According to the CDC, the Delta variant of COVID-19 is responsible for 93% of cases in the United States for the two-week period beginning on July 31 which is up from 83% as recorded for the previous two-week period. Even as vaccination rates increase, medical experts from the CDC advise that even vaccinated Americans should return to wearing masks indoors in Delta hotspots like New York City and Miami.
Mounting uncertainty about the Delta variant and COVID-19’s future has led to parallel concerns that restrictions may rise once more and paralyze small businesses in a way similar to early 2020. Even as in-person commerce is turning up, small businesses would be wise to prepare a contingency plan. Kapitus has collected five general tips for small businesses to keep in mind and help stay on top of another potential shutdown.
Track Hyperlocal Hotspots
Medical experts from Yale Medicine advise that the Delta variant and COVID-19 cases from now onward will largely affect the unvaccinated. As the United State’s vaccine rates remain uneven there is an increased chance of extremely localized viral breeding grounds otherwise known as hyperlocal hotspots. COVID-19 is likely to affect some communities severely and possibly skip whole other communities because of vaccination rates. It is imperative that small businesses be aware if they are in CDC or WHO-determined hyperlocal hotspots as unvaccinated patrons could be at risk inside your offices or stores.
If your business is inside a hyperlocal hotspot your first step should be to reevaluate your mask guidelines. It is common for small businesses, especially those with open-air facilities, to mark their facilities as ‘mask optional,’ but per CDC guidelines, even vaccinated Americans should wear masks. Consider also stepping up your signage to double down on social distancing requirements.
To see if your local neighborhood is at risk of becoming a hyperlocal hotspot for COVID-19 keep a close eye on both CDC resources as well as your local government’s neighborhood profiles.
Make Operational Adjustments (Again)
This tip may sound silly to small businesses already facing labor and supply shortages but even businesses seeing a commercial uptick should take that growth in stride and be certain to not overinvest in the face of potential future shortfalls. Small business owners showed incredible resourcefulness when facing the initial challenges of COVID-19 making many unforeseen operational changes that strengthened their business for the better. Doubling down on these strategies, while incorporating a few new areas, can help you to create an emergency plan to manage operational costs. Some areas to consider include:
Operating Hours & Work Weeks
If you are a merchant, how long are you open daily? Do you know which business hours typically bring in the best revenue? Consider adjusting hours to match the times of the week where you tend to see the most traffic. If you manage an office, do you need a 5-7 day work week? Do your employees need to be in the office or can you get them quickly moved to a work-from-home situation? Are there any daily tasks your business can complete with automation? When reevaluating your operational costs, your goal should be to run your business as lean as possible so that in the case of a shutdown you can swiftly tone down operations.
Social Media and Customer Communication
Find creative ways your business can leverage social media to both further your communication with customers and maybe even open up new revenue streams. Recording product unveilings on Facebook or Youtube live streams is a great way to get your customers involved from home. If your business does have to shut down or alter hours, use social media and your company’s website to keep customers informed and involved.
Build and Maintain a Safety Net
If your business hasn’t already, put additional money aside in an emergency or contingency fund separate from general savings. The COVID-19 pandemic has been anything but predictable and those businesses who maintained a healthy amount of emergency funds fared the best. Maintaining an emergency savings account may also help put you and your employees into a better mindset. Being prepared for an emergency often translates to being even more prepared for daily operations which will only go on to help your business.
Be Intimately Familiar with Your Suppliers
Keep in extremely close contact with your suppliers and vendors. The patchwork nature of modern COVID-19 outbreaks may lead to factory closures even if your own business can keep their doors open. Be certain that someone on your team is in regular contact with your largest suppliers so you can beat stopgaps and delays before they affect business.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed small businesses that relationships with multiple vendors is another “new normal” in the face of supply line shortcomings and regular supply and demand spikes. Operating your business in that new normal requires extensive flexibility in both the front and back of house. One of the best ways to proactively insulate your business from supplier shortcomings is to maintain parallel relationships for the same raw materials. Also, if you have an existing supplier who maintains more than 50% of your incoming supplies, it is imperative that your business find alternative means to maintain those supplies even just as insurance. In the same way that paying into various insurances and protections insulates your business from unexpected disasters, maintaining parallel supplier relationships functions in the same way.
Maintain Regular Communication with Staff and Customers
How strong are your communication lines with staff and regular customers? It pays to be upfront and detailed about your COVID-19 and Delta variant contingency plans.
Regarding your staff, be certain that your front of house staff isn’t left unaware of your COVID-19 plans as leaving questioning customers with an ‘I’m not sure’ is anything but reassuring. No matter if your staff is remote or not, set up a live meeting where employees can comfortably ask questions and you can lay out key details about the path ahead. Be as specific as possible and include “if, then” scenarios in the case of heightened restrictions or full shutdowns.
As for customers, consider your existing outreach programs like email newsletters and blogs and see what you can do to step up the personalization of your content. Another valuable resource is an FAQ page with specific details about your businesses plans and prevention strategies going into Q3 and Q4 of 2021. Throughout all your customer outreach it is essential that you are as honest and straightforward as possible. No one is certain that shutdowns are imminent, and the patchwork nature of Delta variant outbreaks means that those shutdowns may be targeted and local. Your communications with customers should reassure that your business is prepared for any outcome and that your team will do everything possible to maintain service.
Forgo Expansion for Savings and Invest in Good Labor
The last few months’ uptick in commerce in the United States may lead small business owners to consider reinvesting their new-found cash into upgrades and improvements they skipped out on during 2020 but the time is likely not right for most businesses.
The only sound investment small business owners should consider in the face of Delta variant surges are in good labor. Be certain that you can continue paying your staff competitive and fair wages in the face of continued American concerns about returning to the office. Keeping your staff enthusiastic and invested in your business is the best way to insulate yourself from a type of shutdown COVID-19 has little to do with: labor shortages. Give your staff as much flexibility and as many options as you can bear, and they will respond with passion and a genuine interest in their work.
Final Delta Considerations
Beyond masks, tests, and vaccines a key weapon in the small business owner’s arsenal against COVID-19 is information. Keep a close eye on both the CDC and your local government’s stances on your immediate area’s risk for Delta variant surges and outbreaks. Use that information to fuel your decisions as to what extent your business should open to the public. No one is certain how small businesses will fare over the remainder of 2021 but the businesses most likely to survive are those who prepare for any scenario.