Your next normal may not be so normal. We know business won’t suddenly come back full-throttle. It will open in stages. Now, most of us are beginning phase one (or we can at least see it in our near future).
As talk buzzes of restarts, we’re left with a lot of noise and questions. How do we manage our teams, operations, and finances if the rules change every few weeks? How do we know when to move from one phase to another?
This isn’t easy, but it is navigable. Our next normal may still be in the distant future, but we’re on our way. Here’s what we can expect in each of the four phases and how we should run our companies as we move towards our new way of doing business.
Phase 1: Make Ready
As you’re allowed back in the warehouses and offices in small numbers, get ready for business to come. Establish protocols for people working together again. It’s tempting to rush to the office, but that may create more problems. Communicate your protocol proactively.
During this phase, build on your skill set for business ahead. Test products, figure out streaming, and make sure you’re a Zoom expert. Senior management and owners, be willing to do work you haven’t done since your startup days, including taking customer calls and processing requests. The only way to avoid adding unnecessary overhead to your business is to work with fewer employees.
Here’s what to keep in mind for these specific areas of your business:
Stay home, but stay in contact with your customers. Make sure someone from your company personally talks with the top 80% of your 2019/2020 customers.
When you’re not making the calls, man the phones. Phone calls are more important than they’ve been in years. Your clients may only have the email address for an employee you’ve let go. Phones are starting to ring again, so make sure they’re being answered by a human.
Try rotating phone duty — senior management first, then sales. This is a high responsibility role, so choose people who understand the strategy of the business and can filter through the questions to do the job.
Work on a rotation to prepare the shop. It’s the perfect time to implement new operational models. Because you don’t have resources to waste, assign directed work that’s elemental to restart goals to the employees coming into the office.
While working from home, accounting needs to catch up on payables and receivables. Communicate to all accounts payable and receivable so you look like a company that’s doing business again.
Trigger to Phase 2
Most US companies will see a new phase after the 8-week PPP period. If you don’t have funds for full-time pay for your employees, consider powering down again into some type of “airplane mode”. It may mean more furloughs and layoffs, or assistance may be extended. However, you should only plan your business on what you know — and right now, we know that at the end of the eight weeks, funding ends.
Eventually, Phase 2 will begin when you see ongoing paid projections that require more personnel. When you start accumulating work and need a routine, it’s on to Phase 2.
Phase 2: Limited Projects
In this phase, the demand increases slightly, but distancing still applies. While there’s not enough work for full-capacity, projects begin and routines start to emerge.
Gather market intelligence and let your team know what's going on. This intelligence converts to actionable information. Marketing can use this to create messages that help customers understand how you can help meet their needs.
Also, talk to the clients who may have jobs for you in Phase 4. How can you make their annual events happen within the guidelines? Work on those proposals and continue the conversations so you’re ready to help.
Run an on-demand crew only. Schedule people when there’s work to be done — and spread the work around. If you want to keep people available for Phase 3, don’t play favorites.
Your finance team should still be working from home on demand only. Keep enforcing strict purchasing protocols to keep to a tight cash-flow plan to minimize variable costs.
Trigger to Phase 3
Phase 3 is triggered when event meeting distancing criteria is broadly established by government entities. Right now, our local and state entities are making up rules on a weekly basis. Aside from general fear, the lack of mutually agreed-upon protocols is keeping us apart right now. When we have a broader agreement about acceptable protocols for gathering, our work will pick up.
Phase 3: The First Re-Open
When social gathering protocols are established and tested, we’ll experience the first re-open. The travel industry will lead the charge as airlines desperately attempt to fly again and hotels try to book their space. However, that doesn’t mean everyone’s ready to meet.
During this time, focus on your region. If you have local businesses with out-of-town work, consider the best way to work with them safely. For any gigs during this time, expect confirmations to come in last minute with lots of contingencies. Clients want to protect themselves.
Resist the urge to bring back full-time staff. Instead, use part-time employees, freelancers, and contractors to make jobs happen. Expect more pent-up travel than pent-up meetings. People want to get out of their homes. Consequently, there may be a resurgence of illness. Expect a brief return to quarantine in some regions and be prepared and have a protocol in place.
Apply your new deposit and cancellation protocols to cover costs, minimize risks, and create a win-win deal for future Phase 4 projects.
Trigger to Phase 4
When we see big projects start to firm up, we’ll know we’re on track for Phase 4.
Phase 4: Cautiously Open
When we implement universally accepted protocols for safe meetings, hopefully, we can get open and stay open. Demand will start to seem normal in Phase 4, but it’ll likely be August 2021 before we start thinking we’re past the pandemic, assuming we have vaccines.
Cancellation clauses and deposit terms will still be key negotiating points. In fact, many customers will likely lead with their deposit/cancellation requirements before their RFP. They don’t want to waste time with proposals that don’t adhere to the deposit terms they need.
Also, make sure you’re branding yourself as an event company rather than a rental company. Rentals are easy to cancel, people are not.
Sanitizing and temperature screenings are probably here to stay for the foreseeable future. Screen your crew at the beginning and end of the day to learn if you’ll need a replacement tomorrow.
Covid flare-ups will be disruptive. If you have a flare-up in your business, you may have to isolate for a period of time before you can return to work. These quarantines will be swift and inconvenient, but stringent policies on monitoring and isolating are exactly what have enabled some countries to start to reopen.
At this point, it will still be risky to make project-specific investments. Conserve cash, consider your risks, and cut great deals on sub-rentals.
From now on, plan for added costs related to disease prevention. This isn’t billable to the customer as a line item but should be part of your calculated overhead costs.
To survive in a post-pandemic normality, you must increase your margins. Just because your price goes down, doesn’t mean your margins decrease. You can lower your prices and still increase your margins by controlling costs and not over-delivering. Focus on how to retool your business to be more profitable, carry less overhead, and be more scalable so the next time this happens, we won’t be impacted so severely.
Transform Weakness To Strength
This pandemic has uncovered many of our weaknesses. A recession is like ocean tides. When the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked. A bunch of us have been out there skinny dipping — and we don’t want to be there again.
We want to figure out how to run our businesses more sustainably. This is our opportunity to do that. If we make the necessary changes and walk through these four phases intentionally, our business can survive and even thrive in a post-pandemic area.
For more on navigating the phases of reentry (and to learn the new game of Live Event-opoly!), check out our full Week 9 (May 13) webinar replay of our weekly series: The Show Will Go On — Business Survival Series.
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