How to prepare your business for coronavirus – 18 protection steps

How to prepare your business for coronavirus - 18 protection steps - a business continuity plan for small business

Updated 3/19/2020: A previous version stated we are not “in Force Majeure land right now.” That has been removed as the coronavirus outbreak has been declared a pandemic by the WHO.

The novel coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, and that was first detected in China, has now been detected in 60+ locations internationally, including in the United States. In response, some Americans are cancelling and/or limiting both domestic travel and travel to outbreak hotspots (including Italy, China, Iran, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong) and preparing for what might happen if the virus becomes widespread. 

For freelancers and small businesses, especially those in the events industry, this may mean an uptick in rescheduled/cancelled events and/or a decline in business due to community-based interventions and general fear, uncertainty and doubt among many people. 

While it’s natural to feel nervous about what’s to come, there are steps you can take today to minimize the potential impact coronavirus (and actually any type of health emergency or natural disaster) has on your business. Think of this as a business continuity plan for small business to strengthen your business during times of uncertainty.

A business continuity plan for small business:

How to prepare your business for coronavirus

  1. Get and stay informed
  2. Revisit your cancellation and rescheduling policies
  3. Add three clauses into your contract templates: Force Majeure Clause, Safe Working Environment Clause, and Failure of Company to Perform Services Clause
  4. Create a strategy to battle cancellations
  5. Proactively manage your client relationships
  6. Issue a message to inquiries/clients
  7. Know how to enforce retainer payments for cancelled events/projects
  8. Plan for backup help
  9. Get video meeting software
  10. Understand your financial position
  11. Identify new revenue streams
  12. Pivot your business strategy
  13. Create a playbook
  14. Identify ways to supplement income
  15. Tap into city resources
  16. Start saving now
  17. Take care of yourself, your family and your team
  18. Lean on community 

Business continuity plan for small business: Things you can do right now

1. Get and stay informed

Stay up to date with official news sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). By staying informed, you can better prepare for what’s coming and gain a sense of control (even if just a little) over the rapidly evolving situation. And being equipped with the facts will help you educate (and calm) any nervous inquiries and clients.

2. Revisit your cancellation and rescheduling policies

Wondering how to legally protect your business from unforeseen circumstances like the coronavirus? We went straight to an expert to find out and consulted attorney Paige Griffith of The Legal Paige

“First and foremost, a service provider’s cancellation and rescheduling policies should still be laid out very clearly with deadlines,” says Paige. “Industry standard is generally 30 days prior to the event/session/wedding date for your clients to be able to cancel or reschedule and only forfeit the retainer, but not incur any remaining fees. However, ‘Force Majeure Events’ are different. Thus, if you or your clients want to excuse performance to an unforeseeable, unavoidable, or impossible event, that’s where a Force Majeure Clause would kick in to protect you.”

Paige recommends people include a Force Majeure clause that clearly explains your business’s policies for excusing performance related to such events and, specifically, include “epidemics and pandemics” as qualified Force Majeure Events (see #3 for more details). Paige notes, “Oftentimes Force Majeure clauses are more basic and include occurrences such as ‘acts of God, natural disasters, government orders or laws, or strikes.’ It’s better to list out all qualified Force Majeure events and include the language ‘including, but not limited to’ to expand the types of Force Majeure events under your contract.”

Essentially, a cancellation and rescheduling clause is in place for any other reason that your client may cancel or reschedule. But Force Majeure Events are not part of that and have a different procedure in place for cancellations and rescheduling situations. The non-refundable retainer still applies under both clauses so long as you expressly delineate that policy under your contract, but Force Majeure provides additional protection because it requires you to excuse performance under the contract until the Force Majeure Event is resolved.

Want to learn more about protection clauses that you should have in your contract to protect yourself from unforeseen events? This checklist from The Legal Paige will tell you what clauses are needed and describes what they mean to you and your business. Get Checklist >

3. Add three clauses into your contract templates

As part of a business continuity plan for small business, Paige recommends modifying or adding three big clauses into your existing contract templates: (1) Force Majeure Clause, (2) Safe Working Environment Clause, and (3) Failure of Company to Perform Services Clause.

