The Business Survivor’s Guide to the coronavirus crisis

How to get your business through the Covid-19 crisis

Helen Thomas on BBC1’s Newsnight programme interviewed a number of businesses including hairdressing salon owner Robert Eaton from Barnsley who said he expected a surge of business when the lock down ended. Longer hours and a seven day week were options he said, but for many in business the end of the lock down could see a much lower level of business than before March 23rd when the nightmare began. 

The Government’s help for businesses has been criticised for generally helping larger and long established companies rather than start-ups, freelancers and one man outfits. There is help for many and so they are worth checking out although don’t hold your breath that it is a panacea to your financial problems.

Away from what’s on offer from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak businesses have been telling ICSM credit some of the provisions they’ve put into practice.


If you have an industrial unit and orders literally stopped on March 24th, many firms completed any outstanding work in March, furloughed the staff and then sent everyone home, closed the doors, switched off the electricity and redirect links to the owner’s home on their phones and work emails. Of course not all businesses have been able to furlough staff so many simply laid their staff off. Not a pleasant thing to do but together with closing the business it meant overheads were slashed.

With just a handful or fewer members of staff working from home overdue accounts can be chased up, long forgotten paperwork addressed and customer data updated. It is a chance to do all those tasks that never get done.

Chase overdue invoices (with free help fromICSM Credit)

Some firms have publically announced they will not pay any invoices until they can reopen. However their protestations are not always what they seem. All will be paying some invoices so make sure you chase down those outstanding invoices however old they are and whatever the excuses given for non-payment. ICSM Credit has a free temporary membership with free legal letters which can be downloaded and sent online to debtors – and the letters are bringing in large amounts of cash during to crisis. Despite the lock down the courts are open so if clients won’t pay up or refuse to negotiate a payment plan then ICSM Credit’s debt collection department is highly effective with most overdue monies paid before court action takes place. Remember, the louder you shout the more likely you will get paid.

Skeleton operation

If orders are still coming in albeit at a fraction of previous levels then some firms are processing them with just a couple or so staff doing all the tasks themselves. From answering the phones to boxing up and dispatching orders it means the business ticks over while everyone else is dismissed, furloughed or working from home. Some members of ICSM Credit said they’ve shut down some of their offices and outlying buildings in order to save on overheads but are officially open.

Shorter working hours

Some firms have not furloughed staff but rather put them on short term working or fewer hours. Most contracts will have a clause allowing for this - especially for businesses affected by seasonal fluctuations. For smaller businesses that can keep ticking over such as take-aways, couriers and groceries this is an option and is a model for survival as the enterprise is only compromised to an extent.

Voluntary liquidation

There’s evidence that some businesses have made the decision to cease trading due to the crisis either bringing forward a planned members voluntary liquidation to wind up the enterprise or because the owner sees no future after the lock down. It is the route taken by a lot of companies going by the numbers listed every day at Companies House. If you can pay off all your debts, sell off the assets, complete your accounts and apply to Companies House to be struck off then there’s no reason why you can’t retire or start a different venture in the future. What you can’t do is cynically wind up the company, transfer all the assets into a new but identical business, dump the debt by declaring insolvency and do a phoenix when the lock down ends. You could face charges of fraud if you do.

Staff work from home

Lots of firms who operate from offices and whose only assets are lap tops and mobile phones this is an attractive option as if work flow continues as normal then there will be little difference. If the offices are rented on short term contracts then if you hand in your notice to the landlord now then apart from the saving you may get a much lower rent when things get back to normal apart from savings on coffee, milk, electricity and toner cartridges.

One aspect of home working is to double check you have insurance cover for staff working in their own homes. And then there are company laptops, phones, or are they are using their own? And if there’s an IT problem how to do resolve it (apart from switching your computer off and on) when your IT department maybe in lock down as well.

You working from home

If you have children or are living in a shared house with lots of family members, pets or lodgers then it can be a problem without a separate office or spare room. The daily distractions can interrupt the work flow although there’s no commuting which frees up more time for work or to be with the family. One issue is whether your internet is up to the job of conducting online meetings via Zoom and other apps.


Whatever the state of your business, with the current lock down take the chance to re-evaluate your business model. Do you still have a focus or has the economic situation changed your world? Are there areas which are profitable which you don’t exploit enough? How profitable are some of your customers and would it make sense to drop some of them if they consume too much time and resources? Go through your accounts and identify items that you don’t need to make a saving. Is that extra company car required – or that company gym membership worth it? And do you have too much stock? Treat the down time as an opportunity to sort out long held concerns which you can now address so that you are ready when the lock down ends.

Pre-selling for cash up front

Some businesses are offering discounts for future work for upfront payments during the crisis. Pre-selling is essentially asking your regular customers to help support your business during the crisis and it can work in some cases.


Some businesses have re-invented themselves during the crisis by using what they already have. Pubs and restaurants have rebranded themselves as take-aways, cafes and eateries have turned themselves into grocery stores while manufacturers have switched to producing PPE for the NHS. If you have a fleet of vans used for instance to deliver print then there’s no reason to market yourself as a courier company. With a little imagination diversification is an option which could see you through the crisis.

Government help: Banks and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans

The temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBIL) is aimed to give businesses access to bank loans. The government provides lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan but the borrower remains 100% liable for the debt. CBILS is operated by the British Business Bank and associated lenders. However feedback so far shows that many banks try to push applicants towards high interest loans claiming they are too risky and have been known to ask for security such as property. Plus there’s a back log so don’t expect an instant answer. The main problem businesses have found is the viability criteria with banks able to refuse businesses which are clearly viable. Hence the low take up so far.

Government help: Sick pay

Small and medium-sized businesses can reclaim a refund on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for employees affected by coronavirus. The government said it 'will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible'. It covers up to two weeks’ SSP per employee who has been off work because of the virus and is for employers of less than 250 workers.

Government help: Furloughing

All UK employers will be able to access grants to cover some of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off through furloughing. HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Again to furlough staff requires employers to jump through several hoops

Government help: Benefits for the self-employed

To qualify for Universal Credit the self-employed with trading profits of up to £50,000 a year can get up to £2,500 a month to help cover coronavirus losses. They must have submitted their self-assessment tax return for the tax year 2018 to 2019, to have traded in the tax year 2019 to 2020 and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021. You must also show you have lost trading profits due to coronavirus. But don’t hold your breath as payments are unlikely to be made until June at the earliest.

Government help: Business rates relief

To help High Street businesses in England, all retail, leisure and hospitality business will have no business rates in 2020-21. Contact your local council or unitary authority for details.

Government help: Grants for business rates paying businesses

The government offers a £10,000 grant to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value under £15,000. Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value between £15,001 and £51,000 can access a £25,000 grant. Again feedback from ICSM Credit members suggests there is a lot of form filling involved and long delays before any confirmation.

ICSM Credit

For details about ICSM Credit call 0844 854 1850 or visit the website or email Ian at on how to subscribe and to join the UK’s credit intelligence network to avoid bad debts and late payers. Follow ICSM Credit on FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube and Ian Carrotte on LinkedIn.

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