Here’s our New Year’s resolution for PROs everywhere. In 2021, we’re going to hang in there!
COVID-19 continues to greatly impact our lives. PROs, who have spent a great deal of effort adapting to the pandemic, now face the added weight of winter and cold weather, otherwise known as the “slow season.”
Up until this year, many sanitation businesses found that winter had become busier as society realized we could still hold parties and outdoor events in freezing temperatures, while construction and industry soldiered on through the cold. But that is not the case in this year of pandemic. The virus has put a hold on Winterfests, Christmas parades, Polar Plunges and running events, silencing active communities and businesses.
If you’ve been shut out of many work opportunities and are facing weeks of inactivity, what can you be doing to boost your business now and strengthen it for the future? We have a few suggestions.
In December 2020, the U.S. Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief bill. There may be funds now available that you can tap into. You should act quickly so you don’t lose out.
Among its main features is reopening the Paycheck Protection Program so that some small businesses can apply for a second loan. The PPP was established last year to help small businesses keep workers on their payrolls through low-interest, forgivable loans. Your bank, accountant or financial advisor can give you more information.
The package also includes stimulus checks of $600 to people whose income is below a certain level, rental assistance, and a $300 weekly federal enhancement of unemployment benefits that will last through mid-March.
Take a step back to review all aspects of your business from the past year.
It’s a good idea to rewrite your business plan during times of upheaval. You may have rewritten it at the beginning of the pandemic, so it’s time for another review. Particularly, your budget, sales forecasts and annual revenue goal may need to reflect your continued response to the changing and challenging market. Also, review your mission, vision and values, especially in the light of the pandemic. Consider how the other factors below may affect your goals.
Review the overall financial status of your company, and then break it down to its parts.
How did your company perform in 2020? Compare financial performance to your projections.
Note which traditional areas of your business, such as construction contracts, continued to be a moneymaker for you. Which sectors that you’ve depended on failed to come through? It’s likely that public events and private parties will be on that list.
Which successful new service areas did you enter in response to the pandemic? Who are your new clients? These opportunities are worth pursuing until the country makes substantial headway into the nationwide vaccination program.
Review your accounts receivable. Was it harder to collect payments in 2020? When you contact overdue accounts by phone, email or letter, be personable and polite. In difficult cases, you might offer a payment plan or a small discount if the account is paid within a certain time. Your bank may be able to offer advice and financial tools to help.
Take time to personally contact your regular customers, whether you were able to work with them during the previous year or not, as well as your new customers. Ask them how they’re doing and what their plans are for the coming year. There may be a lot of uncertainty, so reassure them that while the virus isn’t going away anytime soon, you will be available to meet their sanitation needs. Customer contact is a simple, inexpensive and effective part of your marketing efforts.
How are your employees getting along? Do they continue to have upbeat attitudes? You always want to leave the door open for them to share their questions or concerns, but also take the lead. Don’t wait for them to come to you. If you are working through the winter, weekly safety meetings are a must. Don’t forget to address the additional burdens that winter puts on your drivers, such as cold weather, poor driving conditions and fewer hours of sunlight.
It’s important to continue to emphasize sanitation and safety at your facilities, with your trucks and equipment, and on job sites. Safety makes good business sense. It’s key to maintaining your business throughout the pandemic, and it’s really about showing your concern for your workers.
However, there is always the possibility that COVID-19 and winter may team up to force you to reduce your staff. Review your options carefully, and communicate openly with your drivers. It may be possible to get by through pay cuts, furloughs (have employees work fewer hours or take unpaid time off) or temporary layoffs, with the intention of hiring the employees again when work becomes available. There are many legal and regulatory issues that may be involved, so have a thorough understanding of the situation before acting.
How have your suppliers performed during the pandemic? Were they able to meet your needs on time and in the quantities required? Keep in touch with them (it helps to have a contact person you can trust) for updates on their services and supplies. As a precaution, do research on other suppliers. Check their websites for basic information, and use social media to get in-the-field performance reviews and opinions from other PROs on their suppliers.
You should definitely make time during the winter lull to evaluate your marketing and plan for 2021. This is something you would do under ordinary circumstances, but the current situation is anything by ordinary!