Wondering what all that means? Let’s break down each one below: 

A Force Majeure clause (1) specifies the events which enable either party to declare a force majeure/act of God event, (2) how a party should notify its counterparty about the occurrence, and (3) the consequences after a force majeure event has occurred (see #4 for ideas on consequences you could consider). A force majeure clause should apply to each party to the agreement. 

“Most often I see contracts missing parts 2 and 3 in their force majeure clause,” says Paige. “People should be sure to spell out that ‘epidemics and pandemics’ are included as qualified Force Majeure Events, and indicate the number of days following the Force Majeure Event that the other party may terminate and the remedies allowed. Also, as it stands [at the date of publication March 9, 2020], the COVID-19 outbreak and its consequences are no longer fully unpredictable and may therefore not qualify as a ‘Force Majeure Event’ in contracts that are entered into right now. Be sure to have other clauses in place such as Safe Working Environment Clause and Failure of Company to Perform Services Clause to protect yourself in case the Force Majeure Clause is not applicable.”

Need a Force Majeure clause for your contracts? Just copy and paste the Force Majeure clause language below into your own existing contract templates.

Force majeure clause:

No party shall be liable or responsible to the other party, nor be deemed to have defaulted under or breached this Agreement, for any failure or delay in fulfilling or performing any term of this Agreement (except for any obligations to make payments to the other party hereunder), when and to the extent such failure or delay is caused by or results from acts beyond the impacted party’s (“Impacted Party”) control, including, but not limited to, the following force majeure events (“Force Majeure Events”): (a) acts of God; (b) a natural disaster (fires, explosions, earthquakes, hurricane, flooding, storms, explosions, infestations), epidemic, or pandemic; (c) war, invasion, hostilities (whether war is declared or not), terrorist threats or acts, riot or other civil unrest; (d) government order or law; (e) actions, embargoes or blockades in effect on or after the date of this Agreement; (f) action by any governmental authority; (g) national or regional emergency; (h) strikes, labor stoppages or slowdowns or other industrial disturbances; and (i) shortage of adequate power or transportation facilities. The Impacted Party shall give Notice within [number] days of the Force Majeure Event to the other party, stating the period of time the occurrence is expected to continue. The Impacted Party shall use diligent efforts to end the failure or delay and ensure the effects of such Force Majeure Event are minimized. The Impacted Party shall resume the performance of its obligations as soon as reasonably practicable after the removal of the cause. In the event that the Impacted Party’s failure or delay remains uncured for a period of [number] days following Notice given by it, the other party may thereafter terminate this Agreement upon Notice.

Disclaimer: This force majeure clause template is provided for your convenience to help protect your business and minimize the impact from coronavirus and other types of health emergencies and natural disasters as part of a business continuity plan for small business. We consulted with attorney Paige Griffith, J.D., of The Legal Paige, who wrote the Force Majeure clause. While a professional was consulted, this is not provided as a substitute for legal advice. If you have any questions about this template or your finished contract as it relates to your specific business, please contact a licensed attorney.

A Safe Working Environment clause tells your clients that your company maintains a safe work environment at all times and complies with all health and safety laws, directives and rules and regulations. Thus, you can reserve the right to discontinue service in the event some unsafe conditions arose such as areas affected by communicable diseases.

A Failure of Company to Perform Services clause ensures that your clients understand the procedure should you not be able to perform your services. “It’s important under this clause to allow your clients to agree to the substitution of another professional and not require such substitution,” Paige says. “And, in the event they do not allow you to substitute or you cannot find a substitute, you will issue a refund or credit based on the percentage of the services you’ve rendered thus far.”

4. Create a strategy to battle cancellations 

If you’re worried about cancellations, the best strategy is to be prepared and proactive. 

Be prepared by thinking through “the consequences after a force majeure event has occurred.” Let’s say a client wants to cancel within 30 days of the event (even if your cancellation policy states they need to provide at least 30 days) due to an unforeseen event. What does that mean for you and your business? 

