People are naturally frightened of what the coming months are going to bring with the Coronavirus. There is so much that is unknown about COVID-19 that people’s imaginations and fears are working overtime
Horror movies work best when the scary thing is hidden in half-shadows, allowing our imagination to fill in the unmentionable horrors that await.
That’s where we are at the moment. We know something scary is our there, we are starting to see and hear of the casualties, but for most of us our direct experience is limited.
We are jumping at shadows, with our minds of hyper-alert. We feel out of control, so we race to try and control what we can in life, which is why there are runs on groceries and toilet paper.
However, what happens in Australia is that when a disaster actually hits people rally around those impacted. We have seen it with floods, we have seen it with fires, and I am sure in the coming months we will see more of the caring, supportive behaviours that Australians are known for with COVID-19.
To help get our small businesses through the next few months, here are a few resources to help you prepare.
Let’s turn a few lights on, take control over what we can and try to take as much fear out of the equation as possible.
Government Support Packages
Every government understands the importance of trying to keep as many businesses afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak as possible.
In Australia, we have seen the Federal and State Governments, as well as some of the larger local councils commit to different measures to support businesses.
The intent for most support programs are to provide cash flow relief for businesses that employ people so they can continue to keep people employed, provide assistance to hardest hit regions, and provide stimulus payments to families to support growth.
It is likely that there will be more support packages offered as the COVID-19 outbreak progresses to pick up other sectors not covered in the initial rounds of packages.
The Federal Government has announced two rounds of support so far.
The main website page outlining business and industry support https://www.qld.gov.au/about/industry-recovery
- 12 month Interest free business loans of up to $250,000 to retain staff and maintain operations – http://www.qrida.qld.gov.au/current-programs/covid-19-business-support/queensland-covid19-jobs-support-scheme
Specific support for small to medium businesses https://www.business.qld.gov.au/starting-business/advice-support/support/novel-coronavirus
NSW has a development website for all COVID-19 information. You have to dig through it carefully to find what support is offered (often you can find the details in the NSW Media Releases page https://preview.nsw.gov.au/covid-19
Hard to find details of the Vic support packages. This is the best I could locate: https://www.business.vic.gov.au/disputes-disasters-and-succession-planning/illness-and-business-management-plan/dealing-with-coronavirus
Melbourne City Council
MCC has created their own support packages for businesses in their area.
Stimulus plan is generally targeted to specific sectors.
Details of the SA stimulus plan can be found here:
The WA Small Business website COVID-19 support to small business https://www.smallbusiness.wa.gov.au/coronavirus
The NT Government has taken a slightly different approach than many other states and is focused initially on the construction and hospitality sectors https://business.nt.gov.au/recovery
Details of the ACT small business support options can be found here https://apps.treasury.act.gov.au/budget/covid-19-economic-survival-package/local-business-and-industry
Chris Green from Restaurant Bookkeepers has also put together a brilliantly detailed list of financial support available specifically for restaurants/hospitality businesses. If you are in that industry, check out her list.
Fair Work Australia
If you employ staff, then the coming months have a number of human resource management impacts.
Fair Work Australia has detailed guidance on the relevant workplace laws and Coronavirus. This page is being regularly updated as things change, so it is worth bookmarking and visiting regularly.
It covers questions around leave and quarantine when you can direct people to stay home and what you need to pay them when you do. It also covers off medical certificates and redundancy arrangements.
Because of the complexity of employment law in Australia, you may still need to retain the services of a HR Consultant in your area to assist you if you need to head down the redundancy path with your employees.
If you can’t work because you are ill or quarantined at home with the Coronavirus, or your business has closed permanently or temporarily, you may be eligible for support payments from Centrelink.
This is an area that the government has been looking closely at through their support packages and it is likely additional support will be available in coming months.
To find out current options, go to the Services Australia COVID-19 page:
Finances in General
CPA Australia has put together a number of practical checklists and advice to help prepare your business financials for the impact of COVID-19.
Their detailed summary of potential actions is particularly useful and worth going through the actions they recommend with your business.
Talk with your accountant and bookkeeper to help plan your financials for the coming months. They will be able to assist with sage advice and tangible actions to lessen the impacts on your business.
The ATO has offered any business struggling with meeting their obligations to contact them to discuss options including:
- Deferring payments or varying instalments (e.g. PAYG, Income tax, FBT, BAS) for up to 4 months.
