Wolseley PRO Pipeline Blog
By Greg Weatherdon, Small Business Expert
COVID-19 has created a surreal situation only previously seen in a sci-fi movie. Nobody could have predicted a global shutdown of all non-essential services. But here we are, living in a movie.
As a plumbing or HVAC contractor that has been affected by this, what you do next matters. The action you take now will set your future path. Chances are that returning to business as usual may be a long way off and this could be our new normal for the foreseeable future. You need to realize you have one task at hand during this difficult period and that is to make sure your business survives until the storm passes. This is why what you do next matters.
As shocking as this has been, it’s time to get focused. The sheer fact that you’re self-employed means that you’ve probably faced tough times before and survived. This is no different, only the circumstances have changed. Your objective over the next the few months is to make sure you’re still standing when the restrictions ease up. Just remember as an essential service, one of the advantages you have over thousand of other businesses that were mandated to shut their doors, is that you can still do business.
Here are some tips to help you navigate these turbulent times:
The government of Canada is offering many programs that you may qualify for. Varying from payroll subsidy to no-interest loans, they could be just what you’re looking for to assist you in getting through this period of uncertainty. Each program has its own qualifying criteria, so check with your accountant as the following is just a synopsis of the programs available but certainly not definitive.
Reduce your source deductions by 10% of the gross wages for anything paid to staff after March 18th, regardless of when that money was earned. The maximum is $1375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. You can read all the information and explanations by the CRA here: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/campaigns/covid-19-update/frequently-asked-questions-wage-subsidy-small-businesses.html#h7
You may also qualify for a 75% wage subsidy. However, if you took advantage of the source deductions, this must be deducted from the wage subsidy. The criteria and various calculations are too lengthy to be properly explained here, however the following link, including examples, should answer most of your questions:
Some of you may qualify the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. This equates to $500/week for three months. This is of particular interest for owners who receive their income in the form of non-eligible dividends instead of salary. Again, the following site should answer many of your questions:
You may be able to apply immediately for this loan. This will be managed via your bank and will be interest free until. Afterwards, the interest will be at 5% and will be converted to a 3-year loan. However, if you repay $30k by December 31, 2022, the last $10k will be eligible for forgiveness. Your company could qualify if you had between $50k and $1m of payroll last year according to your T4 summary.
Let’s not forget that in addition to the government programs, you still have a business to run. The following is a list of things you need to do, and I would suggest you start implementing them today. I’ve broken them down into three sections: Your business, your operations and your customers. By implementing these items now, you’ll significantly increase your odds of making through this.
- Conserve your cash. Cut absolutely any expense that you can live without. If you must spend, look for savings. For example, I just enquired about changing cell phone providers for a client and I was surprised to find out that they could save $200/month. This is the time to look for any savings you can, because every dollar saved is probably $10 less you have to earn.
- Collect all your receivables. Consider offering a small discount to get the cash in hand.
- Contact your accountant and bank to see which of the government programs (see above) you qualify for or concessions you can get.
- Contact your landlord to see if they are willing to offer any type of concessions. Even a small reduction goes along way to conserving your cash.
- Chances are your business won’t be returning to normal any time soon. So take this opportunity to redefine what your business will look like in the future. Chances are you have accumulated a list of things you would like to do differently, but you never had the time. Now you do.
- Talk to your staff and keep them informed of what you’re doing. Ask for their input on how you can keep some business coming in. Is work sharing or reduced hours an option? You’ll want to make sure you can keep as many of your staff when the crisis subsides. Including them in the conversation shows leadership, and you just may get some great ideas.
- Reduce vehicle use and route your service calls in the most efficient manner to reduce costs.
- Make sure your service vehicles are stocked to avoid any unnecessary trips, again to reduce costs.
- Make sure your technicians are equipped with necessary safety gear i.e. masks, shoe covers, face shields and gloves. You want them protected when on call. Also make sure your technicians use a disinfectant to wipe down their work when completed.
- To minimize contact between personnel, email work orders to your technicians. When the job is done, they can take a photo of completed work orders and email it to the office. This may also reduce travel to and from the office.
- Limit unnecessary contact and save time by ordering supplies online and opting for delivery or curbside pickup at the branch.
- If you haven’t done so yet, contact all your customers to let them know that as an essential business, your doors are still open. Don’t assume they know, most don’t. With everybody working from home, you may be surprised how many problems they’re noticing. A simple email will do for your residential customers but a phone call to your larger customers is a must.
- Screen any customer enquiry before sending a technician. Find out if they have any symptoms or have recently returned from overseas travel. Also, advise them that while your technician is on site, they must be able to work alone for everyone’s protection.
- With all the restrictions in place, many homeowners cannot access simple maintenance items like furnace or water filters, softeners, etc. Maybe it’s a service that you can provide for a small fee since you have easy access to these supplies online at WolseleyExpress.com or by calling your local Wolseley branch. This would be particularly useful to seniors or people with disabilities who aren’t able to order online or are can’t wait in line at the few remaining retailers still open.
- It’s also time to get a little creative in your selling approach. Let’s remember that a good chunk of the population is still working and therefore are still able to spend their money on your services. If a customer is looking to replace a piece of equipment or finish a project but want to limit contact, why not have them forward you pictures or even video. You can have them send specific pictures i.e. Furnace, existing duct work or shower location along with any other pertinent information you require. That way you can actually see the job and most likely provide a quote from this information. Just because you haven’t done it before doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Your number one priority during this crisis is to survive. It’s not the time to worry about profitability because breaking even is okay. I only suggest this approach in times of crisis. You can always increase your prices back to where they were when this is over. If living to fight another day is your goal, then what you do next, matters.
Greg Weatherdon is a small business expert and author of Get More LIFE Out of Your Business. He also produces The Small Business Minute Podcast that available on all major platforms including iTunes, Google Play and Spotify. Visit www.gregweatherdon.com for more information.
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