UPDATED: 11:00AM March 18th
THIS GUIDE HAS BEEN MOVED TO MIGHTY SMALL – FIND LATEST BUSINESS STRATEGIES AND UPDATES THERE
Written by Emmett Soldati, Owner
I run a small restaurant – we have strict health policies and recently set up a paid sick leave fund. We are a low-risk space in a community with no nearby outbreaks. And yet, the crunch is here. We have seen an immediate loss of business and cancellation of future private bookings (April is our busiest month!). While we have not cancelled any programming or operations, I’m preparing for potential changes.
I’ve spent the last 48 hours on the phone with our insurance company, our bank, SBA, NH Bureau of Economic Affairs and NH Works, Chamber of Commerce, Governor’s office, and elected representatives from local to federal level. From the sounds of it, many other businesses are in the dark as to what they should do and what support they will have if they have suspended or choose to suspend operations.
If you are a small business or work for one, here are some lessons learned and actions I’d recommend in the near term:
Those of us that came to this profession from the kitchen may not be the most organized, I get it – it’s time to go slow and start a document or spreadsheet of every expense, every phone call, every canceled order. It will matter. Whether small business loans or insurance claims, having documentation will be helpful.
Government services use real data to back up decision making process. In particular, your claim of economic injury supports state wide declarations that can *potentially* free up funding. Call the Joint Information Center for NH’s division Department of Homeland Security: 603 223 6169
This takes 5 minutes and is used to support a public declaration for economic injury and disaster relief.
The front page of your website needs to say something. In the food service biz we always keep challenges close to our chest for fear of spreading concern. Now is the time to share the tribulations of your business.
Furthermore, consider an online portion of your business – offer eGift Cards and put it at the front of your business. Consider selling things online. Many sites make this easy and free (I use WordPress/Woocommerce).
NH is currently assessing changes to unemployment coverage. If someone works in NH, they qualify (yes, even if they live in Maine/Mass, yes even if they are a service worker/part-time). You should be prepared to encourage your team to apply for unemployment.
I made a request to my NH Bureau of Economic Affairs rep to lobby for retroactive support. The statehouse may not decide on Governor’s recommendations until Tuesday or Wednesday. Businesses may not be able to continue to operate if the losses have begun and should not be penalized for making those decisions in advance.
Call your insurance agent/broker (not carrier – their interest is to avoid giving you your most favorable reading of your contract!). Tell them your situation and ask them to advocate for the best solution given your policy. All Business Owner policies (BOP) are different but most have exclusions for “virus” – make it clear that your damage doesn’t relate to the virus (e.g. a worker or manager got sick), but due to CIVIL AUTHORITY (e.g. state declaration of emergency, National Emergency, WHO pandemic declaration). This is no guarantee but is a better defense to damages. If you need to, file a business income claim.
Now is not the time to feel awkward asking for help! Draft an email to your customer base (if you aren’t keeping a list of customer emails, now is a great time to start with services like Mailchimp!) We use Square POS and they have a built in marketing tool that can send a message to all customers. Recognize that your customers are receiving a LOT of notices right now, so mix up the subject line, and consider offering an incentive to read about what you’re doing “buy a $100 gift card and get 10% off now!”
Your landlord should know and you should ask them what they can help you with – give them assurances that these outcomes are temporary and you need help. They often make decisions based on their proforma and how much debt they carry and what their banks look for. Banks will *hopefully* be lenient with temporary rent abatements (so ask for them!). Consider asking your landlord if they can file a claim for loss of rent.
Ask what your bank is/can do to help you, a long-standing customer. Ask if they are waiving overdraft fees, ask if they are halting loan payments or interest. They have more control than you may think! In the worst case, ask if they will honor payroll checks in an instance of overdraft and payment plan.
No utility should be shutting you off/down for non-payment during emergency. If you are concerned, ask for forbearance – ask if they will agree to not report non-payments to credit score agencies.
Lastly – but certainly not least – doing this work upfront and following some best practices has left me with a little bit of time on my hands now that things are quiet and we wait for more guidance. I’m committed to helping any small business owner – no matter where – design and implement their own plan. I’ll do everything I can. Please reach out with questions or if you need support. Email Me Here.