Experts answer small business owners' key questions about coronavirus

Experts answer small business owners' key questions about coronavirus
Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowCEOInkwell

Posted: Mon 16th Mar 2020

*** This post was published in March 2020 so some of the advice may be out-of-date. For the latest government coronavirus guidance, click here for England, here for Wales, here for Scotland and here for Northern Ireland ***

Enterprise Nation's coronavirus survival guide answered audience questions about how to react to coronavirus, with input from employment, finance and tax experts.

Over 630 business owners registered for the webinar, which included Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones, UK Small Business Commissioner Philip King, Oxwich Accountancy director Ceri Williams and Stephenson Law founder Alice Stephenson.

You can find answers to the key questions below, including how to manage your cashflow, which 64% of business owners said was their biggest concern. You can watch the webinar here.

Resources to help you:

Read on to find the answers to our audience's questions on responding to coronavirus.

Cashflow and tax

My work is project-based and promoted by trade shows and events. Are there any provisions for the loss of opportunities or expenses?

"Unfortunately, there's not a lot of help," said legal expert Alice. "The best you can hope for is that you can get your registration fee back, but that's going to be up to the organiser's terms and conditions."

My clients are extending my payments terms. What can I do?

"Check your contract because they can't change the terms retroactively," said Philip. "Talk to them and explain the impact. If you talk to the right people they'll often recognise that they need to support you and the people in their supply chain. Don't talk to accounts payable, talk to your contact."

My year-end accounts are coming up. With all this disturbance, what if I'm late?

"The fines normally relate to submitting, rather than paying. If you're in the position to submit, even if you can't pay, it's better to do it. You're charged interest for late payment.

"HMRC is obliged to forgive penalties if there's a reasonable excuse for not being able to submit," said Ceri.

Are there any banks offering or doing more for small businesses?

"All the banks are saying they're going to do more. HMRC is saying they're going to do more. Speak to the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Growth Hubs. We can help.

"As a small business, you're not alone, there's more people that can help. You're not alone, come and talk to us please," said Philip.

I started as a hotel consultant two to three weeks ago. My client has asked me to stop working. Where do I go to access short term finance?

"The British Business Bank and Enterprise Nation have lots of advice in this space. We're here to remind businesses that very often the cashflow they need is in the bank of people that owe them money. Look at the other clients that haven't yet paid you, talk to them. That's often the easiest way to get access to finance," said Philip.

How can we get access to business continuity plans? There are websites where you can download plans - what are your thoughts on them?

"You have to use them with caution. They can be useful, but make sure you read it and check it applies. There's only going to be one business that's like your business. You can get a template that will help, but you're going to have to spend a bit of time adjusting it," said Alice.

We're a Community Interest Company (CIC) that runs a ticketed event. The projections are that we have to close and this could break our business. Is there particular help for charities and CICs?

"I don't know if there's specific help for CICs. However, if your biggest outlay is a loan, the support the government is giving to lenders comes with heavy caveats that they have to pass the benefit on. Speak to the lender and see if they can give you support in terms of payment holidays," said Ceri.

Employees and home working

I need to lay people off temporarily. How do I go about doing this?

"They're either an employee of yours or not. You need to decide whether you're going to cancel the contract or stop paying them for a while," said Alice.

We have made some key sales hires recently. They were due to start at the end of the month. What can we do to delay this?

"It depends on what the contract says. If it's been signed and is in force, you are going to have to terminate it based on the terms. If you want to delay it, you're not going to be able to do it without the agreement of the employees," said Alice.

What should we do if home working isn't viable but we feel one of our team members is at risk?

"You need to do a risk assessment for your own business. As an employer, you have a duty of care that you need to take really seriously," said Alice.

We have home workers that think they cannot work from home when their children are home from school. Can we encourage non-paid days?

"If the employee is not self-isolating, they need to be working or not working. If they're not working they can take holiday or non-paid leave. You need to have a conversation with the employee about what's best," said Alice.

Insurance and contracts

Would coronavirus be considered a force majeure event in relation to cancellation?

"There's the potential it would be, but it depends on the contract. Every contract would need to be reviewed to find out if it would count and whether there are any obligations to notify them," said Alice.

I run a small private chef business. I'm the only direct employee and bookings are flatlining. How do I prove loss of income?

"I'm not sure what business support you're looking for," said Ceri. "The government announced a loan but that's not ready yet. If you have business interruption insurance, which is unusual for a small business, it comes down to whether it counts as a force majeure event."

Do you have any recommendations for invoice protection?

"If a business can't pay there are a number of avenues. Talk to the Small Business Commissioner's office. We have advice on the website and people you can talk to. If they have the cash and are using coronavirus as an excuse, there are things you can do.

If I need to adjust my terms and conditions for existing clients, can I do this or am I stuck?

"It depends, sometimes you have a unilateral right to update terms and conditions. However, it's often the case that you need approval from your client. I suggest you get legal advice," said Alice.

Selling online

I run an online shop. I'm worried about what will happen if Royal Mail closes? Should I hold off product launches?

"We spoke to Royal Mail this morning and were told they're confident they will stay open.

"We're advising all business owners to launch new products and diversify," said Emma.

Should we be sending out an email to our customers regarding how we pack our products?

"There are no legal requirements. If it's something that's being asked of you and you're seeing a lot of questions come in, it might make commercial sense," said Alice.

Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowCEOInkwell
Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

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