As a best practice, we recommend doing everything in your power to work with your client to reschedule for a time when everyone is confident about moving forward and healthy enough to do so. If a mutually agreed upon date cannot be reached, your client will be able to cancel and forfeit only the retainer, but not incur any remaining fees under the Agreement. (See step #7 for how to enforce retainer payments for cancelled events/projects.)

In addition to identifying what you’ll do in the face of an unforeseen event, be sure to proactively communicate with inquiries and clients. This can help set their minds at ease, reducing your cancellation/chargeback risk. (See #5 for more details.)

5. Proactively manage your client relationships

Strong relationships are everything in the face of uncertainty, especially with setting expectations and avoiding cancellations. Now is the time to foster and lean on your client relationships as part of your business continuity plan for small business. “Over communication in these situations is also helpful so if a client is feeling unsure, they can lean on the professional to help lead in making decisions,” says Reina Pomeroy of Reina + Co.

If you’ve been doing a good job of relating to your clients and building that trust, it should be easier to reach an ideal outcome for both you and your client if the event can’t take place. Hopefully that outcome is in the form of rescheduling the event and is reached before you ever get to a conversation about chargebacks or cancellations. 

Nichole Beiner of Nichole Gabrielle adds, “Being flexible with rescheduling or being creative about how to interact may be appreciated, especially by clients with compromised immune systems or who care for those with compromised immune systems or elderly people.”

So reach out to your booked clients to schedule a check-in and have a conversation. Get a feel for if they have any concerns or are thinking about cancelling (especially if you deliver your services in-person or work in the events industry).

If your clients were thinking about cancelling, getting a call from you to reassure them, might be just what they need to keep their event on the books. 

For example, you could say:

Hey XX,

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. As of right now, the U.S. 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 let you know that as of right now our area has had little to no impact from the coronavirus and because of this 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 or altering 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 for the proper steps.

Thanks,

XX

If your clients weren’t thinking about cancelling at all, tread lightly. You don’t want to give them a reason to worry, but use this as an opportunity to let them know you’re on top of the situation; considering the health and safety of all your clients; and what you’re doing to ensure that. 

For example, you could say:

Hello XX,

I hope your [event name] planning has been going smoothly! I wanted to check in and see how you were doing in light of the recent coronavirus outbreak updates. As of right now, the U.S. 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 let you know that as of right now our area has had little to no impact from the coronavirus and because of this 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.

Thanks,

XX

If they inquire about cancelling, be ready with your responses (see step #4).

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6. Issue a message to inquiries/clients

Similar to step #5, this step focuses on proactive communication but is a bit more passive, and is designed to reach your broader audience, not just booked clients. Set your audience’s minds at ease and let them know that you’re prepared to handle whatever comes your way. Acknowledge the coronavirus and that it’s something your business is aware of and thinking about. 

You can create a video message that you put up on your website, on social media or in an email. You can create a blog post. Or you can create an FAQ page for your website. 

Wondering what to say? Here’s a swipe copy example:

Hey everyone!

I wanted to take a quick minute to talk about something important. By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the coronavirus and its impact worldwide. While at the very least this is distressing, I wanted to assure you that my business and I are prepared. I’m staying updated on the latest information, acting responsibly by avoiding travel to outbreak hotspots, meeting clients/vendors/employees online instead of in person if someone isn’t feeling well, and swapping hugs for a friendly wave. Additionally, I’m making sure that all of my clients know what to expect from me as per contract.

If you are a fellow business owner who would like a resource of best practices *click here/swipe up/link in bio* to read @honeybook’s latest blog post: How to Prepare Your Business For Coronavirus- 18 Steps.

If you are a client and have any concerns about your event and any details pertaining to cancellation and rescheduling practices, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or refer to our contract.

Thanks!

7. Know how to enforce retainer payments for cancelled events/projects

Again, the first (and best) line of defense to keep your retainer payments (and avoid cancellations altogether) is to proactively manage your client relationships, maintain open communication and try to reach a solution that works for the both of you before the topic of cancelling comes up. 

