Break On Through

Top tips to help businesses face a new normal on the other side of COVID-19 lockdown.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.

 

Although some of the COVID-19 restrictions have eased, we’re still a long way from life returning to how it was. As we shift into a “new normal,” reopening businesses are facing enormous uncertainty. That said, however, certain aspects of the new landscape
are predictable, and the more prepared a business is to deal with them, the more rapidly it can get up and running.

THINK SAFETY FIRST. Given our region’s status as a tourist attraction, even if we eliminate community transmission completely we will remain highly vulnerable to having the virus re-introduced by visitors. Therefore, the top priority must be protecting both staff and customers. In order to do this, a good idea is to follow the lead of businesses like grocery stores, which have been allowed to remain open, and mandate the use of masks and gloves at all businesses, keep hand sanitizer and disinfectant everywhere, and establish mandatory cleaning protocols. This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also financially smart as businesses can be held liable for failing to provide a safe space for both employees and customers.

HAVE A STRONG MARKETING PLAN. A strong marketing plan is more important than ever in this highly chaotic landscape. Many people will remain extremely cautious about resuming normal activities so it’s important that they know you are open and operating safely. Prioritize existing customers, but have a plan for replacing a significant percentage of them if needed.

ASSESS WHERE YOU ARE AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET CREATIVE. How big a hit did you take? What is your cash position? How much of your market is likely to return, and at what pace? Which aspects of your previrus business model remain viable and which need to be revisited? Should you have a phased reopening?

Loyalty is a great virtue, but you cannot let it sink your business, so you must be realistic about staffing levels. Difficult choices will be necessary across the board.

That said, it may be worth convening your staff to examine creative ways to maintain as much of a relationship as possible. Can
people work part-time? Are there ways they can generate revenue that you can share? Does it make sense to offer employees some
equity in the business in return for foregoing some wages now?

CONDUCT A SITUATIONAL ANALYSIS. Given the nature of your business, how quickly is demand likely to return? Do you have any sense of the status of your competitors? Your supply chain? What impacts will lingering restrictions have on your business? Since the situation will continue to evolve for many months, this should be a regular exercise.

Even if you are one of the fortunate entrepreneurs who has been able to maintain relatively stable operations throughout the crisis, a situational analysis is a worthwhile endeavor. Things are going to be different — starting with the economic challenges of closed businesses and skyrocketing unemployment — and everyone should assume that their enterprise will continue to be affected.

SUPPORT YOUR FELLOW BUSINESSES. One thing we can all do as our local businesses reopen is patronize them to fullest extent we can afford. These businesses are not only the backbone of our economy, they are part of the essence of who we are as a city. We all have a part to play in bringing New Orleans back, yet again.

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