COVID-19 Business Survival Guide

COVID-19 Business Survival Guide

Here’s an article I never thought that I would have to write. In fact, I have another one that was ready to go, but I scrapped it at the last minute because I feel that this is more critical.

For most businesses in this industry 2020 started off amazingly well. For a lot of the shops I’ve spoken with, they have been slightly above or having record-breaking Q1 numbers.

Until now.

Order cancellations, hysteria, and paralyzing fear about what’s to come is now the new business norm. Yes, it will get worse before it gets better.

So what do you need to do in order to weather the COVID-19 storm? The purpose of this article is to make you think beyond where you are now and proactively get some planning and organized thoughts on this challenge in place.

“Planning is anticipatory decision making.” – Jim Mattis

If Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson can get infected, you can too

First, Deal With What You Know

This is not a time to panic. It’s easy to get caught up in the newsfeed and gossip regarding what’s happening all over the world. It’s like the zombie apocalypse is officially here.

Focus on you. Your family. The business. Your customers.

Who in your immediate circle is susceptible to acquiring this virus? You might be perfectly healthy. But what about the older folks you know? Do you have people that have immune system problems and get sick a lot?

The challenge isn’t if the coronavirus is going to affect someone, it’s when. This virus is more contagious than influenza.

Get past the disbelief and conspiracy theories regarding this and think through what might happen if someone that you are close to becomes infected with this virus.

  • For you and your immediate family. How are you going to self-quarantine? In your area, can you get testing? How will you get groceries? What will it be like to not go to work for two or three weeks? Talk about the impact with your family. Be prepared.
  • For your employees. What if they become ill? People come to work sick all the time because they need the money. Get ahead of that. Maybe it’s time to have a slight change to your sick leave policy and keep people at home and keep them paid. Even if it is for two to three weeks. How will that impact your business? What if it is half of your staff?
  • For your customers. What type of outreach program can you have to make them feel better? If they are at home in quarantine, can you drop off some supplies or send them something to let them know you are thinking of them? Most people don’t have their customer’s home addresses, so how would you do that?
  • School systems around the country are closing schools for weeks at a time. What is that going to mean for your staff with kids that need supervision? Can they come to your office? Are you offering to have the workers get flex time or work from home? Have a plan.

Time For New Action

The sad reality in the world is that for most people, they don’t wash their hands. The COVID-19 virus spreads through surface contact. Which means that people need to wash their hands often. Get everyone you know to do this. Watch the video above. Talk about it. Practice what you preach.

  • Look at your environmental hygiene. How often are you cleaning? Think about the things in your home and business where people touch. Door knobs, counters, handrails, keyboards, light switches and literally every hard surface where people work or interact. Get some bleach diluted in water, Lysol wipes or spray and go to town. Do this often and with a purpose.
  • In business, we shake hands often. It’s a friendly greeting. We’ve been taught to do that our entire career. Stop. Try bumping elbows instead. Or just wave. The less contact we have the better we’ll all be.
  • Who on your staff can work from home? Certainly not the production or warehouse crew, but your creative and sales team might. Customer service maybe. What would it take to do that? Think things through here.
  • Stop touching your face with your hands. When you see someone do this, point it out. For some, its a reflex action and they may not be even aware they are doing it.

Business Downturn

Your business is going to be affected by COVID-19. It probably already has been. If you were in business between 2008 and 2010 with the last recession you may have had the experience of fighting through that business downturn. Here are some ideas for you to start considering.

  • Start reaching out to your customers now. And when I say now, I mean immediately. Not next week. Now. Keep them informed. Help them in any way you can. Communication and outreach will help tremendously. For shops that simply let your customers send in the orders or click on your website, you need to start proactively contacting them. Don’t just sit there. An action plan will be rewarded with sales. The “I’ll do it tomorrow” approach will lead to your business not making it through this crisis.
  • Dig up the last two or three years or so of orders in your system that placed orders for March, April, May, and June. How many of these may be canceled or not placed due to the COVID-19 situation? What are the other ones? Start reaching out now to those customers and solidify those orders.
  • Get to work brainstorming on how you can replace those customers and orders that drop out. If your business relies on events, sports, or anything that has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus, you are going to have to do something different. Get past that. Start taking action. Again, don’t wait.
  • Will customers stop coming in? How is your tech? Can you have virtual sales meetings via Zoom or Skype? Get materials prepped and ready so when you have a meeting you are more professional. Use some software like Calendly to help coordinate times. (It’s what I use. Click here and schedule a call with me)
  • Get your financial house in order. Lean up. If you stop unnecessary expenditures, that’s fewer sales you’ll have to make to keep afloat. Keep your suppliers paid. Watch your labor costs like a hawk. Know your numbers.
  • If you were thinking about letting someone go because of non-performance or other reasons, do that now. Don’t wait. If your business is headed in the wrong direction you may be cutting staff or laying people off anyway. Better to pull that trigger on some deadwood workers before you have to start making tougher choices.
  • The healthier your business is today, the more likely that it can emerge from the downturn intact. On a scale of 1 to 10, how healthy do you think your company is right now? If it is not a 10, where are those weak points? Get busy working on those now. Don’t wait until things start to unravel.

Lead with Empathy

There are going to be folks that you know that are going to be affected by this. Like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, they didn’t ask for it. But if we lead with empathy and think about how we can help, that human to human outreach will be remembered. Silence equals indifference.