But if cancellations do happen, here’s what you should know to keep/receive your retainer payments.

“This really depends on the situation,” Paige says. “But, in most cases so long as the language in your fee section states ‘non-refundable retainer’ you should be able to keep the retainer. If you used the wording ‘deposit’ instead of retainer, under some states it is required to give back deposits if services have not been rendered. Thus, if you have the word ‘deposit,’ it’s likely best to refund the amount. Also, remember that at the end of the day, it’s your livelihood and business on the line if you have a really sticky client who wants their money back and is ready to pursue legal action if you don’t give it back. It’s way easier, more efficient, and more cost effective to give a refund under these circumstances than to go to court and battle whether the retainer/deposit is refundable.”

If you’re worried about retainer chargebacks (a chargeback happens when a client asks their credit card to reverse the money transfer from their account), remember that if a chargeback does happen through HoneyBook, HoneyBook works side-by-side with you to resolve the dispute. Unlike other platforms (like PayPal, for instance), HoneyBook will not automatically refund your client.

Business continuity plan for small business: Things you can do in the next few days/weeks 

8. Plan for backup help 

If you don’t already have one as part of your business continuity plan for small business, create a backup plan in the event that you get sick and are unable to perform your job. Identify and lock in a few people whom you can trust to step in for you if needed. (Need help finding someone? Try reaching out to someone in your community or a fellow creative at your local TuesdaysTogether. See #18 for more detail.) Make sure to add this into your contracts, as you want your clients to be aware of this possibility. And see step #3 for more details about what to include in that clause. 

9. Get video meeting software

With the possibility of people increasing the amount of time they spend at home (known as social distancing), you may want to move more of your in-person meetings to video meetings. Make sure your phone and computer equipment are set up to work for video. In terms of video meeting software, FaceTime is a popular option for iPhone users, but if you need to show your screen, you can also consider Zoom or Google Hangouts. According to The Verge, Google said “that it would be rolling out free access to ‘advanced’ features for Hangouts Meet to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally through July 1st. That means organizations can host meetings with up to 250 participants, live stream to up to 100,000 viewers within a single domain, and record and save meetings to Google Drive.” 

10. Understand your financial position

An important part of business preparedness in the face of coronavirus and creating a business continuity plan for small business is knowing the ins and outs of your finances. This will help you to understand how much business you can afford to lose each month and start making plans if needed. Answer the following questions to start getting a better picture of your finances. 

  • What is your projected monthly revenue each month over the next 3-6 months?
  • What are your monthly costs (business and living expenses) each month over the next 3-6 months?
  • How many projects/events/clients do you need at a minimum each month over the next 3-6 months to maintain a positive cash flow?
  • Are any projects/events/clients at risk of getting cancelled or postponed within the next 3-6 months? (If so, see what you can do in steps #45.)
  • If your projected cash flow is in the negative over the next 3-6 months, see what you can do in steps #1112.

11. Identify new revenue streams

While you may be a ways away from needing to implement the next two steps, they’re still worth thinking about now to help increase your preparedness. With that in mind, start thinking about other ways you could bring in revenue if business slowed way down or if cancellations went way up. 

Here are a couple ideas:

  1. Check HoneyBook Opportunities. Other creatives post opportunities of all kinds, and you can post if you have one as well. Searching by your zip code makes it easy.
  2. Get a side gig on platforms like Upwork or Fiverr.
  3. Tap into your network and see if anyone needs extra help. Since many events are likely to get rescheduled, take advantage of the shuffle and make yourself available for these dates.
  4. Turn your existing service into a digital or remote offering. 

12. Pivot your business strategy

Again, it might not make sense to start pivoting at this very moment, but making plans to do this now can be very helpful if this may be needed in the future. If your business is internationally based, perhaps consider focusing on local markets. Or if your business is focused on servicing large events, consider niching down. Some HoneyBook members have started focusing on more intimate-sized events that are less prone to being impacted by travel restrictions. Another idea is to introduce lightweight services that are easy for you to implement, and that requires less planning ahead, like one-off coaching sessions. 

