Last week, our partners at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards held a webinar with business experts, to look at how small businesses can try and deal with the impact of coronavirus. We asked Hannah Richards of the GBEA to share the key takeouts.

Updated 27 October 2020: Since this article was first published, the support measures available have changed. For the latest information, it’s important to check the government website.

The coronavirus outbreak is a huge challenge. We decided to host a webinar to look at what small businesses might be able to do, to cope. I’ve pulled out some of the key takeaways which hopefully will be of help. The situation is evolving every day. So do bear this in mind when you weigh up whether the advice is applicable to you or not.

Key takeaways

Matthew Wardner, Inverroy Crisis Management

Business planning, organisation and communication

  • Staff morale is very important, especially when people are working remotely. Set up effective ways of communicating with your team. Set up a WhatsApp or intranet group so people can talk easily.
  • If you do still have staff in the workplace, make sure everyone has what they need, especially soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels.
  • Use video conferencing apps, they really can help people feel better connected.
  • Reassure your customers. Perhaps drop them an email saying: “I know we’re going through a turbulent time, but we will make sure that we continue to give the best possible service that we can.”
  • Follow official government advice rather than social media debates.
  • Identify early which processes are essential for cashflow, prioritise staff to these areas, even if it means cross training employees.

Supplier issues

  • Your suppliers may face the same issues as you do. If your primary supplier cannot get you the items you need, make sure you have a back-up if you can. Find them now, just in case.
  • If you have any services or products more profitable than others, ask yourself if you should focus on these to keep your company afloat. Strategic decisions in the short term may help in a few months time if you are fighting for new orders.

Simon Cureton, Funding Options

  • Many small businesses across the UK are facing a loss in revenue. From a working capital perspective, if revenues do decrease and you have to spend hard earned cash just to stay alive, you will have to deplete your resources from a working capital perspective.
  • The Bank of England has cut its interest rates to 0.1%, the lowest rate in its 325-year history, and made available cheap funds to banks.

Government response

The March 2020 budget introduced a raft of measures to help Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs, fewer than 250 employees). These measures were covered in the webinar. However, the situation changed on the 17th March when the UK Chancellor made the announcement of a £330bn business aid package. An amount equivalent to 15% of UK GDP.

For many smaller companies, the combined measures of the budget and the follow-up package could mean greater access to loans, grants and a business rates holiday. Key takeouts include:

  • The Government has replaced the Enterprise Financial Guarantee Scheme (EFG) with the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). This enables the government to encourage lenders to provide loans to businesses adversely affected by coronavirus, by guaranteeing the debt.
  • Starling Bank is now accredited by the British Business Bank as an approved lender under CBILS. This enables us to provide short term loans between £50,001 and £250,000 to SMEs. We’re also offering CBILS overdrafts from £50,001 up to £150,000. Both loans and overdrafts are open to applications from limited companies and Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs). Find out more on our applications.
  • For the 700,000 smallest businesses already exempt from business rates, there is the possibility of a £10,000 grant.
  • Business rates are suspended for all businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector, for example hotels or coffee shops, for the next 12 months.
  • UK Export Finance’s direct lending facility has been boosted by £5 billion in export loans for businesses.
  • SMEs can ask HMRC for a ‘time to pay’ agreement, deferring tax for a period.

On the 3rd April 2020, the Chancellor expanded the CBILS for to cover all viable businesses (SMEs) impacted by the outbreak, not only those who can’t secure regular commercial financing. Also, lenders will now not be able to ask for personal guarantees on loans under £250,000. A separate fund was created for larger business, the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS).

The Starling blog will be posting the precise details of how businesses can access this help, once details are known.

Evadney Campbell MBE, Shiloh PR

  • Diversity in communication: people access information in various formats. Different social media platforms talk to different audiences.
  • Formats: do you need short videos on Instagram or longer videos on your website?
  • Make sure everyone in the company knows the message that your company wants to send out to customers.
  • Monitor outgoing communications.
  • Monitor the news and be very careful with what’s coming through to you. Don’t react to fake news.
  • Be sensitive to how your PR and marketing react to the situation.
  • You’re in it for the long haul. Take a deep breath. This will pass.

Tracey Hudson, The HR Dept

  • Trust what your employees tell you.
  • Encourage employees to wash their hands and use hand sanitiser.
  • As of the 16th March, the government has advised that people should work remotely where possible. Talk with your staff and HR to work out the best way to do this. People will need the right technology. Perhaps a daily video conference, or two, will help keep up spirits and productivity.
  • Talk to your clients, we’re in the same boat, so communicate your plans.
  • Employees will have different home situations. Those with children, elderly or vulnerable dependents may find themselves in a different situation than those without.
  • Stay up to date on the latest government measures for sick pay covering the self-employed and employees.
  • If you have a HR department, include them in any planning meetings on work organisation.
  • Make sure you get HR advice on the legalities of the above before actioning your plans.
  • This is a hugely unpredictable time for business. But we should not panic. Get new working procedures in place early on and aim to be proactive. Make sure your staff are fully informed of any changes in the company, and ensure that hygiene is paramount within the workplace. If staff are remote working, make sure that they have the right equipment to be effective.

The above is intended as general information and does not constitute advice in any way. You should take independent advice if you have any questions about your specific circumstances.

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