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Emerging Focus Areas for Business Owners

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is proving to be a particularly difficult challenge for many Australian businesses. On top of a lingering uncertainty on the duration and extent of the outbreak, we also now must deal with forced business lockdowns and the ongoing and far-reaching implications of that, including job losses and potentially permanent business closures.

If you have serious doubts about the long-term viability of your business, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible so that we can discuss your options and help you develop an action plan specifically for your situation.


In the meantime, there are some specific issues to bear in mind.


1. Your Workforce

With so much uncertainty about, a clear communication strategy is essential to maintain connections with employees. Share details of the actual and possible future business impact of COVID-19. Ask not only for employee support, but also their ideas on how the business can get through this.

On the HR front, there are many sensitive issues such as crafting policies for:

  • Employees who express a desire to avoid workplace contact with others;

  • Situations where a worker is feeling unwell or is suspected of being unwell but is still showing up for work (e.g. because of nil sick leave entitlements);

  • Reduced hours employment arrangements; and

  • Leave without pay.

For contractors, review contract terms to determine the rights and obligations of the respective parties.


2. Managing a downturn

The hospitality, travel and tertiary education sectors have already been severely impacted, and the flow-on impact is growing day by day.

Typical pump-priming responses to downturns will come into play, such as promotional offers and discounts, but be wary of incentives which offer delayed payment arrangements: at times like this, cashflow is key.

Some businesses can and should adjust their marketing strategy (e.g. from an overseas audience to a domestic one).

When it comes to cost reduction, there are a range of topics to discuss with us.

Manage debts owed to your business proactively.

For debts owed by your business, contact suppliers and seek their support. Landlords may be open to temporary rent reductions or lease variations.

Review all planned outlays on inputs such as consumables, trading stock and equipment.

It’s important to realise that business resilience has as much to do with recovering after COVID-19 as it is about managing temporary setbacks. Hasty decisions can prove costly in the long run. This is particularly true of labour costs. Idle employees with valuable skills could be encouraged to take leave or accept reduced hours. Employers need to think very carefully before resorting to redundancies.

If reducing employee numbers does become necessary, there are a range of options to consider such as tailored arrangements for those already contemplating retirement (known in tax circles as “approved early retirement schemes”).


3. Supply chain

Talk to critical suppliers about their ability to deliver reliably. Consider temporarily seeking alternative suppliers where the current business supply has been or will likely be interrupted.

Network with similar businesses to see if they have surplus supplies to sell. Promote those product lines less impacted by supply chain issues.

For your customers, communication and work-around solutions are key.

Legal advice may be needed to manage contractual risk on business inputs and outputs. For example, does a contract have a “force majeure” clause and if so, does coronavirus fall within its scope? Or could the contractual doctrine of “frustration” apply to end the contract because an intervening event – COVID-19 – arose through no fault of the parties. If you need a legal referral, please get in touch.


4. Travel restrictions

Management and HR teams should continue to monitor Australian Government warnings about travel, both domestic and international. Currently, there is a restriction on all non-essential travel across Australia. In addition, the majority of the States have also closed borders to inter-state travellers.

Address the loss of face-to-face contact with online communication methods – Zoom, Skype and Go To Meeting are effective tools to conduct virtual meetings. And there are countless others.

Director or board meetings which must physically be held for regulatory or other reasons should be deferred in the absence of approval to conduct such meetings remotely.


5. Your online strategy

If a business is experiencing a downturn in passing trade, can the online marketing strategy be ramped up to attract a new pool of online customers?

For employees, check whether your IT systems facilitate working from home arrangements and video conferencing. Are employees adequately trained to use such tools effectively in a way which reduces cyber risk?

Customers and suppliers may also express a preference for online engagement, so consider whether they can also be set-up with the software necessary to engage with your business online.


6. Compensation receipts

Check current insurance policies carefully to see if there is any scope for claiming and discuss with your adviser the taxable nature of any compensation receipts received.


7. Financing commitments

Engage early with financiers if there will be difficulty in meeting interest and loan repayments. These discussions need to be formal and should include the steps currently being taken to manage the downturn and the recovery plan for when conditions improve.

A number of recent announcements have been made in this area which we addressed in an earlier blog (see https://www.insightcompany.com.au/post/governments-economic-response-supporting-the-flow-of-credit)


8. PAYG instalment (PAYG-I) variations

Australia’s PAYG-I tax payment system has built-in mechanisms allowing taxpayers to vary their instalment which, for most, are paid quarterly. The March 2020 quarter looms as an important opportunity to consider varying the instalment payable late April.

PAYG-I variations calculated with reasonable accuracy by a tax professional can provide timely cashflow benefits.


9. Tax payment problems

The ATO is open to tax debt deferment requests from taxpayers who have their tax returns and Business Activity Statements up to date and can articulate how and when tax payments are likely to get back on track. Laying low and hoping they’ll just go away isn’t a good strategy when dealing with the ATO.

The ATO will work closely with any taxpayer to help them through this period, providing the taxpayer is compliant with their lodgement obligations.


10. Government support

Your business may be eligible for government incentives and concessions. For example, the Queensland Government has announced a payroll tax deferral package for small and medium Queensland businesses impacted by the coronavirus, and the other states have announced similar (and other) measures – see our brief summary at https://www.insightcompany.com.au/post/state-governments-economic-response-state-by-state

The Federal Government has also been actively announcing stimulus and other packages which will be of assistance to a broad range of individual, households and businesses – see https://www.insightcompany.com.au/post/governments-economic-response-support-for-businesses and https://www.insightcompany.com.au/post/governments-economic-response-supporting-individuals-and-households


Summary

Times are tough, there is no doubt about that. As business owners, there are some specific issues we should bear in mind during this time.

Cashflow is key to survival – and business resilience has as much to do with recovering after Coronavirus as it is about managing temporary setbacks. There will be enormous opportunities on the other side of this event for those businesses and business owners that manage the next 6 months well.



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