ComplianceAugust 20, 2020

CT expert insights: How to keep your business afloat as the pandemic continues with Barbara Weltman

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many businesses prepared for a short-term adjustment. As the weeks turned into months, keeping your business afloat has become even more challenging. With no clear end of the pandemic insight, businesses have been forced to adapt to a “new normal” in order to survive. In this episode of CT Expert Insights, Barbara Weltman lends her advice to small business owners about how they can keep surviving – and even thrive – through this ongoing challenge.

Barbara discusses the importance that technology plays in today’s world – keeping open communication with employees, moving operations online, and tapping into a remote workforce. She provides an alternative to email when it comes to getting your message seen by customers and touches on the importance of thinking through the customers’ needs. Barbara closes with some important tips around tax breaks that businesses can take advantage of to help with cash flow. These tips will help companies better position themselves to make it through these uncertain times.

Transcript:

Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. our guest this week on Expert Insights is Barbara Weltman, president of Big Ideas for Small Business Inc. We are now months into this pandemic. Many business owners who thought they had to absorb losses maybe for half of March or possibly through April or May now realize that what was once normal is not expected to return anytime soon.

So, how do you adjust to that? What are the best ways to at least survive and even thrive in this challenging environment? That's what we will discuss over the next few minutes. And, Barbara, first of all, thanks very much for being with us again.

Barbara Weltman: It's a pleasure.

GC: First, let's discuss where businesses are right now. And obviously, different businesses are in different places, but some are in better financial position than others and many are simply struggling. What are you hearing most from business owners right now about the biggest challenges just to stay open?

BW: I think the problem is that it's not one size fits all. As you just said some businesses are doing very well. They've adapted to the new environment. Their business model is suited for employees working remotely. And so that's a really good thing for those businesses. Other businesses, however, depending on the industry they're in, may be struggling greatly. And unfortunately, a number of businesses have closed permanently and will not be returning.

So again, it just depends on the industry you're in and your business model and how you've conducted things. I know many businesses were able to get significant help through the PPP loans or other programs. There are a lot of local and state programs that are for very small businesses that are still around and could be helpful in some cash flow to just see you through. I know that many landlords have been amenable to differing rent payments to allow businesses to stay in business, to help businesses stay in business. So again, it's kind of all over the place here. It's hard to make a generalization.

GC: When your business is not directly impacted by the pandemic, but it's still taking a financial hit, nonetheless, what are some pieces of advice that you would have to keep your head above water? Whether it's how you manage the business, how you perhaps reach out to existing and potential customers – what's a good way to make sure that you're not one of the casualties.

BW: Fortunately, technology has enabled many businesses to keep in touch with customers and clients to do collaborative work with employees and the important thing is to take advantage of various technologies so that you keep the lines of communication open.  I think that's essential that you don't want your customers to forget about you. You would like especially for them to continue doing business with you.

And certainly, many businesses have pivoted to do more of their operations online so that customers can buy or transact with them directly online. They don't have to do it in person. And that entails not only the technologies but also making sure that payment methods are available to accept the remote payments. And changing business policies, thinking things through – how can this work best for me, for my employees, for my customers? And I think that this is an opportunity for businesses to not only revisit what they're doing, as kind of a reaction to the situation but as a planning opportunity for the long run.

It may be better, for example, to continue working remotely, especially where this presents an opportunity to get talent that's not local. If you need employees, and you can get the best talent from wherever if remote work has been good for your business. So this is something that you may want to continue. But I think, taking a look at what your business model is, is essential right now.

GC: And we'll get to that in a little more detail a little bit later in the conversation.

Barbara, you mentioned keeping in contact with your customers and how that's essential right now. If you're like me, I'm guessing that in the first couple of weeks after everything kind of closed down in the middle of March, you got an email from any place you've ever bought or surfed on the web or inquired about anything and heard about how they were thinking about you and that they're there for you and they might have a deal or two. And it kind of got to be overwhelming at certain times, and I'm not sure that anybody really stood out when everybody was doing it. So, what's the right way to reach out to your customers, and what's not the right way to reach out?

