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While Northern Virginia has been excluded from Gov. Ralph Northam’s first phase of reopening, businesses in other parts of the state are slated to reopen doors on May 15. But those who opt to reopen will be facing changes that would require them to rethink their business models, including ensuring employees are fully equipped to take safety measures and monitoring customer behaviors to improve service and maintain safety. There have been local efforts to help entrepreneurs dealing with COVID-19, like Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development, which rolled out several grants and loans like its Building Resiliency Among Charlottesville Entrepreneurs program and a series of webinars called Pivoting Your Business Model, Financial Stability and Recovery organized by the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Piedmont Virginia Community College. David Deaton, of Deaton Group, taught the series. And as the sessions concluded Wednesday morning, he shared a few ways businesses could reopen during the pandemic. Hosting webinars and training is essential for business in a time like this as the pressure of the pandemic has gotten tougher for some businesses recently. When Gov. Northam ordered nonessential business to close, some closed temporarily. But some wound up shuttering for good. Here is what Deaton suggests: Reinforcing social distancing Putting signage to reinforce social distancing rules. Communication is important whether it’s signage on the door or on the ground. I’ve seen businesses putting tape marks and a line and that’s been effective. They should also separate entrance and exit to make sure the flow of people goes well without having to cross. Promoting hygiene Provide training. If employees are handling cash, they shouldn’t handle it with gloves on. They should make sure the surfaces are clean if people are using a debit/credit card. Part of the solution is to train employees on those procedures and not expect these things will happen. If there’s not a self-serve sanitizer, you could place someone at the entrance to make sure that everyone can come in and be as safe as possible.
David Deaton, of Deaton Group, taught a series of webinars for businesses that wrapped up May 13. . Credit: Spirit of 608 Credit: Spirit of 608
Social media plan Make sure social media is properly used. As the situation moves forward, people will use social media to learn how a business is doing. People will take photos and share the good and the bad things. Entrepreneurs should make sure there’s a social media strategy in place to monitor and respond. Social media is where people are going to be looking at whether it’s safe to be at a specific place. Monitor customer behavior Be attentive to customer behavior. You should pay attention to whether the customers are feeling comfortable. Make sure there’s attentiveness and understanding that customers are feeling all right, so that you can build the most comfortable environment for them. Creating a ready-plan It’s a plan to be ready to open. When you think about all the things that need to be done, put them in a logical flow, including operational, customer issues and finance issues. That plan should be in a comprehensive scope. The plan should look at your total business. You’re kind of mapping out like you would with any project that you plan. You may look at the plan by managing it by milestone. This means if something is completed, then you move on to the next phase. First is setting a hard date, and just marching forward. To put this in context, some businesses I’m aware of aren’t necessarily announcing a public reopening. They may have one in mind, but they’re not talking about it . They’re doing it internally, and thinking about their business in a comprehensive way, like all the things that they need to do to plan to be ready. And when they feel ready, then they’re going to announce the date. It’s a way of managing them as milestones versus saying I want to be open in X day.

Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.