In her article ‘How long is this going to last? The impact of coronavirus on your business and what to do next’, Julia Chanteray of The Joy of Business details alternative scenarios for how the current situation may play out and what people can do now and in the months ahead to protect their small business as much as possible. She lists the actions businesses should be taking today and ideas on how to move forward over the coming months, as well as offering reassurance for business owners by reminding them that they may not be able to change world events, but they can change how they respond to them…

Increase your liquidity  Make sure you have some cash in the bank. Reduce your personal spending and your business outgoings ahead of any possible fall in sales. And if you can borrow money for a contingency to see you through, this is probably a good time to do just that, even if you don’t feel you’ll need it, or if you’re one of the sensible people who feel uncomfortable borrowing money.

Watch out for bad debt  In the 2007/8 recession, I saw healthy businesses forced into liquidation because they had one or two clients who went bankrupt owing money. If you have clients who owe you now, make sure you’re assertive about getting paid when you should be. The people who get paid first are the ones who ask to be paid. If you feel squeamish about it, and don’t want to damage your relationship with a client, you can use a freelance credit control person to make some polite calls on your behalf.

Increase your marketing activity  Many companies do okay with little or no marketing. They don’t have a marketing plan they just get a decent amount of work in from their regular clients and through their reputation. This “business as usual” approach might not be enough to counter the effects of the Coronavirus on sales. Start thinking about how you can actively bring in more customers. Even if you’re suffering from optimism bias, and you’ve read this article thinking “I’ll be fine, I’ve got lots of work on” it wouldn’t hurt to get a bit more organised with your marketing.If you’re already on the case with your marketing, do more of it. Do not cut back on your time or your budget, continue to invest. But there’s a caveat with this — I’ve seen a few people blindly pushing out sales messages in the UK this week as we went into lockdown. Think about your timing — will people be receptive right now to your message, or is it better to wait a few days while they process the shocks.The pandemic is going to be here for a while. If you usually work face to face with clients, or travel to be onsite, this is going to change. Probably permanently. Work out how you can deliver your services online but make it better than the face to face version. I did this with my training a few years ago, just because I wanted to be free to travel (haha!) With a little experimentation, I’m now offering programmes which are way better than anything I ever did in the flesh.

Take some time to for new thinking  You might not be feeling like being innovative or inventive right now, but when you feel okay, take some deep breaths and start coming up with some new products and services. Or think about working in a different sector with the same product, if your current customers are likely to be severely affected.

Take a day off  Go for a walk, if you can. Work on your strategic plan for the next year, with the knowledge that the world is going to be a different place and you will need a different plan. If the time isn’t right to do this, because you’re full of fear, that’s okay. Take a day off, clear your head and do not think about the business at all. Just take some time for yourself.By clearing some space for not thinking, your mind will probably come up with the beginnings of your new plan for you.

Look after yourself and your staff  Obviously, make sure that you minimise the risk of anyone contracting Coronavirus. But washing your hands more often or working from home are not the only things you need to do to protect yourself and your team. In a crisis, we can be tempted to overwork, or run around quickly, fuelled by all that crisis adrenaline. That reaction works for a very temporary emergency, like a big new customer order or the office setting on fire. You know that the adrenaline response is counterproductive, even dangerous over a long period of time. The pandemic is not temporary — the virus and its effects on your business are going to be around for a good while.

Be flexible and agile  The reason I love small businesses is that we can react to a situation almost instantly. I’ve sometimes had a conversation with a business owner about a new idea at 10am on a Tuesday and by 5pm on Wednesday she’s got it going. These swift reactions are a massive advantage for you — I bet the CEO of British Airways can’t work that way. Make the most of that advantage.

Remember that this is not the apocalypse  Apparently in the US some people are buying more guns and stocking up on ammunition because they think that bullets will be the new currency. Methinks they’ve watched one too many end-of-the-world movies. Remember that the restrictions on travel and social gatherings have been brought in not because we’re all going to die of Coronavirus. They’re there because the scientists want to slow down the spread of the virus so that the small number of vulnerable people who are in real danger don’t all get it at once and need to go to intensive care at the same time. Stay away from doom-mongering media.

The stages of moving to a post Covid world

This article was written at the end of March 2020. At the moment, everything is uncertain and fluid, and people are still at the disbelief stage of coming to terms with a terrible change in their lives. Hence all the jokes about toilet paper and people renting out their dogs as a lockdown avoidance measure. We will be coming to the anger, bargaining, depression stages quickly. And it will be quite a while before we get to acceptance.

Even if you are finding the potential scale of the virus scary, worried for your family, or the human race, act now to protect your business rather than watching events unfold. You can’t change world events, but you can change how you respond to what’s happening.

Read the full text: How long is this going to last? The impact of coronavirus on your business and what to do next

Scenario 1: best case

Scenario 2: less good

Julia Chanteray is a director of The Joy of Business, which offers coaching, support and development programmes to businesses.
A note on Dr Li Wenliang  Julia’s article is dedicated to the memory of Dr Li Wenliang, a brave man who was one of the first doctors to warn of the dangers of Covid-19. He was arrested by Chinese police but later returned to work. He worked with early patients and then caught the virus himself. He died on 7 February 2020. His parents, wife, son, and soon to be born second child can be very proud of him.