How to protect your business from COVID-19

The world is now experiencing an international health crisis but how will COVID-19 impact small business owners? With a plunging stock market, manufacturing halts and decreased consumer demand it is time you develop a thorough contingency plan to minimise impact on your business.

5 min read

With an international pandemic declared, Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken over our screens and incited panic amongst the world’s population. With so much talk of the virus and its impact on the public, where does this leave business owners?

As the world waits anxiously to discover what the full impact of the COVID-19 will be, business owners are placed in a difficult position with low demand and high staff absenteeism.

What is it

At this stage it is unlikely that there is an individual who hasn’t heard of COVID-19 or its symptoms, with constant news updates and international press releases. However with so many sources, what actually is the virus in simple terms and how dangerous is it?

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China presumably from a wet market which sold both living and dead animals including birds and fish. Coronavirus is the name given to a family of virus’ that cause disease in animals which is why such a market has made it easy for the virus to jump to humans due to the difficulty regulating hygiene standards in such areas.

The initial symptoms of the Virus include a dry cough, fatigue, a fever and a general feeling of being unwell. The virus has been seen in some cases to develop into pneumonia and in the most serious cases cause organ failure amongst those who are more vulnerable such as the elderly or those with heart or lung disease. It is important to keep in mind however that although COVID-19 can be dangerous, only 3.4% of those affected have died with Chinese authorities reporting that 80% of cases being mild and not requiring hospitalisation.

The impact on the economy

We have already seen the devastation that COVID19 has had throughout Asia and now the rest of the world. With more than 76,000 people infected across 27 countries this pandemic has shown no sign of slowing down. However, despite the major effects it has had on public health arguably the largest impact it will have is on the economy. Since the outbreak of the virus we have witnessed a plummet in the stock market, manufacturing lines disintegrating and exports for China coming to a halt. There have been few industries that have not felt an adverse effect on their profits with the Airline industry predicting to lose $29bn due to cancelations and grounded flights and with China, often dubbed as the factory of the world seeing its output plummeting and their place in supply chains disrupted.

How can you prepare?

So what can small business owners do to ensure their business isn’t critically affected by this international outbreak? Although large corporations are feeling the brunt of lowered consumer demand, it is smaller organisations who are feeling the real repercussions already operating on tighter margins. As recommended by the World Health organisation business owners are expected to have prepared their contingency plans so as to protect not only their stakeholders but also themselves. From our research we have summarised the key areas to consider in your contingency plan and the action points to take.

Protect your employees and yourself

As an employer you have a duty of care to your employees, to ensure they are protected in their work space. This can be as simple as providing hand sanitizer or tissues in communal areas and at till points where infection can be easily spread. Employers also have a responsibility to educate their staff particularly when so much information is readily available online.
If in an office, prevention and protection practices can be discussed at the end of a meetings and the World health organisation infographics can be downloaded and displayed around the workplace.

Although it is important for business owners to protect their employees, they must not overlook their own health and wellbeing in the process. If you are a small business owner it is understandable that taking time away from your organisation will be difficult. It may be the first time you have allowed others to manage the daily operations within your business however If you are feeling unwell, it is important that you do not go into work. Not only for your own health but you want to ensure that your staff and customers remain healthy and minimal impact is made.

How to maintain sales and customers

The impact on the economy and retail has already been seen in China and within the global stock market. Buyer confidence has fallen to levels that have not been seen since the recession, with every industry experiencing the impact of the virus. Therefore it is crucial for business owners to create a strategy on how to continue operating despite the crisis both in serving customers and managing their employees.

  1. Alternative ways to get your products to consumers

It has been reported that across Asia, business owners are experiencing a huge decline in footfall in their stores and therefore dramatically impacting their sales. Many consumers are scared to visit busy areas when the virus can be easily transferred through the air or minor contact. In the areas that are worst affected we have seen retailers become innovative with how to generate sales and serve customers. Home delivery options are now more readily available, particularly to serve those in isolation. We have already seen the UK government urge leading supermarkets to increase the availability of home deliveries especially now we are seeing a rise in panic buying with a fear of supply shortages.

If you are a small business you can look to your online presence to reach out to your customers, there may be a way to serve them without them coming to your store. Particularly if operating a cafe or restaurant, consider online delivery platforms or ways you can incorporate this into your business.

  1. Train staff

When it comes to the COVID-19, it's more true than ever that businesses should prepare for the worst and this means ensuring that you can rely on your staff. With the BBC reporting that we could see up to one fifth of workers off at the same time across the UK in the height of the virus, how do businesses ensure they will not run into the obstacle of being understaffed. All that can be done is to ensure that all your members of staff have enough training to be flexible across the different areas of your business and can easily cover for prolonged absenteeism.

  1. Work remotely

Alternatively if you work in a business that can operate remotely, consider this as an option and how you will monitor this. Obviously many employers fear working from home with the inability to oversee their workers but it's important to balance this against the risk if your office does catch the Virus and physically unable to work. This is an even more significant consideration if any of those in your work-force are older or have pre existing health conditions.

How to manage supply chains

Although not all small businesses will rely directly on components from Asia, you may be surprised to discover how the virus could hit stakeholders involved in your chain or as we have seen products and services begining to rise in price.It is critical that you fully understand your supply chain and if needed are ready to explore alternative suppliers so that your business is still able to function during the crisis.

Keep things in perspective

The threat of COVID-19 cannot be ignored. It has become a much larger issue than could have been predicted and impacted all ways of life including small business owners across the globe. However, it is important to remain reasonable and although it is crucial for business owners to recognise the effects and make plans, there is no need to panic. Below we have linked several sites to help you plan and stay in touch with the current updates on the Virus.