turn your business into an essential business blog

Turn Your Business into an Essential Business

What is an Essential Business?

Technically, it's up to cities and states to decide, but there are some businesses that have been deemed essential throughout all states. The Department of Homeland Security has also issued a guidance on workers who are essential to infrastructure.

As nonessential businesses continue to shut down, what is considered essential will likely vary based on the needs of each location. However, businesses that people rely on in everyday life will largely remain open.

Become Essential to Infrastructure

Under the CISA guidelines there are a couple of instances that can deem your business as essential.



snack rack in store


Under Food and Agriculture all workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other retail (including unattended and vending) that sells human food, animal and pet food and pet supply, and beverage products, including retail customer support service and information technology support staff necessary for online orders, pickup, and delivery.



small soda fridge in store


How this pertains to you?

    Carrying even a small amount of any of these products in your storefront to sell to your customers qualifies you as an essential business under these guidelines. You are still able to carry and sell other products, but having these essential items ensures your ability to open up and remain open. Product examples include:
  • Food Items (canned, perishables, etc.)
  • Beverages (water, juice, etc.)
  • Over the counter medicine
  • Cleaning Supplies
  • Consumables (paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, etc.)
  • Laundry Detergent
  • PPE (face masks, gloves, sanitizer)
  • Dog Food & Treats

What is considered essential varies from city to city, but the items listed above have been deemed a necessity for everyday life.

How to Reopen & Stay Open?

Once deemed an essential business, it isn’t as easy as opening your doors and going back to “business as usual”, there’s a lot more to it than that.

If you are preparing to reopen in the coming weeks, it is still important to be in "survival mode" to be able to outlast this pandemic. The first initial thought should be about what the plans are for opening and how to reach across to vendors, customers, and employees to begin to function again. Here are some items to keep in mind when looking to open back shop.

1. Develop New Policies:

When your doors are finally back open it doesn’t mean the risk has been eliminated. What do you do if someone is sick even in the slightest? Will you be taking employee and customer temperatures upon entering your workplace? You need to make it clear that everyone who has a fever will go home, for instance.



hand sanitizer at work


2. Create Healthy Habit:

    The safety of employees and customers has to be the number one priority when making business decisions throughout the pandemic. This often meant being flexible to quickly adapt to new ways of working. At other times, it meant a refresher on the basics, including proper hand-washing techniques and other hygiene practices. Regularly encourage employees to practice hygiene recommendations from the CDC through proper communication channels.
  • Post signage at time clocks, in break rooms and employee restrooms about the importance of following healthy habits.
  • Prepare huddle guides or talking points that encourage employees to follow hygiene practices.


store policy during covid-19


3. Educate Customers:

    Employees often aren’t the only ones in your locations. You may have customers, vendors or other guests who should take steps to protect others. Here are some ways you can reinforce healthy habits for anyone who enters your facilities.
  • Post signs at entrances notifying customers to STOP if they are sick and ask them not to enter our stores.
  • Increase the availability of hand sanitizer, wipes and cleaning of frequently touched surfaces for both customers and employees.
  • Create a plan for how you will acquire and distribute these items.
  • Add labor to cover additional breaks for employees to wash hands and sanitize stations regularly, including registers, hand-held devices, door handles, restrooms, shelves and other surfaces.
  • Consider suspending or modifying your return policy.


store customers social distancing


4. Encourage Physical Distancing:

    Beyond good hygiene it is important to encourage maintaining a six-foot physical distance from others to reduce the spread of illness. Being open to the public can make it hard for customers and employees to keep a safe distance. These actions can help.
  • Install protective plexiglass screens at service counters.
  • Display signage at entrances and registers to remind customers of physical distancing at every opportunity.
  • Promote physical distancing where customers may linger by adding floor decals at registers and service counters and limiting waiting areas.
  • Close any sitting areas.
  • Adopt capacity limits based on the size of your facility and be prepared to queue customers outside while still maintaining physical distance.

