The COVID-19 virus has effectively changed the way the United States operates for the foreseeable future. With business closures and travel restrictions, the potential to harm small businesses like insurance agencies is obvious and potentially devastating. But, with the right combination of planning and flexibility — and a dash of help from your friendly FMO — it doesn’t have to derail your agency’s productivity.
If you’re concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect your agency and your clients, you’re not alone. With so many questions circulating in regard to business and living in the age of coronavirus, we’re exploring a few ways you and your agency can navigate these uncertain times as smoothly as possible.
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Keep a Healthy Workplace
If your office is still open, it’s imperative that you protect the health and well-being of the staff that’s working together. There are a few factors that enter into making sure your coworkers and employees can stay healthy, while also allowing for changes in circumstances that may arise.
Maintain Healthy Workplace Practices
Preventing the further spread of the COVID-19 virus in your workplace does more than keep your employees safe. These practices help to flatten the curve so that the health care industry has the capacity to deal with new cases and hopefully quicken the end of the pandemic. Make sure your coworkers know they can all do their part to avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of illness. To aid small businesses in this endeavor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a guidance to plan, prepare, and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Among these are suggestions to implement a healthy work environment, which includes such actions as:
- Improving office ventilation with the office ventilation system and the circulation of fresh outdoor air
- Educate and support proper hygiene and etiquette for all employees, clients, and visitors
- Provide tissues and hand sanitizers throughout the office
- Provide soap and water in restrooms, along with proper hand-washing posters or educational materials in restrooms
- Discourage handshaking while encouraging practical social distancing etiquette
- Educate employees about proper coughing and sneezing etiquette around the office
- Clean the office thoroughly, especially if a coworker or employee becomes ill
- Take caution or rethink meetings or company gatherings to prevent possible spread
You can read more about how employers can prepare the office for the COVID-19 pandemic in a joint Department of Labor/Department of Health & Human Services guidance or the earlier linked CDC guidance.
Prepare for Absences
A major way you can slow the spread of coronavirus, protect your employees, and ensure that your agency runs as smoothly as possible is to prepare for potential absences that may be required. Implementing a flexible sick leave policy, along with robust telecommuting abilities can help employees who are sick or caring for those that are — and are therefore exposed to any illness — without putting their coworkers at risk. During these extraordinary circumstances, normal requirements like a doctor’s note or positive diagnostic tests should be waived. Employees that are sick or displaying symptoms should be separated and encouraged to stay home. Right now, it’s a case of better safe than sorry.
While you’re promoting a robust sick leave and work-from-home policy, you should also prepare for extended or widespread absences. Begin planning for how you can run your agency with employees working remotely or with a large number of employees on sick leave. If Suzanne is out sick, who will help her clients until she is back? Take this opportunity to make sure that every employee has the tools they need to work remotely should the need arise. Remember, there are many estimations for how long this current pandemic could be affecting the United States, with many health care experts less certain about a viable timeframe. This makes a long-term and thorough operations plan for the foreseeable future both appropriate and responsible as an employer and business owner.
Close the Office & Work Remotely
As the outbreak progresses, it may be necessary to close the physical office to prevent the spread of the disease. Depending on your business or location, you may be forced to by a stay at home order from your state or city government. This is where the robust remote workplan comes in handy. With proper planning and preparation, you should be able to seamlessly switch from in-office work to remote work without a drop in quality of service that your clients have come to expect. This will allow you to stay open, safe, and profitable throughout the duration of the pandemic.
React to Changing Demands
As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 virus, the business environment can and most likely will change for your agency. Understanding and reacting to these changes can aid you in enduring while the pandemic is contained and treated.
There are many factors that can influence the demand for your agency’s services. During a health care crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, people are often more interested in their health care coverage. This can cause a spike in business or interest in Medicare, supplemental coverage, or other types of insurance. At the same time, practices like social distancing and office closures to respond the outbreak may keep people from going to your agency office or seeking out your services.
During a health care crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, people are often more interested in their health care coverage. This can cause a spike in business or interest in Medicare, supplemental coverage, or other types of insurance.
While you can mitigate some of these fears by providing a clean and hygienic office discussed in the previous section, it will only go so far. Being prepared to weather the low interest points and step up sales when interest is high, and having a plan to account for both, will be important to the long-term health of your agency during the pandemic and beyond.
Communication is Key
Throughout the pandemic, communication to and from all parties — whether that’s government, business, personal, or client — is key to allowing everything to run smoothly and safely. There are a few ways you can help with this and make sure the impact of coronavirus is minimized for your agency.
