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Plan now to restart your business

"Remind me of some of your key suggestions as we plan for new life for our business.”

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Each week I have the privilege to speak with several small business CEOs seeking a mentor from SCORE. My observation is that mentoring requests are starting to look forward to getting their business back on track again now that it looks like the pandemic may be starting to get under control. Wow, the pandemic has been devastating! One of the CEOs I visited with this past week said, “Dean, I am now beginning to have some hope, and now I may be ready to plan, so please remind me of some of your key suggestions as we plan for new life for our business.”

I have written a couple of columns over the past several trying months on the topic of planning for getting your business going again. I will highlight some of those thoughts and add some more suggestions as I scan SCORE’s resources, like those from FedEx, a regular content contributing partner.

1. Stay in touch with your customers.

When the unexpected occurs, communication is key. Update your website to give your customers a heads-up about your situation and ask for their patience while you work to return to normal operations. Make sure customers know the shutdown is/was temporary and post regular updates of your progress on your website and social media.

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If you don't have an Instagram or Facebook account for your business, now is the time to create one — social media is also a handy way to get the word out when you are ready to reopen your doors. Continue a steady stream of communications leading up to your reopening to stay top of mind and build anticipation among your most loyal customers.

2. Protect any vulnerable functions and assets and develop a plan.

A business continuity plan is crucial during this time. Contact your insurance company, your local chamber, and ask for help from a SCORE mentor. In some types of businesses you may need to ask your employees to work from home until you can reopen. Be sure to heed the direction of your local government as to when it’s safe to open back up for business.

3. Keep the money flowing.

Unless a federal mandate allows small businesses extra time for payments, rent and vendor payments are still due. Your first step is to request deadline extensions due to unforeseen circumstances. If your business is eligible, apply for an SBA loan or funds offered by a state, local or community agency.

If you run a restaurant or retail store, offer curbside pickup or delivery of your products. While customers wait for your grand reopening, promote vouchers or gift cards for future in-store purchases. Explain that each purchase is an investment in your business and allows you to move closer toward reopening.

4. Don't stop marketing.

As your reopening approaches, you’ll want everyone to know the date. A restaurant reopening announcement might look a little different than that of a retail store, but all companies rely on marketing to attract business. Draw inspiration from these ideas in your comeback campaign:

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  • Drum up excitement with a countdown on your social media accounts.
  • Prominently display your reopen date on your website and storefront.
  • Send a newsletter to your contact list.
  • Mail or email personal invitations to your best customers for your reopening celebration.
  • Offer an incentive to refer a friend to join in the reopening festivities.
  • Advertise sales and announce any changes to your business policies or store hours by designing a grand reopening sign , poster or banner .

5. Keep your employees and customers safe.

When reopening after a pandemic, strict hygiene measures must be followed by all employees and customers. Remember to regularly check for updates to your local laws once you reopen to make sure you’re following all up-to-date requirements and procedures. Until restrictions are lifted, follow these best practices:

  • Stock up on high-quality cleaning supplies and scrub down the interior of your business daily.
  • Implement social distancing rules.
  • Ask anyone entering to wear a face mask.

6. Host a reopening event to generate buzz.

A reopening doesn’t have to be an extravagant affair. Instead, you can cater to your budget and circumstances. It can be as simple as a few decorations and a special discount. If you’re reopening following a pandemic, it might be best to broaden your event window from a few hours to a few days to avoid attracting too large a crowd to allow for social distancing. Be sure to capture contact information of new customers who attend so you can contact them in future marketing efforts. You can ask them to sign in at the door or drop their business card.

An unintended closure gives you time to consider new marketing strategies and alternative business opportunities after a natural disaster or crisis. When it's finally time for your grand reopening, be ready to burst back onto the scene with a business that's more prepared for whatever comes your way.

Dean Swanson is a volunteer Certified SCORE Mentor and former SCORE chapter chairman, district director and regional vice president for the North West Region.

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