BW: I hear what you're saying and I certainly was inundated with a lot of messaging, as well. The good thing is that there are so many social media avenues that can be used. Stay in contact with your customers without bombarding them. In other words, giving them the opportunity to read what you are sharing if they have an interest and if they have a need at the present time.

So again, it doesn't all have to be, for example, email, which is direct to the customer. It can be through a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram post that shares something that could be fun or informational. And that's a way to keep in contact with your customers as well.

GC: Well, Barbara, let's talk a little bit more about those who are thriving now. And you've talked about the business models that seem to be working well, but let's dig into that a little bit more.

Obviously, certain businesses are going to be doing better than others. But what ideas and tactics are you seeing that are working best right now?

BW: That's a great question. I think that, again, trying to connect with your customers with their needs now – what do they need now? And I think that, for some, it's the product service offering but perhaps doing it in an in a more upbeat manner and a more connected manner, if you will, where even though we're remote you don't feel as distanced as the fact that you are remote. And I think that those are the companies that are really successful now and will continue to be successful. I think that those are the companies that have kind of mastered the message, if you will, and are able to make the best connections.

GC: We're talking with Barbara Weltman. She is the president of Big Ideas for Small Business Inc., and Barbara when we spoke at the beginning of the pandemic, and you already mentioned this a little bit earlier on in this conversation as well, how a lot of businesses were pivoting to a larger online focus and what can be accomplished there. Some businesses were already well advanced in that department and others were really kind of scrambling to compensate for the foot traffic they knew they were going to lose. And they're still not getting that foot traffic.

So as far as you can tell, are most businesses adapting well to going much more online than they probably would have planned to be doing at the beginning of the year or a lot of them finding it tough to catch up, even though they've now had a few months to try and do that?

BW: Again, it comes down to the industry that you're in. For example, the restaurant and the hospitality industry – you kind of need to have the bodies. I have seen many restaurants, for example, adapting well. Not necessarily online so much, although they have increased their online presence and posting and such, but making up various options available now with reopening: some dine-in, curbside pickup, placing orders online, delivery.

So I think that it's kind of all over the place depending on the kind of business. But I think you're right that some businesses have tried to increase their online presence and it's a struggle, it's a struggle. It comes back to that quote from the movie, you know, “If you build it, they will come.” Well, not necessarily. It's still a marketing activity to reach out to the public and get them to know where you are and what you're offering and that's a continual activity.

GC: Finally, Barbara, you mentioned a little bit earlier in the conversation that a lot of businesses have been helped and possibly saved in some cases through the Paycheck Protection Program and other aspects of The Cares Act. What other programs, government or otherwise, as well as policies can business owners take advantage of right now?

BW: Well, as you know, Greg, my chief area of focus are small business taxes and there are many tax breaks that are out there that businesses can take advantage of to help them with their cash flow and help them to get through this.

For example, they are able to defer their payroll taxes starting on wages paid from March 27 onward for the rest of the year. That's the employer Social Security portion of the payroll tax, and that tax doesn't have to be repaid until 50% by the end of 2021. And the other 50% by the end of 2022, with no interest on it. So that's a pretty big deferral option for businesses.

Another is the fact that when they enact The Cares Act that you mentioned, they made a lot of law changes retroactive that present a lot of refund opportunities. So my suggestion is for small businesses to sit down with their CPAs, or the tax advisors, and go through the tax changes that perhaps they didn't claim on their 2018 returns to which they are now entitled, and consider filing amended returns and get money back. So that's another cash flow idea and can really go a long way.

GC: Every little bit helps. And that could be a big help right there. So Barbara, thank you very much, as always, for your time today and your expertise. We greatly appreciate it.

BW: My pleasure, as always.

GC: Barbara Weltman is president of Big Ideas for Small Business, Inc. I'm Greg Corombos reporting for Expert Insights. For more information on this topic, please visit bizfilings.com.