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Three Keys to Business Success Amid Crisis (Sponsored Content)

If they weren't fixed pre-COVID-19, now is the time to address

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In a mid-April nationwide survey, the nonprofit program Main Street America found among roughly 30 million small businesses, nearly 7.5 million were at risk for closing permanently within five months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And 3.5 million businesses were at risk of closing in two months.

The outlook is more positive among respondents of Springfield Business Journal’s 2020 Economic Growth Survey. Conducted in April, the second of two surveys revealed 13.5% said they could only survive another two months, but 41% said they could survive six months or more. Even so, 1 in 4 respondents didn’t know how long their businesses could survive – one indicator of economic uncertainty related to COVID-19.

It’s no wonder SBJ’s Business Confidence Index was 81.7, plummeting from an index of 142.8 calculated in the first 2020 survey conducted by H2R Market Research in late February.

Fast-forward to June and the economic outlook is improving as communities, including Springfield, are starting to reopen. With upticks in stock and job reports, confidence is starting to build again, says Richard Ollis, CEO and chairman of Ollis/Akers/Arney Insurance & Business Advisors and a member of Springfield City Council.

That’s especially true for companies that were in good shape before COVID-19 hit. And if a company wasn’t in the shape it should be, he says now is the time to fix things. He recommends doing that in three key ways: Improve the team, embrace technology, and strengthen the balance sheet.

The right people on the team can make all the difference, Ollis says. When a business experiences unexpected challenges, “You learn pretty quickly what kind of team you have and if they are up to working through problems and issues,” he says.

If they aren’t, and a company has the financial means, Ollis thinks there might be some good hiring opportunities.

“There are people out in the market that may be available today that weren’t available six months ago,” he says.

Other business owners recognize that opportunity, too. According to SBJ’s Business Community State-of-the-Marketplace Assessment survey in April, nearly 20% of respondents will likely hire new employees becoming available this year while over 11% say they will jettison lower performers.

Ollis says another step to take now is to shore up access to technology, whether for remote work, virtual meetings or online payment and sales. During shelter-in-place orders, working from home and conducting virtual meetings became critical. That’s unlikely to change going forward, says Ollis, and those who embrace it will be in a stronger position. Many surveyed by SBJ agree. Over 62% said even after the pandemic ends, they plan to do more online video conferencing. Roughly 75% – like Ollis – expect to reduce travel, and 58% expect to continue allowing employees to work remotely.

Finally, for business owners who don’t know how long their companies can survive a downturn, as nearly a quarter of survey respondents indicated, it’s time to improve the financial picture, Ollis says.

“For companies that didn’t have a strong balance sheet or didn’t have capital, this has been a tough time,” he says.

Businesses with cash on hand or access to capital, such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, are in better positions. They also have the means to improve their workforce and technology.

If help is needed, don’t Google for answers, Ollis says. Successful companies rely on expert advice from financial partners they can trust – such as a good bank, insurance firm and CPA.

“Those companies have the ability to weather this,” Ollis says, “as well as make smart key investments during this time.”

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