Your marketing during the pandemic should appeal to a far more diverse selection of businesses and industries. You have to connect with potential customers who could use your services but don’t even know that you can meet their needs during these times.
For the most part, your marketing review won’t be much different than usual. Break it down into its components and see which strategies worked and which ones didn’t. If you had already changed your marketing in 2020 in response to the virus, what have you learned about the strategies specifically targeting new customers?
Your website is still the most important aspect of your marketing. Review it thoroughly. Does it accurately reflect the services you are offering during the pandemic? Highlight new products and services, as well as your expertise in sanitation. New photos, especially showing your service during the pandemic, will freshen up your site and reinforce your message.
Review your social media presence as well. Stay active with posts about your services, both “business as usual” and specifically about your work supporting customers during these “challenging times.”
Did you know that KFC has temporarily discontinued the use of its tagline “Finger-licking good” during the pandemic? McDonald’s in Brazil showed separated Golden Arches to bring home the message of social distancing. Look for ways like these to gain a marketing edge – perhaps new pandemic-themed stickers for your units or a slogan for your advertising and on your trucks, such as “Protecting people and businesses.”
Establish your budget, keeping in mind that you will probably continue to market pandemic services throughout much of the year.
Follow the local news to stay up-to-date on the pandemic as it affects your service area and your state, especially as restrictions may be ordered or lifted. Also, stay current on the local business scene for information on new construction projects or other opportunities. You can check with your local Chamber of Commerce.
Your finances and your sources of income may have substantially changed in 2020. Check in with your bank, CPA, accountant or other financial advisor to review your current financial situation, determine your eligibility if you need a loan, prepare your tax filings and take a fresh look at any other financial issues.
A call to your insurance agent is recommended. A main reason to review business insurance is when conditions change, and they certainly did in 2020.
Many sanitation businesses – maybe including yours – are busy throughout the winter. Make sure your active customers are familiar with any additional products and services you offer. They may decide to have more units or sanitation supplies on hand to meet increased concerns about cleanliness and safety.
Don’t neglect customers that are usually active at this time of year but aren’t this winter. Let them know you are available if and when they are able to resume their work.
Winter is traditionally the time when you catch up.
The virus has taken sanitation out of the bathroom and into offices, public spaces and other areas where it wasn’t important before. Winter is anticipated to be a bleak time. People are mostly confined indoors where the virus more easily spreads.
Where can you expand your marketing efforts? The list below from the CDC offers health guidelines about COVID-19 for specific occupations. It’s one starting point that may inspire and direct you to pursue business opportunities beyond your traditional markets:
Manufacturing and Industrial
Personal Services and Hospitality
Public Services and Sanitation
Delivery and Ground Transportation
In almost all of these instances, the CDC guidelines note the importance of proper hand hygiene, so this is an indication that there could be a market for and hand washing stations. Some may require or want to increase the number of restroom facilities they provide to their workers.
The most significant difference between 2020 and 2021 are the virus vaccines. Vaccinations in the U.S. began in December 2020, and will continue through 2021. After healthcare workers, senior care residents and staff, essential workers, older adults and people with medical conditions, the general population may start receiving the vaccine by about March through June.
During this time, the population will be urged to continue all precautions. Wearing masks will continue to be encouraged. Hand sanitation will continue to be promoted. It’s clear – the virus will have an effect on our lifestyle for much of 2021.
If you are having success marketing hand sanitation products, sinks and washstands, winter should offer continued opportunities in these areas. In the meantime, it’s also likely that as the virus is reduced, there will be slowly growing opportunities for public and private events. Warmer weather will open the door to more outdoor activities. And with sanitation still on everyone’s mind, all aspects of sanitation will be worth promoting.
Whenever you have the opportunity, be a spokesperson for good hygiene and sanitation practices. Be a booster for the sanitation industry. Recognize special efforts. While in-person events are restricted, you can still post on social media and keep in touch via videoconferencing, such as Zoom meetings.
Emphasize the most important CDC-recommended infection control measures in the workplace:
We know a lot of PROs who use the slow season to simply slow down. It’s a great idea, if you can. Relax with the family, get enough sleep, and count your blessings. Taking your mind off business, even for a short time, can rejuvenate you, possibly improve your health, and give you more energy and enthusiasm when you get back to the tasks at hand.
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