How small businesses are surviving lockdown

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29 May 2020

Thousands of businesses across the UK have been forced to temporarily shut shop in line with the government’s plan to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The essential businesses allowed to remain open have had to adapt to make sure they’re following new social distancing guidelines.

During these uniquely challenging times, small businesses and self-employed people are worried about they’ll cope with the impact of coronavirus and are unsure what the future holds.

Here are AXA’s tips to help your small businesses not only survive lockdown, but thrive in what’s being described as the ‘new normal’.

How to support your staff during coronavirus

With many people now working from home for the first time, or working under new social distancing guidelines, it presents a number of new challenges for employers. Whether you employ one person or an entire team, protecting people’s physical and mental wellbeing should always be at the heart of everything you do.

Here are some of the ways you can support your employees and keep them safe.

Having the right equipment

If your employees are working from home, it’s important they have everything they need to help them do their job. Whether it’s providing a computer, desk or general office supplies, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers are still responsible for their employees’ wellbeing – even if they’re working from home.

If your employees can’t work from home, and especially if they interact with members of the public, you must ensure they have access to hand washing facilities and a supply of hand sanitiser. You might also want to consider providing a supply of face coverings or masks.

Help with transport to work

While public transport is still in operation, services are reduced in most areas which can pose problems for many employees. During peak times, services can be busier which makes it difficult to keep a safe distance from others. To tackle this issue, businesses have been encouraging walking or cycling to work, or are for paying for parking or private taxis.  

Social distancing measures

While the rules on social distancing differ slightly across the country, the basic principles are simple: always remain at least two metres away from other people. If you have an office, separate the desks and arrange staggered break and lunch times to avoid congested areas. With retail spaces, having clear markings on the floor and employing one-way systems can make it easier for people to keep their distance.

Supporting their mental wellbeing

  • Check in regularly
    It’s never been more important to check in on how your employees are doing; even outside of the workplace. Many people are feeling lonely without seeing friends and family, so it’s a good idea to keep in regular contact with your staff. Make sure you have up to date contact details for your employees and at least one other emergency contact.
  • Encourage mental health support
    It’s important to encourage your employees to look after their mental health as much as their physical. There are lots of free support services and online advice available that you can direct your employees to. Have a look at the NHS website or visit AXA Stronger Minds for more information about workplace mental health. 

How to manage your cash flow during coronavirus

Finances can make or break any small business; but especially so during this global health pandemic. To help you track your costs and earnings, check out our guide bookkeeping basics and find out more about the accounting spreadsheets you’ll need to help you stay on top of your finances.

Here are five ways to stay on top of your cash flow during this crisis.

1. Make use of the government support available

The government announced new packages of relief measures aimed to help businesses deal with the impact of the coronavirus. From the Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, there are a number of support packages available to help self-employed people and businesses during this crisis.

Find out more about the government support for businesses affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)

2. Know your margins

It’s always good to know how much cash you’ll have left at the end of each month. But it’s particularly important if you’re accessing government loans or deferring other payments, as you could end up owing large amounts at unusual times of the year. As the situation with coronavirus changes and evolves daily, business owners and self-employed people need to keep their finger on the pulse and review their finances regularly.

3. Consider using technology to help you

Online accounting software can make it easier for you to manage your finances. With the introduction of Making Tax Digital, using HMRC-recognised accounting software is a must if you don’t have access to a dedicated accountant. As well as being good for tax purposes, accounting software will help you understand your cashflow and manage other things like invoicing, inventory and payroll.

4. Make it easy for customers to pay you

Accepting a range of payment options will make it easier for your customers to pay you. However, you might want to discourage customers from using cheques at this time because they could cause payment delays. Some businesses offer discounts for early payment or payment upfront, but this is something you’d have to seriously think about before putting into practice.

5. Keep in touch with your customers and suppliers

Having an open line of communication with your customers and suppliers could really help when it comes to managing cash flow. Whether it’s through social media channels, email updates or regular phone calls, keeping in touch could really benefit you in the long run. You’ll have a better idea of your customer’s demands and how your business will fare when things return to ‘normal’.

How to keep your premises safe during lockdown

If your business isn’t allowed to open its doors, there are a number of practicalities and security measures you’ll need to consider. Here are some of the ways you can keep your premises safe during lockdown.

