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Expert advice: 7 survival tips for businesses during a crisis

Expert advice: 7 survival tips for businesses during a crisis

Joseline M. Alosbaños, CHRP 

Joseline is a Certified HR Practitioner (CHRP) from the International Federation of Professional Managers (IFPM). She holds a master’s degree in Industrial Psychology from the Rizal Technological University and has been an HR practitioner for more than 19 years. Joseline is an HR and Talent Acquisition Supervisor for Velocity Solutions Inc., a full-service IT solutions firm with offices in Asia and Australia. 

Tina Khoe Ang, General Manager, EMO Jewelry 

A business graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University and a Certified HR Practitioner (CHRP), Tina spent at least a decade working in the tech and investment banking industry in Taiwan and Hong Kong. She took up her MBA at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and now works for a small-to medium-enterprise (SME) that does consumer retail. Tina oversees the business operations of 24 branches all over Luzon, specifically in inventory management, sales, operations, finance, as well as employee relations and human resources. 

The situation 

  • A slump in market demand due to a decrease in OFW remittances and more than four months in community quarantine dampening the average Filipino’s sentiment in the economy

  • The challenge of keeping the company afloat while also keeping employees safe, productive, and informed

“But business, for better or worse, has to operate under the current circumstances,” says Joseline. As establishments and offices open, follow these tips to keep customers and employees safe, reduce costs, and adapt to survive and thrive in this new normal.

1. Have a business continuity plan. 

“Make sure that there is a business continuity plan in place and updated to reflect the current and possible situations,” Joseline advises. “If there is none, please create one or ask an HR Professional to assist you.” Observe proper hygiene and sanitation protocols as laid out by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Craft HR policies on alternative work schemes and staff communication that support the business continuity plans, and ensure that all employees are covered by your Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). 

2. Maximize government programs to assist businesses. 

You will find a list of the different COVID-19 financial and loan assistance programs being offered by the government here, along with links to program information and application procedures.

3. Cut back on expenses where you can.  “These days, cash is king,” says Tina. “Due to less market demand, sales will decrease and money inflow will go down. If businesses did not have good financial management, they’re in trouble.”

  • Cut back on team engagement expenses. Don’t fly your staff to a resort for team building; bring the resource speaker to your headquarters instead. Don’t have big parties to commemorate anything this year. “If a business is still alive, it’s still a win,” says Tina.

  • Stop spending on expensive marketing campaigns and get it cheaper with freelancers and guerilla marketing.

  • Move to a smaller, cheaper office since most employees are WFH and most customers are communicating online. Negotiate with landlords for at least 50% lease discounts for the short term. Forego renovations and limit expenses to repair and maintenance.

  • Reduce and shift manpower where you can. Implement Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA). Reduce the number of employees manning stores and close unprofitable ones. Take a good look at your staff: are there employees with big paychecks who don’t contribute to the bottom line? Think carefully and consider cutting back; consultants and freelancers might be a better option. With business demand lower, train employees for other responsibilities so everyone can multi-task.

  • If you’re in the tourism industry, temporarily close down and put staff on floating status. After six months, if the business is not allowed—or can’t afford—to reopen, retrench and pay employees their rightful separation pay.

4. Reallocate your operating funds to adapt to the new normal.  In the past months, we’ve seen how a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how consumers behave. Businesses should adjust accordingly.

  • Invest in digital tools and tech. “[With] online communication, even if customers don’t visit the malls, the brand is still top-of-mind,” says Tina. Spend for online marketing and advertising and e-commerce while partnering with same-day couriers. For those that are still in WFH setup, subsidize internet connection expenses.

  • Invest in critical employees who have proven loyal and consistent in the face of the business slowdown. “Despite the negativity, they have shown up to do excellent work without any drama,” says Tina. Foster their development with online skills training programs that are now more affordable and accessible.

5. Pivot your business to meet changing needs. 

  • Think of another idea to generate cash. If you produce soap, produce dishwashing liquid. If you’re in the perfume business, produce alcohol and hand sanitizer. If you’re in clothing, make masks and affordable loungewear. Shift production to what’s in demand and still within your expertise.

  • If you’re in F&B, change the menu and make it more affordable for customers. Offer family meals and make-at-home kits and market them for home delivery at an affordable price.

6. Lead with honesty and compassion. 

“I would advise SMEs to be transparent with their business plans and directions to all employees,” says Joseline. Emphasize that any policies or actions made, no matter how difficult, have one goal: to keep the business running and save as many jobs as possible.

“Guide employees in making the right decisions,” Tina advises. “Especially now when money is tight and tempers are at risk of exploding, be a calming force to the staff and increase employee trust and confidence.” It will be tough, especially for the breadwinners of big families, but leaders should encourage them to carry on—now is not the time to be unemployed. 

7. Stay calm and plan for recovery.  Lower your expenses as you do your best to push sales: run the numbers, make the hard decisions, and execute them to the best of your abilities.

“Believe in yourself and your business. If your business can’t last for six months, then it’s better to shut down and try again for another day,” says Tina. “But if you can, ride out this crisis and come out from it stronger, leaner, and more profitable than before. You just have to survive until then.”

With fewer competitors, a more loyal staff, and hard-earned lessons, you’ll be poised to benefit from the recovery boom. And this kind of success story has happened in the past, despite the many financial crises in our country’s history—the 1983 crisis that bankrupted many businesses, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998, and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

“The current COVID-19 crisis is definitely not the worst, nor will it be the last,” says Tina. “Being in fear will not help. The best we can do is hang on, pray, and strategize for the next step. Kaya natin yan. Fight lang!” 

HR Shouts and Whispers is a Facebook Community set up in 2018 for both HR and non-HR professionals to appreciate and understand people management and concepts. The group produces content and is a medium that encourages discussion of pressing HR issues, mental health concerns, and other phenomena that impact the lifestyles of professionals.

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