After more than a year since COVID-19 began, there seems to be a clear path forward for business owners looking to get back to more normalcy. Learn how to reopen your business, whether you’re considering opening up an office or starting to offer services you’ve put on hold.
We’ve been through shelter in place orders, mask mandates, multiple variants and a lot of back and forth since the pandemic began. Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, reopening the country won’t be like flipping on a light switch or a one-size-fits-all approach. The same goes for your business. Though the pandemic isn’t over yet, some business owners may feel it’s a good time to reevaluate how they’ve been operating business for the past few months.
As of late 2021, the Delta Variant has started to slow its pace in the U.S., letting everyone take another (yet hesitant) sigh of relief. If you’re like most independent business owners, you may have had summer reopening plans that had to get put on hold again. Now that we’re seeing another downturn, it’s time to reevaluate your business plan for the rest of the year.
Consider how you reopened last year and the current state of your local community to decide how to move forward. Beyond case rates, reopening your business is also about you and your clients’ comfort level.
Should I Reopen in a Phased Approach?
Remember when we all eagerly checked our state news to find out which phase of reopening we were in? Though that was over a year ago, the phased approach was a great way to start boosting business again without vaccines to rely on.
Now that we have vaccines, we don’t need to exercise the same level of caution, but a phased reopening plan could still be the best approach for your business. Consider the following phases– modified to suit the current state of COVID. Keep in mind that these phases are no longer required through state mandates, but they can help offer guidelines for independent business owners.
In the past, this phase required specific state/regional gating criteria, including, a downward trajectory of covid-like symptoms and flu-like symptoms within a 14-day period; a downward trend of documented cases or positive tests within a 14-day period; and the ability for hospitals to treat all patients without crisis care and conduct adequate testing among healthcare workers.
Today, Phase 1 can still apply to your state and/or local case rates. Use a COVID-19 tracker to see what rates look like where you live or conduct your business. Are both your case rates and hospitalization rates falling? If they’ve continued a downward trend for at least two weeks, you can move forward with new changes.
What This May Mean for Your Business
While phase 1 of reopening business during COVID-19 will look different for everyone these days, it all depends on how you’d like to handle mask and/or vaccine mandates for your business.. Of course, you’ll want to follow any guidelines and regulations issued by your state and local authorities on what businesses are allowed to do, how they can operate and when face coverings are required.
At this phase, you may be able to reopen your office and pursue in-person work events pending the following CDC recommendations:
- Continue encouraging employees to get vaccinated
- Make sure your employees are informed about any potential vaccine side effects
- Help identify options for COVID testing so your employees can get tested if they feel sick (whether they’re vaccinated or not)
- Update your sick leave policy if you haven’t yet to accommodate more potential sick days for your employees
If you’re being cautious, at this phase you may want to still avoid large events, unmasked contact around others and business travel. You may also want to continue using virtual meetings as much as possible and avoiding unnecessary business travel. In the event cases begin climbing again, stay prepared by continuing to offer digital products or services you can provide completely virtually.
If your local area hasn’t shown signs of another rebound for the past two weeks, you may be able to move forward with more changes. Always be sure to check with your state’s governor’s office for updates or changes that may apply to you and your business as well.
What This May Mean for Your Business
In this past, phase 2 reopenings emphasized physical distancing, but the size of acceptable social events increased to 50 people. In our current environment, this may be an appropriate time to forego strict mask mandates in your office, though if you do you should still rely on vaccination or testing requirements for your employees.
As always, you’ll want to follow guidelines and regulations issued by your state and local authorities on what businesses are allowed to do, how they can operate and when face coverings are required.
Additionally, you may want to:
- Continue using video conferencing for client meetings (meeting in-person while maintaining appropriate physical distance may be awkward)
- Plan larger client events (if applicable to your business), if you can rely on ventilation or vaccination requirements
Before this phase can be implemented, states and regions must show no evidence of a rebound.After another two weeks of continued downward trends with cases and hospitalizations, you may be ready to move forward again with business changes.
As always, check with your state’s governor’s office for updates. Though this is the final phase for “reopening,” keep in mind that COVID-19 and its effects continue to evolve throughout the world. As you operate your business, you’ll need to continue to stay on top of cases and safe practices such as masking and social distancing.
What This May Mean For Your Business
For phase 3, you may begin more frequent business travel and in-person operations. This might include more client meetings, workshops or small conferences. Inside your office, continue to help your employees get tested if they start to experience any symptoms. Follow guidelines and regulations issued by your state and local authorities on what businesses are allowed to do and how they can operate.
Additionally, you may:
- Resume meeting with clients in person
- Resume networking at in-person events
- Proactively check in with current clients and reassure them that you are ready for their upcoming event
- Let your audience know if your service offerings are changing or if you are reopening business. Share what they can expect, which services you’re offering, and how they can book with you
- Provide in-person services at any event size without physical distancing, as long as you feel comfortable with the ventilation and vaccine status of those attending
How to Communicate With Your Clients
As everything continues to change, it’s important to stay communicative with your clients. Now that it’s easier to pursue normal business operations, you may just need to communicate your current COVID plan and guidance for high-risk clients. Some clients may also still want to cancel or reschedule events depending on the situation where they live, which means you’ll need to make sure your cancellation policy is up to date.
Grab some of the email copy below to save on hand for these specific situations:
Proactively Reassure Clients That You Have a COVID Plan
I hope planning your [insert event name here] has been going smoothly! I wanted to check in and see how you were doing in light of the recent coronavirus outbreak updates. I know how stressful [event name] planning can be, and this certainly doesn’t help!
