Viability in a Time of Uncertainty
There's no doubt that the irrigation industry is feeling the effects of COVID-19. It's felt as the industry tries to conduct business with a whole new set of parameters, it's felt in the uncertainty of what lies ahead, and it's felt on company balance sheets. How do you navigate these new waters? Is this the new normal? Are there lessons or new skills to put into practice now and going forward? Will we come out on the other side stronger or just doing business as usual?
The TXIA has assembled some suggestions, some of which you may have already put into action, for doing business during these days dealing with COVID-19 shutdowns. Even though the industry is operating in a time that none of us could have forecasted, there are areas that, when looked at carefully, could prove the viability of your company during the next 30-60 days and in the end, help you can exit stronger than ever before. Planning is key. Making a plan and executing your plan should be number one.
Safe Business Operations
- Have a protocol within the grounds of your company for cleaning and other items that need to be followed according to CDC COVID-19 guidelines. Make it a priority to keep an appropriate stock of cleaning supplies for use by your employees.
- Encourage frequent handwashing and honor those who wish to wear face coverings for protection and/or the spread of the virus.
- Require social distancing at all times honoring the 6 ft distance between employees.
- Disinfect regularly, wiping down areas that are frequently used and touched. This includes both within the four walls of your company as well as company vehicles, tools, equipment, etc.
- Keep company truck windows open for proper ventilation and limit the number of crew members in vehicles to keep with social distancing guidelines.
- Let your customers see crews wiping down door handles and vehicle interiors, crews honoring the 6 ft social distancing guidelines, and crews wearing facial coverings to increase the customer's confidence in your company and ward off any neighbors reporting “violations” to municipal officials that may lead to the revocation of landscape/irrigation being deemed “essential”.
- Have a COVID-19 policy for your employees and communicate that policy to them.
- Communicate with your employees regularly and genuinely listen to their concerns and fears.
- Use video conferencing. This can be utilized for one on one meetings or team meetings. If you have multiple employees working from home, consider a morning or end of the day team meeting via video conferencing.
- Have a plan outlined with specific goals for this COVID-19 season and communicate that to your employees to help them keep a positive attitude, buying in to your plan for prospering them and your business through this.
- If at all possible, retain your employees. Consider having them work less hours per day or less days per week if necessary.
The Customer Connection
- Let your customers know you're open. Update your website and/or social media platforms with a message that you're open and available. Consider sending emails, making phone calls, or sending text messages to your current customers with a positive “we're open” message.
- Have a COVID-19 statement for your customers and communicate it clearly with them. Let them know your company is taking this seriously for both your employees and your customers.
- When keeping an appointment with a customer, let them know you are honoring social distancing and to forgive you if you don't greet them or end the appointment with a handshake.
- Contact your current customers to check on them to see how they're doing. Let them know you've been deemed “essential” and are there for them.
- Present customers with the option of doing a walkthrough of their property, sending them a proposal complete with photos of items that need attention via email, and to repair and/or maintenance their system in a way that fits their needs and timeline.
- If a customer does choose to cancel their service or install at this time, kindly ask when they would like you to follow up with them. Don't consider the job closed, consider it postponed and treat it accordingly.
- Accept payments over the phone or online. If you don't have the capabilities at this time, set them up for use now and for use in the future.
Keeping Your Business Alive
- Watch your cash flow. Eliminate waste, those sundry items that you don't normally think twice about purchasing should be considered and clarified whether they are a necessity in this time of streamlining. Evaluate your overhead costs and have a plan for making adjustments if/when necessary. Consider postponing any major capitol purchases. Have a good working budget that allows you to survey your financials and make adjustments if/when need be.
- Seek reputable resources for assistance. The SBA (Small Business Association) has COVID-19 application available online at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
- For additional resources available from the SBA, visit the following website: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources
- Sell preventative services. Focus on springtime system evaluations, startups and tune ups. Put your emphasis in maintenance, predictable revenue streams (recurring revenue), and core clients.
- Increase your marketing exponentially. Utilize your website, email, social media platforms, NextDoor, etc. and remember to follow all RG-373 advertising rules and regulations. Now is not the time for salesmen to be stagnant. They can touch base with current customers to check on them and generate additional business making calls to those who aren't customers yet.
- Look at changing your marketing message to fit these days working through the COVID-19 shutdowns. Make that known on your website, social media platforms and via email blasts.
Using this time wisely
- If you've been looking for some downtime to educate yourself, your employees, and/or your crews, now might be a good time. Seek out manufacturer websites, YouTube channels, etc. to educate and re-educate.
- Need to streamline operations or accomplish internal projects that have been put on the back burner? Now's a great time to get these types of things completed.
- Continue to make proposals and bid jobs. While some industry segments are shut down (i.e. hospitality), others are fully operational. Look for jobs that are being postponed during these shutdowns to re-emerge and be ready to bid them when they do.
- Take advantage of all opportunities to network and brainstorm new ideas for your business. Get your employees involved by asking them the following questions: What do we do well? What could we do better? What suggestions do you have for ABC Company moving forward?
Growing through it all
- Consider that this may be a good time to venture into offering a new service that may be more profitable during this time of shutdown. It may not only prove to be profitable today, but it may also prove to be profitable in the future opening up new growth opportunities.
- Use this down time to interview potential candidates for the future job openings. The unemployment rate is climbing and people are looking for work. Now might be the best time to acquire some of your best future employees.
- Consider offering free or discounted services to those at the front lines of this virus (i.e. nurses, firemen, police officers, other first responders, etc.). A little discount or “free” might develop into great customers who appreciate your understanding.
- Learn to use avenues of technology to grow your business. Don't use email marketing? Now's the time to build your current and potential customer base lists. Don't have a website? Now's a great time to have one developed. Don't have a social media strategy to showcase your company, employees, and jobs? Now is a great time to begin one. Don't use videos and photos to market yourself? Now's a great time to utilize that camera in your pocket.
In order to rise to the challenges that the industry is faced with today, doing business has to look different than before. First and foremost, keep a positive mindset. Just as COVID-19 is, your mindset is contagious to all those around you. Positivity breeds positivity, while negativity breed negativity. Being open to and ready for opportunities to do business better today will prove to move your company through these hard times and to emerge stronger for the future. Lastly, consider the customer, both current and potential. Relationships are key; understanding and working to keep the customer's needs at the forefront is equal to customer retention and acquisition. This is marathon, not a sprint, and anything done that moves your company in a positive direction will be well worth the time and effort.
Want more COVID-19 resources? See TXIA's COVID-19 Resources page today.