Special Report: Are Vermont Businesses Prepared for the Coronavirus?

3/11/2020

While there is only one confirmed case of the coronavirus in Vermont, experts say it’s only a matter of time before others are reported.

As seasoned business coaches, we’ve observed that few businesses in Vermont are preparing for possible disruption from the coronavirus. It’s our strong belief that Vermont businesses which prepare, rather than getting swept up in denial or fear, will not only get through the crisis, but will come out stronger than those that don’t.

In fact, while we don’t in any way want to make light of the human suffering, some of the preparatory steps we’ll suggest in this report will serve businesses to withstand other major dangers from climate change that are already affecting businesses in Vermont.

We’ve identified seven key leading indicators business owners can use to assess how prepared they are for the coronavirus. If you’re a business owner who lags in being proactive, this is the ideal time to up your game.

1) Act now to shore up extra supplies. Diversify the locations of your suppliers as much as possible and adapt your business to minimize your needs for a supply chain. Unless you’re a pure service business, such as a psychotherapist, your business relies on some level of supply chain. Supply chains exist mostly in just one or a few countries for most businesses. When a worldwide crisis hits, it will become hard, and sometimes impossible, to get the supplies you will need when you will need them.

2) Communicate with your most important customers and clients. If the coronavirus causes quarantines, border closings, or just fear of human interaction, you will likely lose sales. Your most important customers give you the revenues you need to meet your bottom line. They want to remain loyal, but they are also humans trying to navigate the crisis. Help them figure out how they can keep buying from you during this time.

3) Crises require cash so shore up cash reserves. For an average-sized Vermont business, we recommend cash reserves ideally be able to cover one year of bottom-line revenues, but three-to-six months is often more realistic. While you develop a strategy to shore up reserves, open a low-interest line of credit with a bank or credit union for back-up purposes only. Avoid using a credit card. Only dip into your reserves or line of credit when it’s the best financial option for your long-term success.

4) Few Vermont businesses come close to taking full advantage of the business opportunities the Internet offers. These opportunities can give you a substantial buffer when a crisis temporarily reduces or cuts access to your customer base. Now is the time to up your online game to expand and diversify your markets.

5) Create new workforce opportunities. It’s time to be open to ideas you might otherwise doubt. Is there a way your key employees can work remotely? Have you asked your team members what ideas or untapped skills they have to keep things going smoothly? Is there a way for you to implement paid family sickness and bereavement leave, even temporarily? Can you improve your workforce culture to ensure employee retention through the coronavirus crisis?

6) If possible, change your product or service line to lessen the impact from the coronavirus.

7) Public health experts have issued warnings to stock up on food and water at home to weather the coronavirus crisis. What does your business need to ensure it remains alive and well? Analyze what is your business’ “food and water”. Narrow-focus first on strategies that will shore those things up. While you’re at it, do this not only to get through the coronavirus, but other possible crises as well.

The COVID-19 coronavirus has come to Vermont in a small way, but your business doesn’t have to be hit hard. There is an opportunity not only to prepare for coronavirus, but to let your preparation do double duty against climate change and other possible crises. We do not want to be glib. Human suffering will happen here when the coronavirus hits Vermont. However,, if you prepare, your business doesn’t have to be blindsided by it..

Sam Markewich and Brendan Coyne are business coaches and co-founders of Downtown Up, LLC, which is devoted exclusively to helping Vermont’s businesses and local economies thrive. They can be reached at sam@downtownup.com or brendan@downtownup.com.