The country seems to be slowly edging towards the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, as lockdown and social distancing measures gradually begin to stop the spread of the disease. The consequences of the pandemic have been terrible for individuals and for the country, but already thoughts are turning to re-starting the economy and easing mobility restrictions. This may be a little premature, given that there is as yet no vaccine available and that there is still much we don’t know about the virus.
The government has done its best to soften the financial and economic blows to businesses and their employees with a range of measures offering financial support. Businesses are able to claim a percentage towards employees’ wages and sick pay, as well as deferring VAT and Self-Assessment payments. Business Rates Relief is available to some sectors, and grants, loans and other financing facilities can be accessed depending on the type of operation. Further information on the help available can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/financial-support-for-businesses-during-coronavirus-covid-19
Many larger organisations will have the resources to stay afloat, and with their products and services spread across a range of markets will be able to mitigate the worst effects of the economic downturn. Smaller businesses and the self-employed may not be so fortunate, especially if they offer only a limited product range or are unable to alter their working arrangements to allow for social distancing.
However, if the business is able to weather the worst of the storm maybe now is a good time to take a step back and look at things with an objective eye. Small business owners are often too caught up in the daily running of their company to look at whether they could operate more efficiently, and therefore more profitably. Are they making the best use of their resources? Are there market sectors they are missing out on? With time on their hands business owners could re-focus their activities into more profitable areas, or abandon products or markets that are less valuable. Should they concentrate their operation on markets which will be the quickest to get up and running once coronavirus restrictions begin to ease?
Businesses should try to take advantage of their connection to the community, and emphasise that they are a local company serving their local town or neighbourhood, as well as employing local people. Businesses need their community to get behind them now more than ever, and support them once conditions improve.
Messaging all customers to let them know you are open for business, albeit at a reduced level, is an obvious first step. Now could be the time to try some innovative marketing approaches, or make a pitch for the business using social media. Even sectors of the economy which are completely closed to face to face customer contact, such as the residential property market, can use new techniques to generate interest for when their market re-opens. Property owners can make videos of their home to share with estate agents, who can then conduct virtual tours of the property with prospective buyers using Skype or other apps. Other businesses could make more use of Facebook and Twitter to promote themselves, or try hosting online events to demonstrate their products and build up awareness of the company.
There are other practical steps which businesses can take to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus shutdown. For example, it may be possible to negotiate rent reductions or payment delays with your landlord, or arrange extended credit terms with suppliers. Many companies have begun offering home delivery for their products where it is not possible to trade as normal from their regular premises. Others, such as village pubs, are turning their premises into grocery stores to meet the needs of their local community. However, businesses should check the terms of their lease and any other licences carefully – a Belfast publican was recently barred from making doorstep deliveries of freshly poured pints of Guinness since it was alleged that the trade was in breach of licensing laws.
Sadly, not all businesses will survive the coronavirus pandemic. Owners must do everything they can to continue trading through these difficult times, possibly slimming down their operation to focus on their core business, or alternatively thinking laterally to explore new markets and customers. Companies that manage to weather the storm will hopefully be well-prepared to take advantage of an upsurge in trade once lockdown restrictions are relaxed.
Bretherton Law have been serving people and businesses in Hertfordshire for over 50 years. If you are buying or selling business premises, looking to lease a new property, or subject to a rent review our experienced Commercial Property team will give you honest, professional advice. Contact Osman Dervish on 01727 869293, or visit our website https://www.brethertonlaw.co.uk/