woman serving customer with mask in restaurant
From contemplating a COVID-19 surcharge to ensuring your employees feel comfortable returning to work, there are several decisions to make as a business owner amid COVID-19. — Getty Images/stockstudioX

COVID-19 has created a no-win situation for many small business owners. The cost of keeping your business closed is unsustainable; yet, the challenges that come with reopening safely are equally difficult. As you consider how and when to reopen your business, here are some of the common obstacles many companies are facing, as well as some solutions to help you get back to business.

[Read more: Ready to Reopen: A Playbook for Your Small Business]

Challenge: Getting the timing right

The rules around when you can reopen vary from state to state – even from city to city. But, even when your state makes the decision to reopen, it may not be the right time for your business. In California, for instance, the state gave businesses the green light to start reopening in late April. Tour companies, like kayak and surf adventure company Everyday California, were hesitant to open at full capacity. Just because the state permits it doesn’t mean consumers are ready to head out again. And, if you reopen too soon, you risk dedicating valuable working capital and time without making a sale.

Solution: Open in phases

Everyday California decided to partially open their ocean adventure tours business, owners Chris Lynch and Michael Samer told the New York Times. They started offering curbside kayak and surf rentals at first, delaying tours and waiting to open their retail shop. As they were able to assess demand, Everyday California started to offer tours at 50% capacity under certain conditions, such as mandatory masks.

Other businesses can follow their lead. Assess your products and services to see what you can sell with little to no contact. And, keep your online store active while you phase in in-person sales to ensure there’s no drop in customer service.

[Read more: 4 Steps to Reopening Your Business Safely]

Challenge: The added cost of safety regulations

Small businesses that have been closed have lost months of revenue. And now, there are some big new expenses to consider as you reopen your business. Sanitation regimens, masks, plexiglass barriers, thermometers and sometimes even equipment, such as a second register or contactless ordering system, can easily break your budget. Some businesses, like the Tobacco Barn Distillery in Maryland, have to completely reconfigure their operation, using plastic cups for tastings in lieu of reusable cups and setting up outdoor tents to enforce social distancing. Those costs add up quickly.

Update your leave policy and employee handbook to include a work-from-home option and protected COVID-19 sick leave.

Solution: Ask for a COVID-19 surcharge

Many businesses are asking for customers to help mitigate the cost of keeping their staff (and patrons) safe. “Some hair salons, restaurants, dentists’ offices are charging for protective gear, more disinfectant and those Plexiglas barriers at the cashier. Sometimes it’s in the form of a clearly stated COVID-19 surcharge, often between 3% and 5%, to cover the cost of things like masks and gloves,” reported Marketplace.

If you do decide to share the costs with your customers, make sure to be transparent about why their bill has gone up. Surprising a customer with a higher bill can negatively impact brand loyalty. It’s better to be proactive about outlining the steps you’re taking to keep everyone safe and use that opportunity to explain why some prices may be higher than customers are used to.

Challenge: Bringing back staff

The challenge, as one expert described, to reopening with your team is twofold. First, are your employees willing and available to come back? And secondly, are they able to follow the proper procedure to reopen safely?

For many employees, returning to work isn’t that straightforward. With summer camps and daycares closed, some workers are juggling childcare and home responsibilities in addition to work. Others who rely on public transportation may not be able to get to work safely. Once workers return to business, underlying health conditions may make it difficult to follow safety procedures.

Solution: Create a sick leave and work-from-home policy

Update your leave policy and employee handbook to include a work-from-home option and protected COVID-19 sick leave. Your temporary coronavirus sick leave policy should allow team members to stay home for at least two weeks if they are ill. “Employees who have tested positive for Covid-19 or report any symptom of coronavirus shouldn’t return to the business until they are free of all symptoms such as a fever, cough, or shortness of breath for at least 72 hours, and not using any medicine such as aspirin that might mask symptoms,” wrote Barron’s.

The policy should also cover how you will accommodate absenteeism and working from home. As much as you can, provide employees with the option to continue working remotely until they feel safe enough to return. Read more about this in article, “7 Ways Companies Are Preparing Employees for Reopening.”

Check out the SHRM Families First Coronavirus Response Act leave policy template for a sample of how to update your sick leave policy.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 14, 2020