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With full lockdowns seemingly around the corner, the COVID-19 pandemic has put economic pressure on businesses all over Australia. It's difficult to know what to do with the situation rapidly changing and so many things thrown into chaos. This guide will look at what you can still do to manage your business' daily operations, employees, and finances.
How to continue business during the coronavirus outbreak
Continuing business during the coronavirus outbreak may still be possible — but will require you to apply extra protective measures to keep customers and employees safe.
1. Keep in clear communication with your employees.
Transparent communication with employees is crucial. The more your employees know about your expectations and intentions, the better equipped they are to prepare. Create an email account specifically for coronavirus-related queries and communications. Provide scheduled updates on how you plan to tackle day-to-day operations. If you anticipate having to close up shop or plan to ask employees to work from home, give as much notice as possible. Given the current circumstances, a play-it-by-ear approach is entirely understandable. But keep your team in the know with frequent updates. How Finder is managing its global workforce during the outbreak
2. Set up direct deposit for all employees.
Shifting payroll from paper checks to direct deposit eliminates the need for employees to pick up paychecks in person. You can set up direct deposit through your business bank account provider or payroll software like ADP, ClockOn or OnPay. Collect the necessary banking information from your employees, including their bank account type, number and the BSB of their financial institution. After you submit their information to your direct deposit provider, all that's left is setting up a payroll schedule and completing your provider's authorization process.
3. Shift employees to work from home when possible.
While it may not be feasible for all business models, video conferencing can safeguard the health of your employees while keeping operations afloat. If it's possible for your employees to get work done with a computer and an Internet connection, encourage them to work from home.
4. Come up with ways to continue serving your customers.
Does your business rely on in-person sales? Consider selling online. A number of merchant services providers like Square and Shopify offer e-commerce store building software. You don't need to be tech-savvy to set up your website, as most providers offer beginner-friendly website themes. You can even integrate your online store with your social media accounts for omnichannel marketing.
5. Strategise the best ways to keep your business running.
Business operations during a global pandemic are all about managing risk. And while it may be tempting to forge ahead with a business-as-usual attitude, the health of your employees and that of the greater community needs to come first. If you're committed to keeping your doors open, consider reducing your operating hours if it is possible to do so.
Update as of 8 April 2020: Government support for businesses
Small business loan payments
A Small Business Relief Package has been announced for small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. The relief package will defer all principal and interest payments for loans to small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19. It is available to businesses in any sector that have business loan facilities up to $10 million.
Banks can defer loan payments for six months and are also offering loans or overdrafts with no repayments for the first six months with low interest rates through an SME loan guarantee.
Any small business who has not already been contacted by their bank about the Small Business Relief Package is being urged to get in touch with their bank. Banks have already begun contacting their customers and the packages have begun rolling out to customers.
If your business has been affected by COVID-19 and you are unable to pay staff, you can access a government subsidy of up to $1,500 per employee for a period of up to six months. This subsidy is already in place. To be eligible, your business needs to have a turnover of less than $1 billion and it needs to have fallen by more than 30. If you have turnover of more than $1 billion it needs to have fallen by 50%.
Eligible employees need to be full-time, part-time or long-time casuals that are at least 16 years of age.
A mandatory commercial tenancies code has been released by the Federal Government and includes measures to support businesses affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. The code covers businesses that are in financial distress due to COVID-19, have a turnover of less than $50 million and are eligible to receive support under the JobKeeper payment (eligibility for which is outlined above).
Under the code, landlords must not terminate the lease and will be required to reduce leases in proportion to the decline in turnover experienced by the tenant. To do this, landlords can use a mix of rent waivers and rent deferrals, but waivers must account for at least 50%. Any deferral of rent must be spread over the remaining time of the lease and for a period which must not be for less than 24 months.
How can the coronavirus stimulus package help me run my business?
There are a few ways your business can financially benefit from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. You might be able to apply for the new Paycheck Protection Loan or an SBA disaster loan to cover overhead costs like payroll. And if you apply for a disaster loan, you can also request a $10,000 grant to tide you over until your loan funds come through.
Tax breaks, SBA loan payment subsidies and other programs might also help you retain employees and keep your business from shuttering completely. Also, check with your state and local government for other funding options for your business.
For a smooth transition from in-person operations to an at-home workforce, consider implementing these strategies and tools:
Communication software. Shift company communications to an online workspace with the help of communication software like Slack, Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Established desk hours. Set a daily schedule and structured desk hours to help remote workers establish a routine — but keep in mind that some staff members may be trying to balance child care while keeping up with work responsibilities.
Schedule daily check-ins. Help your team stay connected and up to speed with team check-ins, conference calls and virtual town halls through Skype or Zoom.
Explore business apps. Review your business app options to streamline operations as your team works from home.
If your business is still open amid the COVID-19 crisis, take proactive measures to keep employees and customers safe:
Disinfect daily. Regularly disinfect high-traffic areas and surfaces, like doorknobs, tables, desks, light switches, keyboards and telephones.
