Last updated: 17 April 2020
For most businesses, both small and large, there’s a sense of uncertainty in the UK right now.
With lockdown guidelines enforced for a further three weeks and increasing rules on self-isolation and social distancing, you might have concerns about the implications this is having on your business.
Will customers stop purchasing from you? Do you and your employees have the resources to work from home? Can you take the financial loss?
In order to minimise the impact to your business we have collated some useful advice and recommendations for you and your small business during this time:
As a small business owner, you and your employees are the heart of your business. So, it’s important to put their health first and ensure they feel comfortable and informed about what to do at work.
1. Communication is key
Advice is changing minute by minute, and whilst this can be hard to keep on top of, it’s important to ensure you are regularly communicating with your employees about what measures you’re taking to minimise the risk of exposure in their place of work. If you are making changes to your business processes, keep employees informed so they know the right steps to take.
If your business has been impacted by COVID-19 and you can longer operate or support your employees, you can apply for a grant from the Government to cover 80% of your staff’s monthly wages (up to £2,500 a month).
The scheme requires you to furlough your staff (putting them on temporary leave) and claim via an online service which is due to be available at the end of April. Find out more about furloughing staff here.
2. Share hygiene advice
Whether you have an office, warehouse or shop, it’s good practice to display health advice posters as gentle reminders on hygiene. You can find resources on the Government website here.
If you don’t have a physical workplace, you and your employees work remotely or you’re all based at home right now, then share this information via other means such as email – and remember, it’s just as important for employees to consider their hygiene practices at home.
By emailing general good hygiene practice and travel guidance to employees, you can provide tips on effective hand washing, using hand sanitiser and advice on physical contact with customers. We recommend you don’t just send one email – maintain a regular communication to keep this at the forefront of minds.
3. Spot the signs
As a small business owner, Acas recommends that managers should become educated on how to identify symptoms of coronavirus and are aware of the actions to take. This might be reporting on sickness, sick pay and carrying out the correct procedures if someone falls ill with the virus while working.
Acas is an independent public body that receives government funding to provide advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice, they have plenty of advice on managing coronavirus as an employer here.
What about the concerns I have about keeping my business operating?
There’s never been a better time to re-evaluate your business continuity plan. Should you or any of your employees fall ill, you’ll need your plan to launch successfully with or without you.
Business continuity is about having plans in place and setting up your business with the idea that you maintain your critical services in the event of something bad happening.
There are two schools of thought; building resilience in what you do by taking steps to prevent an incident from occurring and disaster recovery planning, where you put plans and processes in place to speed your recovery from an incident. Think of it as trying to prevent things going wrong and then having a plan if something does happen.
It’s important to protect the interests of your stakeholders and your business. Insufficient planning could lead to significant losses, which could be irrecoverable. The impact from an incident could lead to reputational damage and financial loss.
If you don’t have a plan or want to review your current one, take a look at the advice from our business continuity experts.
Going hand-in hand with a business continuity plan – is your small business equipped for remote working? Given that the UK Government has requested homeworking where possible to minimise the risks, it is important for you to consider how this could work for your small business, if it’s not something you already do.
Here’s some advice for remote working if this is not currently part of how your business operates normally:
1. Collaborating effectively
One of the ways that employees can stay in touch whilst remote working is the use of collaboration tools. Collaboration apps can help you streamline the way your team work together – managing projects, sharing files, and connecting people through group chats and video calls. Here are five free collaboration tools that you can implement.
2. Equipment and access
If remote working is possible for your business, review the equipment employees will need to be able to carry out their jobs from home. This might be laptops and chargers, headsets or mobile phones.
If you have concerns about the cost of equipment, consider the cost implications if your small business was unable to operate for days or even weeks.
You will also want to test that employees can access networks, portals and any digital tools from home too. It’s important to ensure that contact numbers, emergency contacts and addresses are all up to date.
Find further advice on working from home here.
Gov.uk suggests that small businesses should check the policy they hold with their insurance provider. Whilst it’s quite likely that the majority of businesses will not be covered for coronavirus (COVID-19), as business interruption policies usually refer to damage to property – some may have opted for cover to include diseases.
If you don’t have this cover, you could also look for ‘supply chain or denial of access’ cover which might provide assistance in this circumstance.
For more information on insurance take a look at this Q&A from the Association of British Insurers.
Financial support from the Government
But what about the immediate financial loss caused by the virus? To support small businesses through this period of disruption, the Government has already announced and issued temporary measures to aid relief including:
- Statutory sick pay relief package for SMEs
- Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
- Business Rate Relief for small businesses and pubs
- Small business grant funding of £3,000 for all business’ in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rates Relief
- Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support long-term viable businesses who may need to respond to cash-flow pressures by seeking additional finance
- Deferral of VAT payments
- HMRC Time To Pay Scheme
Find out more information on the support you can receive here.
Backing from banks
Business in the Community advises that The Bank of England has developed a comprehensive package for UK businesses to help with the significant economic interruption that COVID-19 is likely to have. One of these measures includes dropping interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25%.
Additional funding is also available for banks to increase lending – in particular for small businesses.
Likewise, HSBC, Lloyds and Natwest have confirmed plans for emergency loans and overdrafts to minimise the financial pressure on the small business community.
Business in the Community is the oldest and largest business-led membership organisation dedicated to responsible business – with the intention to create a skilled, inclusive workforce today and for the future.
Get more information from the factsheet here.
Self-employment Income Support Scheme
For those of you who are self-employed, the Government has announced a scheme to help minimise the impact of coronavirus.
The scheme allows self-employed individuals or members of a partnership to claim a taxable grant. It’s worth 80% of trading profits and will cover three months with a maximum of £2,500 per month.
There are some requirements for the scheme, including whether you’ve submitted your 2018-2019 income tax self-assessment, if you have lost trading profits due to coronavirus and if you aim to continue your business in the next tax year (2020-2021). You can find out more about all the eligibility criteria on the Government website here.
If you are eligible for the scheme, you will be paid the appropriate grant directly into your bank account in one lump sum, with payments scheduled to start arriving at the beginning of June. Currently, you can’t apply to the scheme (so keep vigilant for scams) and HMRC are aiming to contact all of those eligible by mid-May to invite them to apply online for the grant.
There are other schemes provided by the Government to help self-employed individuals, including a delay of self-assessment income tax payments and VAT payments, loan schemes and increases in Universal Credit. You can find out more about these here.
Funding for frontline charities
The Government has announced a £750 million fund which will be used to support charities to help them continue their vital work during the outbreak.
The funding will be offered to frontline charities in the UK, from domestic abuse charities to hospices with £360 million being allocated by the Government to charities offering key services and support for vulnerable people.
£370 million will be dedicated to small and medium-sized charities, for those at the heart of local communities. The Government has also pledged to match donations to the National Emergencies Trust following the ‘BBC’s Big Night In’ fundraiser, committing to donating at least £20 million.
You can read more about this financial support for charities on the Government website here.
The ultimate goal is to keep your organisation operating as normally as possible and make sure you’re doing what you can to protect both you and your employees in the workplace.
Consider the advice above and don’t be afraid to make bold decisions if you think you’re putting yourself or anyone else at risk.