While this article is relevant for many small businesses, it is being written substantially for the disaster restoration industry. The good news for restoration professionals is that the fires and floods that occurred last month, and last year at this time will likely continue. The challenge is that many of the underlying issues, all over the world, have changed in the blink of any eye. In this article, I want to address issues that you should consider taking in your business as a response to these changes. In an effort to shorten this article and to make it more actionable, I will present my recommendations in abbreviated format so let the bullet points begin!
Challenge #1: Cash management. As in any crisis, cash is king. There are many unknowns that will impact your cash position which include:
- Higher prices for potentially scare supplies
- Uncertainty in payments from our clients. Whether you work with insurance companies, property managers, or direct with the property owners – we do not know if these offices will be staffed as normal, or if they will maintain their typical processes for payment. It is safe to assume that there will be delays, even in established process.
- Uncertainty in mortgage company inspections. If a mortgage company is listed on a check then we cannot be certain the process for final inspections and approvals for releasing funds.
- Banking challenges – I have already heard of companies that had their line of credit called. Banks will be cautious with risk. If you are not a low risk client, then make sure you invest in your banking relationship. Understand that their world just changed, and their risk tolerance may have as well.
- Plan purchases in advance to make sure that you are anticipating supply chain disruptions or delays that could impact project completion.
- Contact adjusters to discuss the payment policies for drafts or final payments on jobs.
- Adjust staffing to assist with collections – your business development staff may find time in their schedule because they are not able to make office visits. They can assist in tracking down missing payments or defining payment process.
- If you are working on – or plan to start – larger projects that will have mortgage companies on the drafts, then contact their offices to determine approval and funding process for the projects you are working on. Ask if they can use Encircle, Matterport, Docusketch images for approval. These images should have time and date stamps to prove that the work is complete.
- Although I mentioned that you have risk in your banking relationship – you may move cash from your line of credit to your checking account. If you have room on your line – you may consider turning this into cash in case the bank restricts that later – or even requires approval or staffing to move money – and they may not even be allowed to work due to outside influeces. This may cost you a bit of money to increase your debt – but it might be worth the cost if your banker is not available. A good example of this is a discussion that I had with a client that has cash in the bank and their rather sizable line of credit was at zero – moving money was a good hedge and low risk activity. If you are near the top of your line then do not take this step.
Challenge #2: Cross contamination from sick employees. In the event that you have all your managers report to the office – and someone gets the Coronavirus – it has the potential to shut down your company for several weeks.
- Work from home. If you have not already, take steps right away to disperse your staff. Work from home recommendations
- Define a list of employees that NEED to report to your office. Create a work from home recommended list. Provide technology needed to assure that they are able to effectively work and communicate.
- Create a best practice work from home list. Most people are not familiar with working with so many distractions. Additionally, spouses and kids may be in the house making this a less than productive work environment. This article offers great tips to effectively work from home.
- Look into technology that improves processes such as Microsoft Team, Zoom.us, Google Hangouts and more. These tools will help improve the process and provide accountability for activity and actions.
- Create a meeting and communication strategy. Since employees will not be getting direct daily contact regarding company activities – make sure that you take responsibility for delivering messages in order to avoid fear and rumors. Use your technology to have face to face communication and assurances of company activities and direction.
- Encourage your managers to use Facetime or other video calls rather than just phone calls. The video will help ensure better communication – and also help with personal connections with your new “virtual” staff.
Challenge #3: Expect supply chain restrictions and challenges. Some of our products are in high demand such as PPE and disinfectants. Other products will ultimately come from factories and plants that are not operational right now. Those products such as flooring and windows may be in stock today – but may be back-ordered when life returns to normal
- Anticipate what you will need in advance. You may need to look down the road for a project in production and order materials sooner than you normally might. This is in direct contradiction to my earlier statement that you want to conserve cash. If you order materials sooner – then the bill is due sooner. You will have to make qualitative decisions on this based on the project, the materials and the anticipation of stock. My main recommendation is to look a little further down the road than you might ordinarily.
- If you can get your hands on additional Covid-19 cleaning supplies – PPE, Decontaminants, HEPA Vacs, air scrubbers, etc. – you may look at adding to your inventory. This is a situation that will get worse before it gets better. If you are staging for future work, then take a serious look at your supplies.