  • What happens when someone that works for you gets infected? Maybe they are quarantined for weeks before they can come into work. Are you going to still pay them? They have rent, or a mortgage, bills, and kids to feed too. Think this through. What if it is only one person? Maybe it’s half your staff? What if you have 50% of sales for the month from last year? Run the math now and get prepared.
  • What about a customer or business contact you know? When they get sidelined with COVID-19, their world just came crashing down. Sure you can’t go see them, but you can have something ordered and dropped off to them. Some books, a gift basket, maybe a meal or two. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Look into what you might want to do now so that work is already out of the way in case you need to pull the trigger on being thoughtful.
  • Your suppliers are staffed with people too. What happens when they are hit with this? Your main point of contact is out. That warehouse is shut down. It’s easy to ramp up the anger, but remember, they didn’t ask for this to happen to them either. Don’t get frustrated. Work the system, find an alternative solution and move on. They will be back up and running soon.
  • Companies are making some hard decisions right now. Tom and I postponed Shirt Lab Chicago. Tradeshows are being postponed too. A lot of the corporate clients that I speak with now have no-travel policies for their staff. Nobody wants this to happen. When things return to normal, be sure to support businesses, tradeshows, events (like Shirt Lab) that had to make the choice in favor of people, not profit.

What To Invest In Now

It’s easy to think that businesses shouldn’t spend any money or effort in improvements or new ideas now because of COVID-19. Time to hunker down, right?


While it’s true that watching the financial end of your business makes sense, you need to seriously consider some investment ideas.

  • Anything that can increase productivity. Is there a tool, gizmo, software, service, equipment or gadget that can increase productivity in an area of your business? This often equates to more speed, and less labor. It is easy to throw people at a problem. But when you want to drop your labor costs, maybe there is something out there that adds efficiency and save you some money, time, or effort.
  • Marketing. A great definition of marketing is an action that creates a customer. Believe me, you are going to need those more than ever in the coming months. While it may seem obvious to slash your marketing costs, this may have a detrimental effect on your business. Have a plan on how you are going to get more leads, work them, and close more sales during this crisis period. What you have been doing might not work. Be prepared to find your new normal.
  • There is a saying in business, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.” There will be opportunities presented to you that you may have otherwise missed. Competition going out of business, a new idea on a product line you can develop, partnering with another company on a project. It’s going to happen. Are you ready for it? Keep your eyes open, and be ready to capitalize.
  • It may seem like an odd time to be looking at hiring, but at times like these people with skill will become available. Maybe better skills than your crew currently possess. Be cautious, but you can also broaden out your skill and knowledge base for your company for when times are better and you need to expand.
  • Weaker companies are going to go out of business. Up for grabs will be their equipment, assets, customer base, and more. During this time smart folks have the leverage because of the times and financial crisis. It’s an age-old business strategy. Believe me, tons of people are making huge money on the Wall Street market drop. Are you in a position to take advantage of these times?
  • How is your online presence? When was the last time you updated your website? When people stop buying in person and rely on online sales more than ever, you need to be ready for that. If you haven’t quite mapped that out, the time is now. You are already behind. Let me know if you need help with this.

Plan for the End

To date, no recession has lasted more than a few years. Think of this way. These times are ugly, but there’s going to be beauty ahead. You simply have to get there.

Your mindset should be that you are dealing with an event. Sooner or later this event will be over. It’s big and ugly. You need to be thinking about surviving this year and maybe next. Maybe the effects of COVID-19 will be shorter, but start thinking now that this might take a while to sort out with the economy.

After the hunker-down mode is over, what’s next? How can you accelerate through and be better prepared than everyone else? If you are considering this now, you will certainly be ahead of the pack.

  • Keep your team together. Evaluate and keep your best and core group functioning and working for you. Communicate with your team constantly. Uncertainty breeds fear. Without communication, people make up their own stories. They need to hear from you. Even if you don’t have all of the information, tell them that and that you are researching. Get their input. Be consistently available, honest, and forthright in what you are saying. These are tough times and people want the truth, even if it’s ugly.
  • During these slower times get some cross-training out of the way. Improve your bench strength. Remember what I call the Rule of 3, which states that for every core task in your business you need at least three competent people trained on that function. Now is the time to make sure you have that.
  • Keep thinking four to eight weeks ahead. Make some strategic goals with tactical ideas on how to achieve them. You are going to have to work harder. Get used to it. Not everyone can be in the hand sanitizer or germ-killing business. Can you imagine if printed t-shirts were the cure for the coronavirus? That would be a good problem to have.


I’ve compiled a list of the best resources available for the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check these out and refer to them when planning.

COVID-19: Implications for Business – report by McKinsey & Co.

Center for Disease Control Resources for Businesses and Employers

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary

World Health Organization Master COVID 19 Page

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation Map

Coronavirus Testing in the US

Small Business Administration Guidance for Businesses Affected by the Coronavirus

SBA Disaster Assistance – low-interest loans up to $2 million dollars

How A Small Business Can Prepare for the Coronavirus

Crisis Communication Planning Checklist

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” – Mark Twain

“Be thankful we’re not getting the government we’re paying for.” – Will Rogers

“May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.” – George Carlin

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