors and workers stayed in place, savvy business owners shifted their sales strategy to avoid heavy losses.

For instance, in Wuhan, the cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan closed 40% of its stores — but the brand’s 100+ beauty advisors took to digital platforms like WeChat to engage customers virtually and increase online sales. “As a result, its sales in Wuhan achieved 200% growth compared to the prior year’s sales,” writes Harvard Business Review.

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.

Consider business interruption insurance

Business interruption insurance may be an option for you if you have significant business losses as a result of shutting down from the pandemic. “Ask your insurance broker about business interruption insurance to cover unexpected major events and see what qualifies for coverage. It may not cover this emergency, but you’ll be better prepared for the next time your business suffers similar economic losses,” reports USA Today.

[Read more: Guide to SMB Insurance]

Plan for the long term

Though China and other economies are already starting to recover, the spread of the coronavirus is still extending throughout the world, creating a ripple effect that will impact us for some time.

As reported in SmallBizTrends, "27% of businesses expect the coronavirus to have a moderate to high impact on their revenue. Another 30% expect the virus to have a moderate to high impact on their supply chain.”

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.

Published March 13, 2020