By Ron Coleman
The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is having an impact today that would have been almost unthinkable just a week ago. Conferences, trade shows and home shows have been shut down. Major sports leagues have suspended their seasons.
It is quickly becoming a very difficult situation for everyone. There are certain things that business owners need to do to protect employees, customers and their business.
Not only is important to take precautions in your own company to minimize the risk of infection, but it’s important that your customer knows you are doing so.
Is your customer going to feel safe with your company representatives going to their home or place of business? What are you doing to provide them with the comfort they need so that they will call you and not your competitor? How are you getting the message across?
Is there information on your website identifying the steps you are taking to protect your business so that it can protect your customers? Are you being proactive when phoning prospects or when they phone in? Are you sending out emails to your customers? Are you advertising in the media?
Communication is a key element in ensuring your employees stay healthy so that they can also protect your customers. This gives your customers the confidence of calling you, knowing that you care about their wellbeing.
Taking as many preventative measures as possible is basic common sense, so do that! Protect yourself, your business, your employees and your customers.
Now that everyone is aware of the coronavirus, failing to take precautions could potentially cause some liability. Consider the risk a commercial customer is taking if one of your employees tests positive for Covid-19 after that employee has been at their company. If they are forced to close or curtail their business, will they hold you responsible? Would your insurance cover a claim? Would you spend a lot of money on legal fees? How exposed are you really?
The same exposure could be to a residential customer where a breadwinner is unable to go to work because of self-isolation. Taking this a step further, if any of your employees test positive for Covid-19, could that impact all the sites any of your employees have visited?
Check with your lawyer and insurance company to determine if you have any exposure to a liability claim. Check with your insurance to see if you have “loss of profits” insurance.
A healthy workplace
Check with your local health authority to determine what steps you should be taking to protect your business and your employees.
Implement restricted visitor access to your buildings. Enhance electronic processes for communications and meetings. Ensure you have email addresses for all employees and suppliers and for as many customers as possible.
How about your subcontractors? Ensure that they are taking the same level of protection as you are. Their failure is your failure.
If some of your employees can work from home or off-site, make sure they do so. Reduce the number of times your technicians need to go into your place of work and to suppliers. Also, minimize the number of visits to each customer’s location by doing as much as possible in one visit. For example, make sure you have all the likely components you will need so that you are not rushing off to a supplier or a hardware store for parts.
Avoid staff meetings and group activities. Stagger office lunch hours. Sanitize your place of business twice per week (double-check with your local health authority on how to do this effectively.
Make sure your people are pro-active in looking after their health. The following notice should be displayed all-around your business:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When going to a customer’s site ask them if you can do this before and after the service work.
- Avoid touching our eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Cough and sneeze into your sleeve and NOT your hands.
- Stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading illness to others.
I would even go so far as to recommend that each employee signs this to show that they are aware of their responsibility. I would also expect that WSIB and other WCB provincial organizations will provide leadership in this regard.
The construction side of the industry is also going to be impacted. Many contractors will have less control of their environment due to the multi-trade scenarios. It is imperative that the prime contractor implements preventative measures.
What happens if you are forced to close your business because of exposure within your business? You will likely have to lay off your employees and eliminate all variable costs. This might include putting storage insurance on your vehicles. Review every cost line in your profit and loss statement and see what you can do to reduce or eliminate it.
Once you have established your true fixed cost then forecast your cash flow to ensure you can survive the closure. Focus on collecting your accounts receivable and talk to your suppliers about getting extended credit terms.
Talk to your financial institution and get them on side with your financial needs, don’t wait until you run out of cash.
Talk to your construction association and see if there is any relief available to your business and your employees.
Perhaps you could develop a relationship with one of your competitors to see if they will service your customers? Could they temporarily hire any of your employees who are not at risk of the virus?
Ensure that you protect yourself from price increases by allowing a price variation clause in all quotes.
The impact of Covid-19 could go beyond what we have already discussed. You should talk to your suppliers about getting inventory in for the summer and next fall. There is a distinct possibility that there will be a shortage of equipment and parts over the coming months.
You really need to stay on top of all the likely impacts that this virus could cause to your business. It has the possibility of significantly impacting your profitability for good or, more likely, for bad for several years to come.
Ronald Coleman is a Vancouver-based accountant, management consultant, author and educator specializing in the construction industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.