I wanted to assure you that I have every intention of fulfilling my role at your [event name] and that my business and I are prepared. I’m staying updated on the latest information from the CDC, the WHO and local and state authorities; acting responsibly by avoiding travel to outbreak hotspots; practicing social distancing by holding most meetings online instead of in person; swapping hugs for a friendly wave; and, last but not least, practicing good hand hygiene. Additionally, I’m making sure that all of my clients know what to expect from me as per contract.
I’d love to know how you’re feeling about the situation. Are there any questions or concerns about your event I can help address? Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Send Guidance Regarding Canceling or Rescheduling
Thanks for checking in! As of right now, your event is in a place of relatively low risk. However, I know how stressful [event name] planning can be, and this certainly doesn’t help!
I wanted to assure you that my business and I are prepared. I’m staying updated on the latest information from the CDC, the WHO and local and state authorities; acting responsibly by avoiding travel to outbreak hotspots; practicing social distancing by holding most meetings online instead of in person; swapping hugs for a friendly wave; and, last but not least, practicing good hand hygiene. Additionally, I’m making sure that all of my clients know what to expect from me as per contract.
I have every intention of fulfilling my role at your [event name]. Of course, if anything should change with my plans, you will be the first to know.
If you have any intention of changing the date of your [event name] please let me know as soon as possible so we can work on rescheduling to a date that works for everyone. If you do plan to change the [event name] date, please refer back to our contract to the cancellation and rescheduling policy for the proper steps. Please note that the retainer may be forfeited and a new contract may need to be signed in the event of cancellation or rescheduling.
Send Guidance to Clients Who Are High Risk
Thanks for checking in and letting me know about your concerns! I have read the CDC’s recommendations for social distancing for high-risk populations, and absolutely want to respect that.
If it is any assurance, I’m staying updated on the latest information from the CDC, the WHO and local and state authorities; acting responsibly by avoiding travel to outbreak hotspots; practicing social distancing by holding most meetings online instead of in-person; swapping hugs for a friendly wave; and, last but not least, practicing good hand hygiene. Additionally, I’m making sure that all of my clients know what to expect from me as per contract.
If you feel it’s best, we can reschedule to make sure we are keeping you and your loved ones safe. Here are the next steps to do so.
[insert your rescheduling policy here]
(Example rescheduling policy language: If you reschedule in excess of 90 days of your event date, and I am able to rebook that date, then you will receive credit for everything paid so far. If this happens, we will need to sign a new contract. If your event is rescheduled in excess of 90 days and I do not rebook the date then the retainer will be forfeited, but you will receive credit for everything paid so far (and again a new contract would be needed). If you choose to reschedule, the credit will be applied to wedding coverage within 12 months after the original wedding date.)
Please feel free to let me know any questions you may have as this is not the easiest situation to navigate! Again, I’m so sorry that this [natural disaster/pandemic] is affecting your [event] in such a negative way.
For Business Owners Who Can’t or Don’t Want to Start Reopening
If your local case rates are still too high for your comfort or you need to keep your risk low, you can still use these options for continuing to generate income and offer services to your clients:
- Continue to provide low or no-contact services–check out How to Make Money During Quarantine for 20 ideas to add revenue now.
- Offer gift cards for small business. Clients buy digital credits today and redeem them in the future, so you get cash now to support you until things get back to normal.
We know many questions will arise around reopening business during COVID-19 and that many feelings are involved. View our FAQs below to get answers to your most common questions. Keep in mind that COVID-19 remains a changing situation, and our answers may not apply to every region or business type.
- What happens if I get sick and can’t perform my service?
- Take a look at your contract’s “failure of company to perform services” clause to better understand your contractual obligations. You’ll want to try and find a backfill ASAP, while working with your client to ensure they agree to your alternate. If an agreement can’t be reached, you should issue a refund or credit based on the percentage of the services you’ve rendered thus far. For more details on this clause, go here.
- What happens if someone is sick at a wedding or event I’m supposed to work at?
- Take a look at your online contracts and check the “safe working environment” clause to better understand your contractual obligations and rights. You can reserve the right to discontinue service in the event some unsafe conditions arose.
- What happens if someone works with me/for me and then gets sick? What’s my liability?
- As the specifics of each business vary, it’s best to consult with an attorney about your specific situation.
- The CDC recommends offering viral testing information for your employees so they can easily find out if they have COVID-19 or not.
- If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, you can require them to stay home and isolate until they’ve stayed home 10 days after initial symptoms and until they receive a negative COVID test.
- What if clients are still canceling events out of fear?
- We believe you should rely on your cancellation/rescheduling policy at this point.
- Can I require vaccinations?
- Yes, vaccine mandates are federally legal as long as you have opt-out accommodations for those with disabilities or religious beliefs that prevent them from getting the vaccine. State laws may vary.
- What are the current federal guidelines for COVID-19?
- Currently, guidelines and mandates for COVID-19 vary from state to state. View your state’s specific guidelines to understand more about travel, mass gatherings, school closures, mask mandates and vaccine requirements.
- Do I need to require masks?
- State guidance on masks varies, with some states currently requiring masks in most public places and others not requiring masks. The CDC recommends all un-vaccinated people to continue masking at all times in indoor public places. For vaccinated people, they’re currently recommending to wear masks indoors in public places if you’re in an area with high transmission rates.
Continued Best Practices During COVID-19
Though case rates may be falling in most areas, it’s still important to stay aware of what’s happening in your community and elsewhere. As an independent business owner, you can become a helpful resource for your clients by keeping them informed as you stay up to date with the latest news and guidelines.
Continue to follow safe practices such as masking and avoiding close indoor contact with others if you’re not aware of their vaccination status.
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Disclaimer: The advice featured in this post was provided for sharing of general information and knowledge. For specific legal, tax, mental and general health, or professional advice, please consult an authorized professional.