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Open for business: Best ways to follow British Columbia’s Restart plan

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online retail experienced a buying boom. But many small businesses, sole proprietors, and those in the trades were left to wait things out. Now, the BC government has released its step-by-step Restart plan, which means workers from across industries can finally begin to reopen. This is welcome news for Canadian businesses, which can expect an increased demand in the coming months.

If you’re looking for advice on how to prepare for reopening safely and effectively, read on for tips on how to navigate BC’s Restart plan and get your business up and running.

1. Create a budget for reopening

Just as there were costs associated with pandemic operations, there will be expenses involved in fully opening back up again. Now is the time to build a realistic budget and ensure you have available funds to meet your needs. “The type of expenses you might encounter will depend on your industry,” says Amol Thind, Small Business Manager for Coast Capital. “Safety protocols through the Restart steps will change, so you’ll have to be nimble. New equipment, personal protection equipment, or even updated facilities could all come into play,” he explains.

For businesses that need a little boost, there are options. Look into government programs like the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), which can help you with your employee payroll. Another choice is the Canadian Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), which can subsidize your business rent expenses. You can also find resources that allocate funding to specific initiatives, such as Indigenous businesses and Black entrepreneurs. Finally, look into provincial programs to potentially meet your COVID-19-related finance needs.

2. Look at your supply chain and inventory

Delays in the supply chain can have devastating effects on an industry. For example, think of the inflated lumber prices, which—in concert with facility shutdowns and import issues—caused industry-wide problems for those in construction.

As we move towards reopening, businesses across sectors will need to build their inventory back up while still facing possible delays. “It’s hard to know how seamlessly businesses will be able to get back into operating shape,” says Thind. “The same import issues that affected the granite industry could as easily cause a problem for restaurants or retail businesses importing goods from overseas.”

Your best bet is to be proactive. Reach out to your suppliers now. Make your inventory requests as soon as possible and ask your suppliers whether they anticipate any hold-ups. A little forethought and planning can go a long way.

3. Get a handle on cash flow

While value and profit are always key considerations, right now it’s critical to watch your cash flow going in and out of your business. Even in less complicated times, businesses need access to liquid funds for their operating expenses, like buying inventory, paying workers, or special projects like renovations or expansions. “Any business wanting to be ready for an uptick in work needs to have access to working capital,” says Thind. “Being ready and able to hire extra help or get more inventory quickly and easily is just good business sense.”

If you’ve accumulated debt during the shutdown, your financial strategy could be a bit more thorny. “Credit-card debt accumulates exorbitant interest fees, so clear that first,” Thind advises. “If you must run a balance, look into moving it to a vehicle with more favourable terms, like a line of credit.”

There are lots of ways to successfully manage your cash flow. In addition to using your bank’s online and cash deposit services, consider making it as simple as possible to remit by accepting online or mobile payments. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to take out a loan, either. A short-term business loan with decent repayment rates and terms is often the best solution to a cash-flow emergency.

4. Take charge of your billing and invoicing processes

Bookkeeping is one of those essential tasks that tends to get bumped to the bottom of the priority list. Now—before your work accelerates—is the time to get your systems in place. A seamless billing process will help you get paid faster, with fewer outstanding invoices.

Consider using a software package, such as Intuit QuickBooks, as this will standardize your invoices and help you keep proper records. “Ensure that your payment terms are clear and think about shortening your repayment window to increase cash flow,” says Thind. “Send out invoices immediately upon completion of work and make sure you follow up on overdue invoices in a timely manner.” And, if punctual repayment is a chronic problem, consider adding a modest late payment surcharge to your terms—as long as you’re transparent about it from the beginning.

5. Nail down your payment systems

“Customers are spoiled by bigger businesses that accept payments by cash, credit, or debit card, or through other services like PayPal or Apple Pay,” says Thind. “If smaller businesses want to compete, they have to make their systems as user-friendly as possible.”

Quite simply, it’s in your best interest to offer as many payment options to your customers as you can. All the invoicing in the world is not going to get you timely remittance if you’re asking to be paid through a niche system your customers have to download and learn. “Some small business owners balk at the cost of credit-card transactions,” says Thind, which run between 1.65% and 2.71%, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “But credit cards are the most popular way to pay for goods and services.”

Strive to offer credit-card payments in person and online. If you send workers into homes or offices, outfit them with mobile credit-card processors, like Square or Stripe. Or try a global payments solution that lets you accept credit cards and streamlines your sales process. “And, don’t forget about payroll,” says Thind. “You can easily transition your paper cheques to automatic payments for quick, easy, and totally safe paydays.”

6. Staff up properly

Small businesses are, well, small. In Canada, a small business is defined as one with fewer than 100 employees. But many are much leaner. If you’re working with a modest crew, now is the time to engage your backup workforce.

A good first step is to reach out to the professional associations or unions that serve your industry. For those in the trades, Red Seal Recruiting Solutions Ltd. pairs prospective employers with skilled tradespeople across Canada and the United States. The UFCW is Canada’s private-sector union, and freelancers might be able to find additional subcontractors through a professional association in their industry.

7. Take care of your staff and your customers

Plan now to make sure you have the equipment and policies in place to keep your staff and customers safe. The first thing to consider is personal protection equipment (PPE), which depending on the nature of your work, could include plexiglass shields, face masks, sanitizers, disinfectants, gowns or coveralls, gloves, and thermometers. To figure out exactly what you need, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services has compiled a collection of sector-specific guides. “There is a cost attached to the purchase of PPE but it’s a necessary expenditure business-wise,” Thind notes. “If needed, it’s possible a loan or line of credit could help get you what’s required.”

At a minimum, you’ll want to provide masks and hand sanitizer. But if you’re in a sector like restaurants or gyms where you invite the public into your facilities, set aside funding for extra safety gear.

Going forward safely and efficiently

Communication is key, so post your safety requirements clearly for your staff and your customers. Draft a safety policy and train all of your workers—permanent and temporary—on your company protocols. A clearly articulated safety plan can help you move fast, save lives, and better prepare your business for whatever comes next.

As we move through the BC government’s Restart plan, businesses will likely see an economic surge. Connect with our business banking team for expert guidance and advice to help you prepare.

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