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The shutdown that swept over Canadian businesses due to the threats of COVID-19 was both rapid and unprecedented. Business owners had little time to prepare for government-mandated lockdowns and were forced to adapt, pivot or wait it out. Now that doors are opening, what will the future look like?

As the country begins to emerge from lockdowns, re-opening is happening at a measured rate – the pace of which is different across the country. Whether your business is already open, re-opening soon or you’re looking ahead to a future date, there will be some new things to consider as you welcome customers again – because opening in this new environment will not be as simple as flipping a switch. Planning carefully, understanding the policies and implementing new processes will have to figure prominently into your re-open efforts.

Here is a checklist of considerations to help you open your doors safely, efficiently, and productively.

1. Understand New Safety Standards

There’s no question that protecting your customers and your employees will be priority number one. Fortunately, the government – and likely your industry – will have issued rules, standards and best practices that take the guesswork out of what you should do to keep everyone safe.

Because every province will have different protocols (and in some cases, different regions within provinces will have varying policies), it’s best to do your research up front. What is your province, municipality and industry requiring you to do? What level of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is mandatory? Are physical distancing markers required? If you have a lunchroom, what are the rules around number of employees and communal items?

Once you know the hard and fast rules, it’s a good idea to look into the recommendations for your industry. For example, if the government doesn’t require your employees or customers to wear masks, your industry may recommend this practice.

And if you have an employee who is reluctant to return to work due to safety concerns? Try to be empathetic to their concerns and take them through all of the measures you are putting in place to protect everyone who walks through your doors. Understanding your rights as an owner – and the rights of your staff in your province –is an important early step to take before an issue arises.

As guidelines are evolving, it’s best to check in with your provincial government often, and keep your employees informed as changes occur.

The Canadian Business Resilience Network provides the National Reopening Government Regulation Tracker, which offers updated rules and regulations by federal and provincial/territorial jurisdictions.

2. Map Out Your Cash Flow

When it comes to cash flow, you can never over-prepare. Given the uncertain nature of the future, it’s a good idea to map out a few different scenarios. Consider forecasting a best-case scenario, a worst-case, and something in between.

If you have multiple stores or locations, think about whether it makes sense to open one to begin with. It may be easier to refine processes and catch any issues while working with a single spot. Of course, this approach will need to be weighed with the opportunity costs of keeping your other locations closed.

Our article Managing Cash Flow in a Time of Crisis: 6 Strategies For Business Owners offers several forecasting tips and optimization strategies to help you gain control of your cash flow.

You can also use the RBC Business Cash Flow tool to get an analysis of your current cash flow position.

3. Refresh Your Online Presence

Consumers have a new way of engaging with businesses, as traditional brick and mortar shops were forced to pivot to digital during the pandemic.

If your business doesn’t yet have an online presence, now is the time to create one. And if you’re already online, it’s critical to keep your website and social media channels up-to-date. After all, consumers can no longer assume when a store is open or how they are operating.

As you create/ update your online presence, be sure to:

  • Address the situation. If it’s not clear that your website has changed post-COVID, customers may not be confident that the information is up-to-date. Specifying that the information reflects the current circumstances will offer the clarity consumers need.
  • Be clear about your status. Are you open? If so, what are your hours? Are you accepting customers by appointment only? Are you offering curbside pick up? Can customers enter your location? And if so, do they have to follow any particular safety precautions or wear any equipment? These are the questions on the minds of your customers, so be sure to clearly answer them.

4. Check In on Your Supply Chain

Traditional supply chains have been significantly disrupted by a number of factors driven by the pandemic. From changing customer demand to labour shortages to export restrictions, many suppliers and distributors have experienced great upheaval to their operations.

So what does that mean for you? At this time, it’s a good idea to contact your key suppliers and check on their status. Get to know if there are any changes to their operations and/or their delivery dates so you can manage your own inventory accordingly.

This is also a good opportunity to review agreements and contractual obligations and make any adjustments necessary.

5. Reach Out to Your Customers

Once you’re open, what happens next? While you might find customers are lining up outside your door at Day 1, you might want to plan for a different scenario. Just in case. Actively engage with your customers to let them know you’re open, you missed them, and are looking forward to seeing them again. This is also a good opportunity to outline the steps you’re taking to protect your employees and your customers. If you have collected email addresses (and all necessary consent), now is the time to send out a notice that you’re open for business.

Social media channels are also excellent options to get the word out quickly!

6. Don’t Do It Alone

These are strange times, the likes of which our generation has never seen. You are being put in a situation to make difficult business decisions with information that changes regularly, and it’s not easy. But you don’t have to go it alone.

To help you navigate this time, leverage your network for insight and perspective. While your contacts haven’t been through a global health pandemic, they may have experience with the economic crisis or dealt with supply chain, cash flow or HR issues that could be similar to the ones you’re facing. Whether it’s a mentor, a local chamber of commerce, or a neighbourhood business group, connect with people you trust and use them as a sounding board. There is strength in numbers, and the more you can lean on others for support, the easier it will be to re-open successfully.

The Canadian Business Resilience Network is a comprehensive resource established by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to help the business community prepare, preserve and ultimately prosper in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the way you do business will change, there is plenty of room for opportunity and optimism in this new environment. It’s important to be prepared, be flexible, and open to any and all silver linings this ‘new normal’ might offer you.