Remind employees to practice good hygiene. Make soap and hand sanitizer available while encouraging staff to routinely clean their hands and avoid touching their face.
Avoid handling cash. Request that your customers use non-contact payment methods, like paypass or online transfers.
Open the windows. Consider increasing ventilation by opening windows.
Limit in-person meetings. Cancel all nonessential face-to-face chats.
Refrain from handshakes. Ask employees and customers to opt for noncontact greeting methods, like hand waves or head nods.
Communicate with customers. Let your customers know how your business plans to conduct itself, including expected hours of operation and updated sanitization protocols.
Should I close my business?
According to government regulations announced 26 March (2020), some businesses must be closed, while others are restricted or allowed to remain open. Remember that if you are able to close your business or move operations online or off-premises, you should do so to lower the risk of transmission. Even if regulations don't demand it, you can help limit the spread.
Guidelines and regulations are constantly evolving as the pandemic unfolds, but here is the current list of restrictions on businesses. For some of those in the banned or closed category, we've listed some ideas for how they can keep operating while closed.
Banned or closed
Registered and licensed clubs, licensed premises in hotels and pubs, casinos and nightclubs. Consider utilising takeaway options with services such as Deliveroo or UberEats.
Cinemas and entertainment venues. Try online streaming sessions or ticket donations.
Auctions and open house inspections. Use virtual inspection software. Or Virtual auctions via YouTube, Facebook Live, or other streaming platforms.
Personal services such as beauty therapy, tanning, massage and tattoo parlours (but not physiotherapy). Mobile services may still be feasible, but it's impossible to maintain social distancing, even with proper safety gear.
Most outdoor and indoor markets, although "major food markets" (the prime minister cited Sydney's Flemington market as an example) will be addressed by states and territories. Opt for takeaway or delivery services instead (especially if you have a refrigerated truck or van).
Amusement parks and arcades, and indoor and outdoor play centres.
Galleries, museums, libraries and swimming pools.
Gyms and indoor sport venues. Many providers are offering: live stream workouts or fitness programmes; telehealth consultations; pre-recorded content for members.
Overseas travel, with some exceptions such as aid workers and compassionate travel.
Hairdressers and barbers can continue but must strictly manage social distancing with at least four square meters per person.
Restaurants and cafes can offer delivery and takeaway only. Food courts in shopping centres may also only offer takeaway.
Weddings restricted to five people – the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses.
Funerals are generally limited to no more than 10 people, but on 26 March states and territory were given the power to make exemptions in special circumstances.
Visits to houses should be kept to a very small number of people, including for family barbecues and birthday parties. States may choose to legislate to restrict house parties.
Shopping centres and other shops not specifically told to close, including bottle shops.
How can I help my employees?
Remaining flexible and responsive can help your employees feel supported during the coronavirus outbreak. Employees may need to tend to their children or support a loved one in a high-risk group. Clarify your company's sick-leave policies and prepare to deal with questions and requests.
The Department of Health has advised that if someone feels sick or has a sick family member at home, they should self-quarantine to lessen the risk of potential infection. Let your employees know what coronavirus financial assistance programmes exist to help them cope, including unemployment benefits like Centrelink and banks that have begun to offer financial aid.
Financing options for businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak
If your bottom line has begun to suffer, look into ways your business can access cash during the outbreak:
Discounted business loans. It could be worth asking your bank if they have begun offering discounted or emergency business loans. Read more about business loans for SMEs affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
Overdrafts. Check if any overdraft increases have been made available by your lender.
Private grants. Organisations like Facebook have begun rolling out private grants to qualifying businesses.
Business stimulus measures. For a list of the measures available as part of the government's business stimulus package, read here.
Business credit cards. Some business credit cards offer 0% introductory rates of interest, for a set period of time, on purchases or balance transfers. You could ask your bank if they'll allow you to defer an existing credit card repayment.
Will my business insurance cover lost income?
Businesses that hold business interruption insurance might assume lost income as a result of the outbreak is by their policy. But here's the problem: Business interruption insurance is an extension of property insurance designed to cover property damage after a natural disaster. And the current COVID-19 pandemic may not qualify.
After the SARS outbreak in 2003, many providers began to exclude epidemics and pandemics from their business insurance coverage. Read our guide on insurance during the coronavirus outbreak for more information. You should also ask your insurance provider about your coverage and whether lost income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak qualifies.
Is it too late to get business insurance?
While it's not too late to get coverage and many providers allow you to submit applications online, it may be difficult to find a provider willing to cover lost income as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Many businesses across Australia are in the same situation and are seeking support for business insurance providers. You may be better off pursuing a government or private financing or relief option instead.
Businesses can navigate the COVID-19 outbreak by planning ahead, using resources and taking a proactive attitude. Stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 developments through our coronavirus hub.
Shannon Terrell is a writer for Finder who studied communications and English literature at the University of Toronto. On any given day, you can find her researching everything from equine financing and business loans to student debt refinancing and how to start a trust. She loves hot coffee, the smell of fresh books and discovering new ways to save her pennies.
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