Don’t forget to think through the impact on your brand and what would need to be updated, including messaging and imagery on your website and social channels. 

Business continuity plan for small business: Things you can do as a general best practice

13. Create a playbook

Documenting your entire process in a playbook will make it easy to hand a project/event off to someone who needs to step in and take over for you in the event that you get sick. Think through every little step and include it! Imagine that you won’t be there to answer questions and that everything they need to know would be included in your documentation. (Need some help? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Boosting Work Efficiency Through Business Systems and Automation.)

The cool thing about managing your business in HoneyBook is that all your client and project information is kept in one place, which makes it easy to hand over projects. Other team members (or an external person added to your project if you don’t have team members and need to add a back-up contact) can jump in and quickly get up to speed. They can see the communication history between you and your client and access all files to see all relevant information. (Team members can see private notes from all client meetings; external people added to your project can see all files and client communications, just not private notes you’ve taken.)

“Take a deep breath and don’t panic if you don’t have any of these best business practices in place,” says Diana Fang from The Finer Points. “If someone cancels, this would be a good time to use that extra time to beef up your own internal systems (especially for points #10-15).”

14. Identify ways to supplement income

It’s always good to know how you can supplement your income if you truly need to. Research the different options available for small business loans (this is a great resource), as well as a withdrawal from your 401K if you have one. But because of the hefty fees associated with an early withdrawal, this should be saved as a last resort.

15. Tap into city resources

Some cities are offering financial aid to specifically help small businesses during this trying time. For example, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said “the city will offer no-interest loans to small businesses with fewer than 100 employees that could show a 25 percent reduction in sales since the coronavirus outbreak and grants of up to $6,000 for businesses with fewer than five employees.” Check with your city’s Small Business Administration office for more details. 

16. Start saving now

Having an emergency fund to tide you over for 3-6 months is important for a solid business continuity plan for small business. If you don’t have one, start today. Take a look at your financial position from step #10. How much do you need to maintain a positive cash flow each month? Use that as a starting point to set your monthly savings goal. 

Once you’ve set a goal, identify ways to save. Perhaps you allocate a percentage of each paycheck to set aside. Or maybe you aim to save $X amount each month by avoiding indulgent expenses (like that new camera or dinners out) for the time being.

17. Take care of yourself, your family and your team

Follow best practices issued by the CDC/WHO to stay healthy and minimize the spread of the virus, including:

  1. Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  2. Coughing/sneezing into a flexed elbow
  3. Avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands
  4. Staying home if you feel unwell 
  5. Encouraging team members and vendors to stay home if sick
  6. Social distancing (swap a handshake for a friendly wave!)

18. Lean on community 

In a world where toilet-paper runs are a thing and entire towns are getting locked down, don’t forget you’re not alone. The HoneyBook and Rising Tide community are here to help (even if just to lend a commiserating ear about why there’s no hand sanitizer available anywhere). Here are a few ways to get the most out of the community:

  1. Join your local TuesdaysTogether. We have chapters around the globe. Connect with other creatives online through your local TuesdaysTogether Facebook and Instagram groups. Building relationships with those in your area can help if you find you need to cancel on a client and need to refer someone you trust (or vice versa). Please note: Some in-person meetings may be postponed out of caution for the health and safety of our members as the coronavirus progresses. Check in with your city to find out details.
  2. Check in on one another. Identify a handful of people to follow up with as the situation unfolds. Knowing how coronavirus is impacting others, and knowing people are also checking in with you, can help you feel less isolated.
  3. Share your wisdom with the community. Don’t feel like you have to go through this alone; we’re all in this together. Tag @honeybook and/or @risingtidesociety to share your tips and tools for how to best prepare and maintain not only your business but your day-to-day client interactions. 

More Resources

Disclaimer: The advice featured in this post was sourced from our community members for sharing of general information and knowledge. For specific legal, tax, mental health, and professional advice, please consult an authorized professional.

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