This isn’t the story that Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe intended to tell. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the sister team behind Mandy’s Gourmet Salads were in the middle of plans for an ambitious national expansion for their Montreal restaurant chain. When they returned from a short family vacation to find the economy shutting down and their business facing an indefinite period of uncertainty, they had no choice but to act fast.

“We came back to a very new world, where everything was slowly shutting down due to COVID-19,” says Mandy Wolfe. “There was a definite level of disbelief, and we were also panicked, and scared.”

With a robust take-out and delivery service already in place, the sisters quickly closed restaurant eating areas for the safety of customers and put plans in place to keep staff safe, morale high and revenue coming in. They introduced a grocery and meal-kit delivery service to help feed busy families; delivered food to newly-settled refugee families with their charity, the Welcome Collective; and Mandy and Rebecca themselves made sure that three days a week they delivered meals to front-line workers at Montreal’s hospitals and long-term care facilities.

After a few months of uncertainty, the Wolfe sisters say the business is in recovery mode, and they hope they’ve made it through the worst of it. Chris Gandhu, a High Net Worth Planner at TD Wealth, and Eric Partee, Account Manager, Small Business Banking at TD Canada Trust, offer some ideas for business owners to consider as they look to move forward in an uncertain economy:

1) Get creative

Just as Mandy’s moved into grocery delivery and pre-packaged meal kits, companies may be able to rework their product or service offerings to meet a new need. “We’ve heard the stories about breweries and distilleries that have recognized the need for hand sanitizer,” says Partee. “By adapting their product line to include specially-produced hand sanitizer, it allows them to maintain a revenue stream and keep staff employed.”

2) Tell your story

Businesses that have bounced back often have a strong social media presence which they use to let their clients know they are open for business and what safety measures they are taking. This is something the Wolfe sisters made sure to do with Mandy’s. “You may be able to attract a larger client base by providing reassurance and transparency over businesses whose social media presence is lacking,” says Partee.

3) Keep tight budgets

Even though access to wage subsidies, grants and interest-free loans can make it tempting to spend on the business, cash is king, says Gandhu. “Right now, it’s a good idea to really question all your expenses. This may be the time to renegotiate contracts with suppliers, cut unnecessary costs, and maybe choose to do things yourself rather than outsourcing.”

4) Recognize timely opportunities

“This may be a good time to capitalize on the downturn to buy out competitors, or pick up equipment at a discount due to other businesses liquidating,” says Gandhu. “Companies that do this may be positioning themselves for expansion at a discount for when things recover.”

Gandhu also says to maintain close ties with your bank, your business advisors and accountants. They may be able to help you by find cash flow if you need it, and assist you in creating a plan to help you get back on track.

Denise O’Connell, MoneyTalk Life