Given the risks and uncertainties surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic, American business owners are busy juggling reopening requirements across each state and questioning how to safely reopen their brick-and-mortar shops.
All 50 states have lifted business closure orders to varying degrees, but small businesses need to prepare for a constantly changing landscape over the next several months at least.
It will undoubtedly be challenging to keep abreast of state and local rules, public health recommendations, your region's virus-containment status and updates to federal emergency relief programs. That is why it will be extremely important for business owners to remain agile and anticipate new issues, even as they take steps to establish new operations.
Here are key points to remember - along with some helpful resources - as you work to ramp up your business in these unknown times.
Checking in regularly on new regulations, programs, data and events affecting your business and employees can be key to staying on track.
"Businesses first should check with their state and then local city or county offices to see if they can fully open. The rules have been changing often, and it is important for business owners to keep up with the new guidelines in order to open safely," said Mark Morales, City National Bank SBA loan specialist.
Like many organizations and government agencies, the National Governors Association has developed a coronavirus resource page with information on federal and state programs, including summaries of state actions and links to each state's COVID-19 reopening plans and task forces.
Additional resources for small businesses crippled by pandemic shutdowns are listed on government, nonprofit and industry websites, including both public and private sector financial assistance programs.
Protecting the health of your employees is not only the right thing to do - getting your workplace prepared for the new normal is also good for business.
That means following health and safety guidelines on social distancing, having customers and employees wear a mask and checking in with updated measures listed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Labor, state and local authorities, industry specific organizations and other reputable sources, such as medical schools.
The University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy has published links to several resources geared to employers and businesses.
The CDC's 10 tips for protecting employee health include developing flexible scheduling and telework policies where possible, encouraging sick employees to stay home without repercussions and talking to workers about their concerns.
The CDC also offers a Resuming Business Toolkit, including a checklist to help keep employers, employees and the public healthy and feeling safe.
Depending on evolving conditions, OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) says that employer reopening plans, among other considerations, should involve the identification and isolation of sick employees, training and the implementation of appropriate controls, such as personal protective equipment, plexiglass shields and enhanced ventilation of indoor spaces.
If your small business participates in any government relief programs related to the pandemic, it's vital that you comply with relevant requirements, including how you spend business relief funds.
City National's Morales noted that with recent changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan program, businesses now can spread their expenses over 60 percent for payroll and 40 percent for rent, utilities and mortgage interest — and spend the funds over 24 weeks.
"If they have staff currently on unemployment and don't have enough business to support that staff, they may want to wait to bring them back," he said.
"In these trying times it is important to keep an eye on the books," Morales advised. "Manage your expenses and keep track of everything that is part of an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) or PPP loan. Though only PPP loans can be forgiven, EIDL loans do require that you spend the money on valid business expenses and be ready to respond to an audit if asked," he said.
When calculating forgiveness for a PPP loan, it is important that you consult with your accounting and legal professionals if you have expenses that are not clearly detailed in the legislation, Morales added.
Reopening the economy will be challenging, Morales said.
"We are seeing businesses opening up cautiously with minimum hours and staffing until the customers start coming back," Morales said. Your local SBA office and Small Business Development Centers offer helpful resources, he added, noting that government-funded Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) can help prepare budgets and projections. He suggested visiting America's SBDC website to find the one nearest you.
Morales also recommended consulting your business banker about helping your business manage cash flow and utilizing your credit facilities and funds as you ramp up.
"There are many products that banks can recommend that can smooth your process, ensure safety of your deposits and help you grow," he said.
This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of City National Bank (City National). City National does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of City National. Please cite source when quoting.