- Reuse some of your PPE gear. This may not have been a consideration in the past – but is something to give strong consideration today. If you are not in a particularly contaminated environment, then set a plan in place to re-use.
- Realize that many M 95 and 100 masks as no longer in stock. Take a look at professional gear that is more available such as PAPR masks, full face masks and ½ face respirators. Your employees need to be safe – so make sure they have the resources needed.
Challenge #4: Client communication – Your property owner clients and tenants have always been dealing with stress. This takes their stress to an entirely new level. Many have been told to stay home, shelter in place, watch out for sick people, that their job is in jeopardy and more. People’s lives have been disrupted and now here comes the restoration crew – dressed in full PPE gear showing up at the front door.
- Make sure your phone staff has a script explaining that your employees are going to show up at the front door in respirators and Tyvek suits. This is not because we are afraid of the clients – but because it is good practice for the health of all. Take a picture of your crew in PPE at the office and send this to clients letting them know what to expect. Reiterate that the health and safety of the property, and all occupants is our utmost priority.
- Add the photo of our crew in PPE on the website. Also add a page that describes our current policy in entering and working in homes and businesses during this crisis.
- Updated your social media to add to the communication.
Challenge #5: Business activity – outside of the potential for additional work in cleaning impacted businesses, it is reasonable to expect that your work will decrease. This is due to many different factors including; people being home and more attentive to leaks, fire risks and more; people completing their own repairs to save money; construction jobs slowing down or stopping; adjusters not at their desks; non-restoration companies picking up some of the work; and other contributing factors.
- Stay in phone contact with your clients. Make sure they know that you are still working and available to serve them or their clients.
- Let them know about the technology that you are employing that allows them to survey damages without having to attend the jobsite – such as Matterport, Encircle, Docusketch or others.
- Change the homepage on your website to let all visitors to your site know that you are available to serve their needs in these challenging times. Don't make website visitors read through different tabs and pages to make sure you are available – make it obvious.
- You may have the opportunity to find great new staff members. It has been a long time since potential employees have been knocking on our door. Be very discerning in times like these. You may have employees from other departments or even subcontractors that are needing hours. You can re-assign these people before you hire others. On the other hand, if you are going to be hiring – only consider “A” players. Use this opportunity to really add to the team’s skills and competency.
- Take a look at your overhead. Some costs are naturally going to fall such as marketing expenses and potentially fuel. Seriously watch your costs and make sure you are protecting your bottom line and your cash needs.
- Realize that there may be real concern from your frontline staff. I have heard rumors from one company that the employees are disgruntled because they are being put in harms-way – while the managers are working from the comfort of their home. The first thing you need to realize is that this is a conscious or unconscious thought by some of your team. Reiterate your commitment to safety and health through this process. Take very deliberate steps to assure that all safety precautions are being provided and more importantly, followed. Continue to clarify the important service they are bringing to our clients and community as a whole – we are likely saving lives – that is a high purpose.
- Have a media strategy. Since this is a big news event, if you are contacted about a story – have a plan who talks to the media and have a plan for what is said. This is a great opportunity – but also contains risk as your entire community may be watching. If you find this appropriate – you can make your own news by contacting the assignment editor at the TV station or the newspaper – they are always looking for a story. Make a pitch that tells them why this is newsworthy.
- Over communicate to your clients, staff and community. Make sure everyone is aware of your status, your working conditions, your availability, your appearance, your commitment to safety and health and your values.
At the end of the day, your company and community have a need for leadership. Most anyone can look good when things are going well. Now is the time to step up and provide confidence. Realize that there is fear and anxiety. Make your company a place where we can solve problems and make things better. Encourage your employees to come to work every day with a great attitude and a desire to serve – we will make it better. If your staff is not coming into the office every day then keep them informed with frequent messages and make yourself available to your staff. Take care of your health – your team will need you to be there to lead in uncertain times, so they can be certain that they are making a difference, and that you have their back.
I am wishing you all well in your efforts to make a difference. I am praying for healing, grace and an end to the suffering caused by this pandemic. Feel free to contact me with any thoughts or questions.