Explain Your Availability
It’s critical to communicate with your clients about the status of your business operations and to keep them updated as things progress. If you’re open for business, they’ll want to know. If you’re working remotely, they may be more open to meetings. If you feel you need to close shop entirely, make sure your clients know and, more importantly, know when you’ll be reopening. Other important messages to share with your clients are any safety or health precautions you’ll be taking, since this may make your clients more comfortable coming into the office and will help to ensure they follow new hygiene rules onsite.
Market Your Services
If you’re still open, either in office or remotely, you still want to market your agency, though you may rethink the location of such marketing. For example, taking your marketing online to social media may be effective since traditional media in public spaces may not reach people who are socially distancing at home. This is also where you’ll work to alleviate any worries about meeting with you, either by promoting the precautions your office has taken or by holding meetings remotely.
Share Your Plan
Communication isn’t just with clients, though. You’ll also want to be open about any strategic, safety, planning, or policy changes you’ll be making with your employees. This ensures your employees will be able to follow any new rules, enact any new strategies, and promote any new policies as they happen. You may even want to conduct tabletop exercises to simulate different scenarios that may come up and test how you and your staff may respond. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has some examples of these exercises available. This openness will also go a long way to settling any long-term fears about what may or may not happen with the agency during the outbreak. While you don’t need to reveal everything, the occasional update about the situation can maintain a consistent response from the entire agency.
Get Help When Needed
Throughout all of this, you will likely need to keep an eye on your finances, since incidents like this can put a financial strain on businesses. This can affect financial responsibilities like payroll or inventory. Laying people off is usually one of the last measures taken into account in a situation like this. These are your coworkers and friends. In many cases, you may know their families. So, if you’re feeling the financial pinch of COVID-19, finding help can make a huge difference.
SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan
If the COVID-19 pandemic has hit your agency hard, you may want to apply for a low-interest loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). These are called Economic Injury Disaster Loans. The SBA has opened this type of loan up for small businesses that need working capital after suffering substantial economic injury due to the coronavirus. These loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can be used to pay fixed debt, payroll, accounts payable, and other such bills at an interest rate of 3.75 percent for small businesses and 2.75 percent for non-profits. These loans are subject to approval. You can apply online or by calling 800-659-2955 for assistance. You can also use the SBA’s Lender Match tool to connect with SBA-approved lenders.
Business Interruption Insurance
Many businesses, agencies included, have business interruption insurance. This is a type of coverage that can replace income lost during a disaster, much like the coronavirus pandemic. It’s usually included in a property or casualty policy or as part of a comprehensive package policy. These policies can cover anything from lost profits (usually based on prior months’ profits), fixed costs, wages, taxes, or loan payments, to name a few. If you have a policy like this, contact your insurance agent to review your policy to understand what’s covered and what isn’t, in the event of an extended outage of service.
Financial assistance isn’t the only type that some people need, though. Many people are unsure how to react to a pandemic of this scale. Luckily, there are experts and professionals out there that can help you. The SBA offers a Local Assistance search tool that can connect you with local SBA partners to counsel, mentor, or even train you and your staff. The partners they can connect you with can help you update policies, craft responses, or even plan for possibilities that you may not have even suspected when you were starting out.
Utilizing Shop & Enroll for Remote Sales
Let’s say all your agents are now working remotely. You viewed it as the responsible thing to do and the capabilities were there to do so. The only downside is that clients are still uncomfortable meeting with their agents, which is making writing policies difficult. There’s good news! We developed Shop & Enroll to provide an online space for your clients to compare plans and enroll with your advice. During the age of social distancing, the remote flexibility of Shop & Enroll is a major aid to Medicare plan sales.
Shop & Enroll is a CMS-compliant platform that allows you to generate electronic Scopes of Appointment so that you can meet with your client virtually, without having to meet in person. From there, you can directly compare available plans in their area with comprehensive plan details, so they know what to expect from any plan you’re showing off. Once you’ve worked together to find a plan that fits their needs, you can enroll them directly in that plan — without ever having to leave the house and risk exposure. Once they’ve found a plan, you can help them create an account that will allow them to organize and share health information, plan details, and prescriptions for any future enrollment needs.
During the age of social distancing, the remote flexibility of Shop & Enroll is a major aid to Medicare plan sales.
Does this sound like a program you may be interested in? Well, you can sign up for a free website today. That’s right, getting started with Shop & Enroll is free for our agents, allowing you to generate leads, quotes, and enrollments from the comfort and safety of your own home.