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How to Reopen During COVID-19: Lessons From Entrepreneurs Who Have Done It

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko

Are you ready to reopen your business? These tips from entrepreneurs who have already reopened during COVID-19 can help you plan ahead.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to temporarily suspend operations, either voluntarily out of concern for the health of customers and employees or as a result of state mandates. Although the novel coronavirus pandemic persists and, in some cases, even appears resurgent, many businesses have determined that it's time to reopen and adapt to the new normal.

Businesses are reopening after COVID-19 shutdown.

Many states have relaxed restrictions to allow businesses to resume economic activity. Georgia, for example, became one of the first states in the nation to begin a reopening process, lifting restrictions as early as April. Other states waited a bit longer before announcing partial reopenings of their nonessential businesses, but by mid-May, every state in the U.S. had eased coronavirus-related restrictions at least a little bit.

Many business owners seized the opportunity to resume business, despite concerns about COVID-19 and social distancing, due to an equally pressing financial situation. Others have kept their doors closed, whether by choice or because they still fall under lingering restrictions in their home states. As retail businesses, fitness centers, nail salons and barbershops begin showing signs of life again, the question for many small business owners is how to reopen with public health and safety in mind.

For entrepreneurs preparing to reopen in the near future, it is important to craft a reopening plan that follows state guidance and respects remaining restrictions.

If you're nervous about reopening, consider the following advice from the real-world experiences of small business owners who have already done it. Use their tips to establish safety protocols that protect employee and customer alike.

1. Focus on nonoperational elements of your business prior to reopening.

While you're waiting for the right time to reopen your business, there is plenty you can do to improve your chances of a nimble recovery. For example, cutting extraneous expenses or working on your digital marketing strategy could pay off down the line when your day-to-day attention returns to keeping your business running. Look for creative ways to make the rest of your shutdown productive.

"My best advice is to not let this time go unused," said Werner Furstenberg, owner and president of Creative Shade Solutions. "Update your website, plan your marketing, get your offices or business locations thoroughly cleaned, organize your computer files. Even if you can't run business as usual, there is plenty that can be done online, and much that can be done to make your business a safe and healthy place for all employees and customers."

2. Establish workplace safety policies and train your team to follow them.

One of the most important things to do is make sure your employees are all on the same page when it comes to new workplace safety policies designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for your employees, and offer specific training on the policies you've put in place.

"In addition to reinforcing good hygiene practices recommended by the CDC with our team members, we have also adopted the CDC recommendation for a detailed health screening and temperature check prior to each employee shift," said Daniel DeLeon, owner of Grumpy's Restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida. "We have even extended this to all of our vendors, delivery and maintenance personnel."

Consider taking these measures:

  • Require employees to wear masks or face coverings, even if not required by law in your state.
  • Provide sanitation stations throughout the workplace.
  • Require employees to wear gloves and regularly sanitize them.
  • Increase the frequency of cleaning for all your facilities.
  • Require social distancing measures for all employees and customers.
  • If possible, establish outdoor spaces for customers (such as outdoor dining areas) and curbside pickup options.

3. Explain the safety measures to your customers.

Don't be afraid to let your customers know about the measures you've adopted. It's not just a marketing strategy, but a genuine way to show that you prioritize the well-being of your team and your customers. While reopening your business is important, nothing should trump public health.

"Be vocal and let your guests see the efforts you have in place to protect them and your employees," said Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for retail chain Unclaimed Baggage. "Demonstrate the procedures you've put into place in pictures and video on social media. Taking that extra step to tell your story and own the procedures you've put in place will help balance these extra precautions with a positive experience at the place of business."

4. Clearly display safety instructions to help customers adapt to new rules.

It's one thing to promote your safety policy online, but you should also clearly display signage at your place of business that makes it simple for customers to understand the new rules. For example, many businesses have placed markers on the ground to help customers stay 6 feet away from one another. Restaurants, which were among the hardest-hit businesses during the shutdown, are creating outdoor areas for dining and asking customers to queue outside and mind social distancing practices.

"Make sure all safety guidelines are clearly and concisely marked and communicated inside the business," Cantrell said. "Train your team members on what to do and say when asked about change. Dedicate someone to oversee the guest experience to ensure guidelines are being executed and to address any pressing questions onsite."

5. Always be prepared to adapt to unforeseen conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended global economic activity like few other events have. However, natural disasters and unforeseen crises are inevitable. It's important to develop a plan for how to manage a crisis that forces your business to close. Building on the lessons of the novel coronavirus pandemic, consider contingency plans for your business should another economy-halting disaster strike.

"Every day can change on an instant, so we need to get as much business as we can while we still can, because we could be shut down again tomorrow," said Brad Schweig, vice president of operations for Sunnyland Outdoor Living. [Read related article: From COVID-19 to Hurricane Season: Disaster Preparedness for Small Business]

Successfully reopening after COVID-19 takes planning and diligence.

While COVID-19 posed a unique situation that few were prepared to deal with, entrepreneurs can use the lessons from the pandemic to stay agile and prepare for future disasters. With some anticipation and planning as well as ongoing communication with employees, customers, and other stakeholders, small businesses can better prepare themselves to weather any storm, literal or otherwise.

For more resources regarding COVID-19 and business reopenings across the country, visit business.com's COVID-19 resource center for small businesses.

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko,
business.com Writer
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Freelance editor at business.com. Responsible for managing freelance budget, editing freelance and contributor content, and drafting original articles. Also creates product and service reviews to assist business.com readers in buying decisions for their businesses. VP and co-founder of CannaContent, a digital marketing company dedicated to the cannabis, hemp, and CBD industries. Focused specifically on the content marketing arm of the company, creating blogs, press releases, and website copy for clients spanning the entire supply chain. Avid fan and indispensable ally of the feline species. Music lover, middling guitarist, and unprompted vocalist. Miniature painter who loves sci-fi and fantasy. Armchair political philosopher with a tendency to read old books written by men with unusually large beards. Ask me about all things writing!