- Changing your GST reporting from quarterly to monthly to access your credits faster.
- Low interest payment plans for obligations.
Mortgages & Loans
If you are facing financial hardship, most banks offer a range of options.
Each bank is different but may offer:
- Interest only payments for a period of time.
- To extend the length of your loan to reduce repayment amounts.
- To postpone or defer payments for a number of months.
- Time to sell your property/loan asset.
- Additional credit.
- Waiving of fees and charges.
- Early access to term deposits without penalty.
- Debt consolidation.
Now is the perfect time to research what financial hardship or emergency assistance your bank offers. If you do get into difficulties, you need to talk with your bank earlier rather than later to find the best option for you and your business.
If your business operates from a rental property, you need to negotiate directly with your landlord to seek rent relief during the COVID-19 outbreak.
There is precedent for rent reduction or rental waiver in other countries during the outbreak. For example, many of the major Singapore retail landlords offered significant rent reductions/relief to their tenants during the close-down.
Unfortunately, most business continuity insurance policies exclude business interruptions or closures caused by pandemics, and COVID-19 is a listed disease under the Biosecurity Act (2015).
You need to check the specific wording of your policy and talk with your insurance broker to see if there are any options with your policy, or any legal “wiggle room.” (e.g. some policies still refer to the Quarantine Act and not the Biosecurity Act)
If you are in severe financial hardship, you may be able to get early access to part of your personal superannuation.
Currently there are very strict rules around when this will be granted and how much you can access, but this may change as the outbreak continues. Talk with your accountant for advice tailored to your needs, and your superannuation fund to find out what options are available.
Unfortunately, scammers increase during times of instability, which makes keeping your IT systems safe while your workers work from home even more vital.
The Australian Signals Directorate has some helpful guidelines on keeping your systems cyber safe during the outbreak https://www.cyber.gov.au/news/cyber-security-essential-when-preparing-covid-19
Scamwatch has reported a number of COVID-19 scams doing the rounds. They have a detailed list on what to look for and how to protect yourself from being scammed. https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/news/covid-19-coronavirus-scams
Stay Smart Online also has issued an alert about COVID-19 scam text messages that may install malicious software and steal your details https://www.staysmartonline.gov.au/alert-service/covid-19-scam-messages-targeting-australians
Worrying about the COVID-19 outbreak takes its toll on the strongest of us.
Here are some incredibly useful resources to help you get/stay in balance during the coming months and look after your mental health.
Hours of business
If you change your hours of business, or temporarily close your business, remember to update your opening hours on your Google my Business listing.
There will be an option in coming days in Google my Business to mark your business “temporarily closed” which is useful if you need to close for an extended period of time.
Google Adwords & Facebook Ads
If you are running a Google Adwords/Facebooks Ads campaign at the moment you may need to review the effectiveness of the ads in this market. You may need to scale up (yes – some markets are booming), pause or scale back depending in your results. Don’t set and forget!
There is a massive amount of volatility in the search engine results right now. This is the time to discuss your SEO strategy in this economic climate with the SEO company that is supporting you, and keep a close eye on your results.
Review Your Monthly Subscriptions
If you use cloud-based services such as G-Suite, Office365 etc, if your staff numbers decrease you may be able to reduce the number of licences you hold.
Do an IT stocktake and prepare a list of all subscriptions you are currently paying for, and flag ones you may be able to adjust as the outbreak continues.
Also check all the subscriptions (both technical and print) in your pre-approved PayPal payments as well as your credit card, and review to see what may be no longer required.
Refreshing Your Online Presence
People will be spending a lot more time at home and on the internet. How good is your online presence?
This is the time to make sure that your website and social media presence is credible, trustworthy and effective.
Ensure that you increase the trust signals on your website through getting and adding more testimonials, ensuring your have an SSL installed, that your website is modern and mobile responsive, that is has compelling content that uses your client’s language and that makes it easy for people to contact you.
Consider adding a blog with useful and practical information that answer questions that your clients may have – particularly around common household problems that they may be able to DIY, supporting their kids while they home-school, skill development or working remotely.
If you are temporarily closed for face-to-face appointments, make sure you update your website to reflect that. If your business is listed as an essential business, or is operating fully remotely – make sure you mention that you are open as well.
A reminder that we work fully virtually on building your small business website and can help you to make sure that your website is the best that it can be to maximise all visitors and potential clients during this time. Now is your time to shine online, and not hide away!