COVID-19: What the HELL do I do now?

Managing your business during a crisis is never easy. The difficulty is compounded when the crisis is in your business AND all around you. Right now, as business owners and managers, you’re facing tough decisions about your staff and your business while staring down the barrel of uncertainty. When clients ask me “So what about [insert subject here]?” My answer is often, “Well, it depends. What are you trying to do? What are your goals?” That answer has never been more true than now. Clear guidance is hard to come by right now and, even where there is clear guidance, it’s changing from day to day. Nonetheless, here are the things that I’d think about when making decisions with legal consequences:

  1. Survival Mode: Curtail unnecessary expenses and activities. It’s most critical that the business survives this current climate so that it can return and rebuild.
  2. Maintain Necessary Expenses and Relationships: We will endure this pandemic and we will rebuild. The success we have at rebuilding our businesses will be forged in the actions we take now and the relationships that refuse to let sour. Work with people who owe you money and those you owe. Burning a relationship during this time for the sake of a short term gain doesn’t make sense.
  3. Don’t Ignore the Future: Survival mode is key and of utmost concern. But, don’t ignore what you’ll need 3, 6, and 12 months from now – some projects will still need to happen (though maybe at a slower pace) to make sure that you are positioned for recovery.
  4. TTB/ABC Compliance: The ABC and TTB are doing their best to issue guidance with regard to the current state of things. And, it’s likely that enforcement will be somewhat less strict during this pandemic as people try and salvage their businesses. But, the law is still the law. Do not treat this crisis as an opportunity to flaunt the regulations or to “get away with it” – you don’t want to be the one that they decide to make an example out of.
  5. Employees: There are a lot of resources that are available, and more becoming available every day, about what to do about employees, furloughs, layoffs, etc. But – and this is critical – this one of the key areas where the environment is changing day to day. What you heard yesterday may not be entirely correct today – especially given the number of “programs” and “packages” that are being discussed or passed at the state and federal levels. Who qualifies for what assistance (both for business and employees) is changing fairly rapidly, so it’s important to continually re-assess your decisions and actions when it comes to your employees.
  6. Packages and Bailouts: The different packages and programs being debated and passed look like life lines for businesses – a way to keep the doors open. (check out the BA’s page on resources and their FAQs). But, beware, you cannot “borrow your way out” of debt. Most of the options right now are structured as loans and that means there is repayment required (some may be forgivable under certain circumstances). Be cautious that you’re not merely “kicking the can down the road,” where you’ll have the same issues but now you’d also have more debt.
  7. Rent and Other Contracts: Many leases and contracts have a “Force Majeure” clause, or some other means of addressing “factors beyond the control of the parties.” Check your agreements and see if this situation may apply. Even if it doesn’t apply, or you have no such leeway in your agreement, you need to open up the conversation with people to set expectations and see what ability you have to work through the issue – preferably before you are forced to breach the agreement.
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