Tips to Prepare Your Small Business for a Pandemic Winter

Rhode Island small businesses have worked so hard to endure the challenges thrust upon them in the COVID-19 pandemic. Quick changes and our can-do attitude—and for some, a dose of luck—were needed to bring us through the last six months. But now, temperatures are dropping, daylight waning, and the virus is still a threat to many. With additional spikes expected following the holidays, waiting for business to go back to “normal” is not a viable long-term strategy.

For Ocean State small businesses wondering how to make it through to spring, we’ve pulled together a brief overview of ideas and resources for adapting to the challenging realities facing entrepreneurs and business owners over the upcoming months.

Tips for preparing your small business for a pandemic winter

1. Manage your cash flow creatively

Regardless of how much revenue you’re bringing in this season, reducing your expenses is probably the number one item to address for long-term viability. Even if you’ve done this already, it may be time to revisit in new ways. A future stimulus plan is likely to include additional PPP funds, but they are not yet guaranteed and there is no definitive date when they might arrive.

If you rent or lease your space, reach out proactively to your landlord to discuss your options. Get a good feel for the current real estate market so that you can negotiate from a position of strength when your lease comes up. Landlords may be willing to agree to reduced rent if they are unlikely to fill the space with another tenant should you leave or go under.

In the Boston and NYC restaurant markets, some establishments are attempting to negotiate with landlords and creditors (with varying results) to “hibernate” for the winter with a goal of re-emerging in a stronger position when outdoor dining is viable again.

Consider generating income by selling or renting out business assets that you are not currently using. Can you sublet your space? Rent out or sell tools or specialty equipment that you own?

2. Market to your existing customers

Customers who already know your products and services are much easier to convert than those who haven’t interacted with your brand before. It can cost five times more to win new customers than to keep an existing one. Utilize your email marketing lists and social media channels heavily to nudge your customers to come back in again and support a business they have a connection to.

3. Provide additional conveniences

Further expand how your business provides ease and convenience to your customers, whose lives are also under additional stress. Expand your pickup and delivery, utilizing a dedicated platform where possible, and if relevant to your business, create a seamless path for repeat orders.

You can also expand what you offer to your customers. The holidays offer a chance for many businesses to introduce new products and services. For example, hospitality businesses can develop a special menu for small-scale heat-at-home holiday event catering; or a business could offer to select, package, and ship gifts with custom messaging for customers who previously would have taken the time to browse in store.

4. Expand e-commerce

Similar to number three, think creatively about any ways that your business can adapt to a virtual environment. Can you teach classes online, or provide interactive virtual entertainment? This requires investing in infrastructure for a seamless online experience, but will benefit your business long after pandemic restrictions have lifted.

5. Communicate

Speak to your customers loud and clear. Communicate updated hours; share the safety measures you have in place to reassure them it’s safe to return; and showcase new products, services, offerings, conveniences, and delivery models that you’ve turned to in the pandemic. Channels include:

    • Social media, including updates, live videos, and business details
    • Email marketing
    • Updated homepage on your website

After you’ve done all the work to expand your offerings and move online, make sure that your customers know what your business is doing and how they can access it.

6. Remain outside

When and where you still need to meet in person, keep business outside as much as possible to reassure your customers and employees and to reduce further virus spread. While the window to apply for the state’s Take It Outside grants has passed, the program’s website offers tips for offices, information about reserving state parks property, and the locations of upcoming state-hosted outdoor wifi hotspots.

The state’s #BYOBlanket campaign aims to help restaurants continue providing outdoor service into fall to keep revenue up as temperatures drop.

7. Tap into industry resources

Industry-specific initiatives and ideas can help your specific business adapt to particular restrictions and take advantage of unique opportunities available to your field. This also gives you wider access to ideas regionally or nationwide.

There are a handful of national groups that are offering support, including, offering frequently-updated free training for staff in best practices related to COVID-19, and that offers up-to-the-minute updates on resources by region.

How can the RISBDC help?

The RISBDC employs full-time and part-time business consultants around the state to provide no-cost, individualized support to small businesses in any industry. Here are a few things we can help with.

  • Financial analysis and cash flow projections
  • Determining your costs of goods or services
  • Developing an outreach strategy
  • Increasing visibility and communication
  • Improving your social media marketing
  • Rethinking or redesigning your business, including pivoting to online ordering, expanding services, and reconfiguring spaces
  • Lining up additional financing or preparing to seek loans, grants, and stimulus funding

While not all tips apply equally to all businesses, we recommend that you pursue every avenue readily available—and spend some time thinking creatively to uncover new ones. The RISBDC is here with you every step of the way, whether it’s thinking big or diving into the tiny details.

Do you need support to prepare your business for a pandemic winter? Register for one-to-one business counseling on our website or call our lead office at (401) 874-7232 today.