How small and medium businesses can plan for riding out the COVID-19 pandemic


Australian business owners have a triple whammy to deal with as a result of coronavirus: they need to consider their personal health and well-being, the health and safety of their employees, and ensure that their business survives the economic upheaval caused by coronavirus.

As usual, one of the best ways to overcome business problems is to understand the facts, and then make level-headed plans for how to deal with them.

What we know so far about the disease

From health.gov.au:

  • COVID-19 symptoms include fever, coughing, fatigue, a sore throat and shortness of breath.

  • Spread of the infection can be caused by close contact with an infectious person, contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, and touching objects or surfaces that have droplets from an infected person. Good hygiene, including regular hand washing, can help prevent the spread.

  • Infection high-risk groups include recent overseas travellers, people who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, and people in group residential settings, including aged care homes and prisons.

  • Serious illness risk groups include people aged 70 and over, and younger people with chronic medical conditions or a compromised immune system.

  • No specific treatment is yet available for COVID-19.

  • A vaccine is unlikely to be available for 18 months

The important statistics

  • Global cases of infection have passed 1.6 million

  • The global death toll is over 100,000

  • Over 370,000 people worldwide have recovered from the infection

  • Australian COVID-19 cases total around 6,500, with approximately 60 deaths. Australia is faring better than many other nations.

Australian government COVID-19 restrictions that affect businesses

So far, the Federal, State and Territory Governments have imposed the following restrictions that impact either directly or indirectly on businesses:

  • Closed Australian national borders to all incoming travellers except citizens, residents and immediate family members, with mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving passengers

  • Closed many State and Territory borders to domestic travellers

  • Forbidden all non-essential domestic travel

  • Banned overseas travel, with very few exceptions

  • Closed schools or encouraged parents to keep children at home

  • Required people to practice ‘social distancing’, staying 1.5 metres apart and only leaving home to buy food and supplies, seek medical care, exercise, and go to work or education if they can’t do these things at home

  • Restricted the numbers able to attend weddings and funerals

  • Closed cinemas, theatres, museums, libraries, swimming pools, amusement parks, playgrounds, gyms, most sporting events, massage services, beauticians, nail salons, &c

  • Imposed restrictions on other businesses, including restaurants, pubs and cafes, caravan parks, casinos, dentists, hairdressers and retail stores

  • Restricted public space gatherings to members of the same household plus one other person

What businesses can do to both comply and survive

It’s clear that almost every business in Australia is going to be impacted in some way by these new temporary rules, some of them to an extent that they can no longer operate. Many have already taken the initiative and put their business into ‘hibernation’ until things return to normal. But if you aim to keep your business going, you need to take the following steps to ride out the rough times and emerge tougher and better than ever:

  • Have employees work from home if possible.

  • Ensure that remote work computer systems are running well, including your Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you have one, and that employees are educated in procedures to cope with increased cybersecurity risks.

  • Recognise that remote workers who are parents of young children also have to cope with childcare and lesson supervision while schools are closed or encouraging parents to keep children at home.

  • If your employees absolutely cannot work at home, aim to provide sufficient working space for them to observe social distancing rules, increase hygiene and handwashing facilities, and organise extra workspace cleaning if possible.

  • Establish or ramp up online ordering, takeaway and home delivery services, especially if you are a retail or food/beverage business.

  • Create a plan in case critical employees get sick. Can someone else learn the role, can a recently-retired employee return, can you outsource?

  • If you need to close locations temporarily, think ahead about security and equipment maintenance issues.

  • Talk to critical suppliers of both goods and services about their ability to deliver reliably. Consider setting up alternative suppliers.

  • Stay positive. This will not go on forever.

Revise your financial planning

Your budget or forecast for the remainder of this financial year and a good part of next year will need some serious revision, so start on this as soon as possible so that you can have a clearer idea of your likely financial position.

Include in your plan any assistance you expect from the government’s JobKeeper Payment for businesses impacted by coronavirus, the tax-free cash flow boosts for employers from the Australian Taxation Office and the increased instant asset write-off provisions.

And remember that your finance broker is always ready to help and advise with finance options that will help you to stretch your working capital until business gets back to normal.


Note: Statistics changing regularly

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