  • Secure the building and board up your premises if you don’t have shutters
  • Remove items of value or hide and lock them away if you can’t
  • Remove perishable items such as food and consider pest control measures
  • Disconnect unnecessarily electrical equipment and take meter readings
  • Complete a full stock check and mark all your company’s assets
  • Divert phone calls and mail to your home address
  • Consider additional security measures such as CCTV, sensor lights or access control system

Revising your business model for lockdown

Businesses across the country have found new and innovative ways to branch out the services or products while still adhering to lockdown rules. Let’s take a look at just some of the ways self-employed people and small businesses are adapting to this new way of life.

Going online

Establishing an online presence can be a great way to increase your geographical reach and attract new customers when it matters the most. Whether it’s building a website or creating a social media account, using technology can be an inexpensive way to keep your business going. The outbreak of the coronavirus has also seen the rise in video conferencing software, with businesses finding new exciting ways to use it. For example, music teachers are holding 1-2-1 lessons with students via Skype, and pubs and bars are hosting virtual wine, beer and gin tasting with groups using Zoom.

Small changes

Other businesses have made small changes to their usual day-to-day activities to ensure they can stay up and running. Just look at the many food outlets remained open for collection or delivery only, ­­­­­which has seen small businesses employ more delivery drivers and adopt additional social distancing measures. Nail technicians are creating bespoke press-on nails to send out to their clients, and restaurants and cafes are offering ‘make your own pizza’ packages and take-home afternoon tea kits.

Big changes

For some businesses, the outbreak of coronavirus marks a substantial change. For example, some breweries and distilleries have switched to producing things like hand sanitiser, and other manufacturers have started making PPE for key workers. During these times, think about how the existing skills you have as a self-employed person, or how the equipment you have from your business, could be adapted in this environment to meet new demands.

How are businesses adopting social distancing?

While some businesses and venues must remain closed to the public, other essential businesses are allowed to stay open as long as they adopt safe social distancing measures to protect their staff and customers. In the first instance, businesses should make every attempt to allow their staff to work from home. Where this isn’t possible, they can still go to work as long as they’re not showing coronavirus symptoms and if they follow social distancing.

Employers are responsible for staff members in their offices or premises and must enforce social distancing at all times. The social distancing advice does differ between nations, so it’s important check out the guidelines set out in England, Scotland and Wales.

However, the basic principles of social distancing are simple:

  1. Always keep a two-metre distance from others.
  2. Regularly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Shops running a collection or delivery service

Orders should be taken online or by phone, rather than in the premises. This should be clearly communicated to customers by clear signage in store and/or online.

Collection times should be staggered and customers should only enter one at a time. If customers have to queue, a system should be in place to allow people to maintain a safe distance.

If you’re offering deliveries, goods shouldn’t be physically handed over to the customer. Instead, there should be a set drop-off point agreed in advance. After ringing the doorbell, the delivery driver should maintain a safe distance from the door and oversee the delivery of the goods. Delivery drivers should wash their hands using soap and water for at least 20 seconds as regularly as possible, and use hand sanitiser after each delivery.

Working in people’s homes as a tradesperson, cleaner or nanny

In England, tradespeople, cleaners and nannies working in people’s homes can do so as long as they have no symptoms and everyone in their own household is well. Tradespeople should assess whether the visit is essential or if the work can be safely postponed. If it can’t, you should agree the distancing procedures in advance and regularly wash your hands during the visit.

Work should not be carried out in a household where people are isolating or if an individual is being shielded. The only exceptions are if the work is to remedy a risk to the safety of the household, or if a young child’s parent has to attend an emergency hospital appointment.

If a tradesperson must work in a household which is self-isolating or where someone is being shielded, they must take additional distancing and hygiene measures.

Retail outlets

If you own a retail outlet which can open under UK Government guidelines, here are some things to you to do follow social distancing rules to protect your staff and customers:

  • Only allow a limited number of people into your shop at any given time
  • Put up signage to ask customers with symptoms not to enter the premises
  • Remind staff and customers to always keep 2 metres from other people
  • Encourage staff to regularly wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • If possible, put up plexiglass barriers at points of regular customer interaction (e.g. tills). These barriers should be cleaned regularly.

You can get social distancing ideas and advice for your specific sector or trade. Just visit the government’s website.

Working hard to support your business

These are unsettling times for everyone, and we want to do everything we can to keep you updated on how coronavirus (COVID-19) affects your business. Tale a look at our coronavirus-specific help and advice section.