How does a Small Business Owner keep the business running in the face of the on-going ravage of the Covid-19 pandemic? Our Guest Writer, Segun McMedal, outlines a business continuity plan for your consideration and action. Read on:

The first quarter of the year 2020 was very unusual – it was the period the world stood still; one, we can never forget, no thanks to Covid-19. The impact of the virus is unprecedented in world history. To ensure containment, development partners and governments directed that all social and economic activities should be locked down in all the affected nation-states including Nigeria. The current restrictions mean that the business environment is very tough, altering business models for almost all the industry and professions. While some industries (tourism, aviation, and financial services) are already on a life support, it is a boom period for others (telecoms, healthcare and medical supply, retail and food processing). So, how best should businesses respond to survive the onslaught?

There are three kinds of people as are companies: Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who wonder what happened. This challenging time opens a window of opportunity for people who are ready to make things happen to remain in business. This is one of the best times for businesses to step up to the plate and help their customers in navigating this crisis. This is the time to deepen your business’ positioning in the minds of stakeholders to be relevant during and after the Covid-19 crisis. Below are simple ways of ensuring business continuity in this period:

1. Work Remotely:  This is part of putting peoples’ safety first. This style allows workers to execute their duties outside of the traditional office environment. Instead of commuting to the office each morning of weekdays to work from a designated desk, remote employees can perform their assignments wherever they please. All you need is a computer or smartphone plus access to the internet to become a remote worker. The internet gives you access to cloud-based applications which allows you to do everything in or outside the office. Virtual employees can work anytime of the day as they wish to stay in touch with their stakeholders all over the world thanks to the internet. Working remotely help you to complete your duties on your own schedules which can result in higher engagement rates and increased productivity levels as well, if well managed, according to Harvard Business Review. But you must learn a new approach to adapt to working remotely. Here’s how, courtesy of CMC Connect Limited:

a. Create a dedicated workspace, away from distractions.
b. Start your day early. Waking up late will disorganise your day.
c. Prepare for work. Take a shower, change your clothes.
d. Create a to-do-list. Write down the task to be achieved for the day.
e. Stay Focused. Avoid distractions by setting boundaries, help your loved ones understand that you’re not on holidays.
f. Take breaks. Stretch your legs.
g. Communicate. Respond to calls, emails, messaging apps, video calls, etc.
h. Celebrate your wins. Go over the day’s tasks and tick off those you were able to deliver.
i. Review the day’s achievements with your line manager and teammates.
j. Working from home (WFH) is only effective when you are in constant communication with line managers and teammates.

2. Embrace Collaborative Business. In collaborative business, companies co-ordinate with other companies to maximise their efficiency and profitability. Collaborative business is used by companies to team up with competitors and suppliers for efficiency. It can also be used as a sales strategy to capture more market share. A food vendor and transporter can partner to deliver provisions to homes. Technology consulting firms can partner with professional bodies to deliver webinars to their members.

3. Maintain/Increase Your Marketing Budget. In challenging times, many businesses cut down their marketing budget, to the detriment of the business. Lean periods are the times businesses need to market more because consumers are restless and looking to make changes in their buying decisions. You need to help them find your products and services easily. This is also the best time to increase your investment in public relations. Almost all industries and professions have something to say about navigating the Covid-19 era. According to Nielsen, credential experts in medicine, law, finance, human resources, technology, media, supply chain management etc. can leverage radio and television news talk programmes to position their brands, and reach more people than they have in years. This is a time when knowledge or professionalism counts to provide relevant information to customers to manage the crisis. Furthermore, brands should constantly update their online profiles — websites and social media handles — as authentic sources of information. Hotlines should be activated as well. Efforts in social listening, media scanning and keyword monitoring should be doubled to quickly respond to untoward rumours.

4. Protect Business Cash Flow. Cash is the lifeblood that every business needs to take care of overheads and keep business healthy. But the harder times get, the harder it can be to keep the cash flowing in. Free cash flow, equity and debt financing are the best sources of working capital. These options may not be available for all businesses in challenging times. In such cases, there are alternative cash flow management strategies that businesses can use to ease the strain on their working capital, such as requesting for a deposit, cutting or delaying expenses, financing purchase orders and discounting invoices.

5. Communication. Maintain on-going engagement and support, by creating and sustaining an open line of communication relevant to your employees, customers, suppliers, creditors, regulators and other stakeholders. These stakeholders require different messaging and media that are essential to keep them informed.

6. Maximise Government Financial Support Policies.  The Central Bank of Nigeria announced several financial intervention policies to support households and companies in mitigating the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on families and enterprises nationwide. These include:

a. Credit relief of $136.6 million and additional N50 billion facility through the NIRSAL Microfinance Bank for households, small and medium-sized enterprises, airline service providers, hotels, and health care merchants affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
b. Reduction of interest rates on its intervention funds from nine percent to five percent per annum for one year, effective March 1, 2020.
c. Unspecified credit support for pharmaceutical companies intending to expand or establish their own drug manufacturing plants in Nigeria as well as to hospital and health care practitioners who intend to build or expand to world class standards.
d. Forbearance to big businesses by granting banks leave to consider the temporary restructuring of the tenure and loan terms for businesses and households most affected by the outbreak, particularly the oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing.

Your organisation must step up to the plate and adapt to the current realities. This is the time for businesses to demonstrate their nimbleness by quickly and effectively responding to the demands of change while continually delivering high performance.

* Segun Mcmedal, a business communications and public affairs expert, is Chairman of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Lagos Chapter.