Many small businesses are struggling to survive in the economy with their primary sources of income being taken away as a result of the stay-at-home order put in place, and recently extended to April 20, by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to contain COVID-19.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce has created the Indy Chamber Rapid Response Hub for COVID-19 that is targeted at small businesses. This hub provides a list of resources for people and businesses affected by the virus.
The hub provides information on different topics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and how small businesses can survive. The hub recommends using the virus overview made by the Marion County Public Health organization for any questions regarding the virus.
The hub also has a FAQ that outlines some of the information put out by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. According to OHSA. there are four different risk zones that workplaces have been divided into. The highest threat being those in medical services working directly with those who have COVID-19. The second highest is those in medicine that have the opportunity to be exposed to the virus but are not working directly on it. The third is those with jobs that are public orientated such as school workers and some high volume retail workers. The last and lowest threat level is those that have very little access to the public, such as those who work in offices.
For employees who have been rendered unemployed, the hub advises that they file for unemployment through the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. For more information about unemployment in Indiana, click here.
As a way to support those small businesses, the federal government is offering disaster relief in the form of low-interest loans. The Small Business Administration is responsible for distributing these loans, according to the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. These funds are available through the SBA’s website at www.sba.com/disaster.
The SBA has given a list of advice for small businesses and what they can do to survive during this time. Some of the advice is to separate and send sick employees home and to perform routine deep cleans of businesses.
According to University of Indianapolis Assistant Professor of Management Dexter Gruber, there are three risk areas that businesses need to be focusing on during this time. The first is the health risk.
“You got to recognize the potential risk for liability,” Gruber said. “If I’m open and I’m requiring my employees to be there and they get sick… what are the liabilities I might incur if, [and] likewise my customers, my customers come in and get sick from my employees?”
Gruber said one of the best ways for businesses to protect themselves is to focus on getting documentation of the efforts to stop the spread of the disease.
“As the business owner or manager, I want to document everything we’re doing,” Gruber said. “So if we do get sued, I can come back and say, ‘We were having everybody stay six feet apart. I was monitoring that situation.’ Written records are always better. Memories are short. There’s an old saying the weakest ink is better than the strongest memory”
The second of the risks that businesses need to be focusing on is the mental risk among employees, according to Gruber. He said that for many of the people who are being forced to work from home, it can be stressful and hard to focus.
“If I’ve never worked from home before, this is a big change. Not only do I have to change my surroundings, I’ve got to rely on tech that’s probably not up to the challenge. I’m off my routine,” Gruber said. “I’m used to getting up in the morning, showering, driving into work. Well, I don’t have those, those rituals anymore. That gets me out of my comfort zone”
According to Gruber, another risk is the financial risk. He said that the common idea is that a business is supposed to have saved up three to six months of operating expenses yet the majority do not have that.
Around UIndy’s campus, according to Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Marcos Hashimoto there are several small businesses that are reliant on the campus community to survive, such as Books & Brews and Jailbird. He said that his advice for businesses like those is to look to new markets and other marketing opportunities.
“If I were Books & Brews or Jailbird, I would start printing discount flyers and distribute them door to door in the neighborhoods and start to explore this new market opportunity,” Hashimoto said. “You can see only the cup half-empty, but you can also see the cup half-full and see the opportunities.”
Joshua Gonzales, the owner of Jailbird, a bar located off of Shelby Street near UIndy’s campus, said that he has had to be creative with what Jailbird can do.
“We’re offering a very small, concise menu [of] just burgers and hot dogs, essentially french fries and wings,” Gonzales said. “We are allowed to do package liquor sales as well. So we’re doing that.”
Books & Brews South Indy co-owner Keith Fechtman said that he is using this time to work on projects that he has been wanting to do.
“We are trying to come up with creative marketing strategies as to how to promote our food and beverages through short videos on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, any social media platform that we can reach out to our current or future customers,” Fechtman said.
For our latest coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus’ impact on the University of Indianapolis, go to http://reflector.uindy.edu/tag/covid-19/.