5. Step Up Cleaning Procedures:

    Maintaining a clean work environment will help control the exposure and spread of COVID-19. Consider how these practices can help keep your business sanitized and clean
  • Enhance your daily sanitation practices, including registers, hand-held devices, credit card terminals, food service counters, door handles, conveyor belts, restrooms, shelves and other surfaces.
  • Assign extra staff to allow for frequent hand-washing rotation for front-end employees.
  • Clean and stock bathrooms more frequently.
  • Instruct employees to wipe down equipment between every use.


employee with face mask on


6. Require PPE:

    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including facial coverings, masks and gloves, can be useful in reducing the spread of illnesses. Our “new normal” likely means that these items will become a common, even expected, sight in public places for some time to come. Here are a few recommendations related to PPE:
  • Require employees to use masks or approved facial coverings and gloves while working and provide them if you can. If you allow employees to bring their own, be clear about what is appropriate.
  • Make sure team members know how to properly use and safely dispose of these items.
  • Knowing that these items alone are not enough, educate employees on good personal hygiene and other healthy habits like hand-washing that can make PPE more effective.


checking workers temperature


7. Monitor & Support Employees:

    Employees should only be working if they are healthy and symptom free. There are steps you can take to encourage employees to protect others by taking care of themselves.
  • Check temperature at the beginning of each shift requires a fair amount of coordination so be sure to have a fully thought out protocol before beginning this process.
  • Make sure to consider the equipment needed, role and safety of staff performing the checks, employee privacy and protocol for when elevated temperatures are discovered.
  • Encourage employees who feel sick to stay home. Consider revising paid time off options to support this behavior.
  • Have a well-defined protocol for employees who may be ill or who have been exposed.

8. Prepare Employees:

Employees must be aware of the latest safety protocol in order to follow it. Regular communications and easy-to-access resources will help ensure your guidelines are understood and followed.



helping customers during covid-19


9. Embrace Alternative Buying/Pickup Options:

    Digital capabilities allow us to maximize physical distancing practices, utilize contactless transactions and pickups while continuing to provide an excellent shopping experience. Evaluate your business model and available technology to see where you can increase your digital presence and increase contactless options.
  • Offer free or reduced fees on pickup or delivery services.
  • Encourage employees to practice physical distancing during pickup and delivery by talking with the customer through a passenger window, loading items directly into the customer’s trunk without contact, or leaving items at their door.
  • Be prepared for demand and adjust availability if items become unavailable or place limits if appropriate.

10. What Products to be Deemed Essential?

You must ensure that all employees and customers are adhering to the necessary guidelines. Which means many worksites will need to be reworked to allow for proper social distancing. Start planning now so that you're prepared when you’re open.

Another key component is figuring out scheduling. Many jobs that must be done on-site do not need to have everyone there at the same time. Can you stagger schedules so that fewer people are there at a time? How can you make it fair? How will you handle cleaning?

If you’ve closed shop and plan to reopen do you need to make new hires? Naturally, the easiest way to do this is to reach out to the people you laid off, but some might not want to return. With laid-off employees now collecting unemployment benefits, and some are receiving an additional $600 per week through July as a part of the federal government's recent stimulus package, they might wish to continue to stay on unemployment, so this is important to plan for.

With so many people out of work and so many people anxious to come back, don't mistake enthusiasm for preparedness. Start working on your plans now.

Cut Costs Wisely:

We know that most companies are in a cash crunch at the moment so the first thing that would come to mind is cutting costs, but this can be detrimental in the long run. We recommend that before making cuts, run that through your financial projections and think about growing out of this crisis. Cuts can ultimately hurt your ability to generate revenue or keep your business going.

Adapt Business Practices

When your business reopens, you have to keep in mind that some of your vendors may not. That could require finding new vendors. Another issue is having to get your products to customers who may not be able to come to you. This may incur additional costs for delivery expenses to your customers. It’s important to be able to adapt to current conditions in order to be able to open up and continue to keep your doors open.

Loans Available to You:

Keeping track of all the relief programs that are currently available can feel like a full-time job. While portions of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans can be forgiven and converted to grants, there are still plenty of other small-business grants available at state and local levels.

Here is a list of states, cities, counties, and corporations providing grants for small businesses.

General Grants

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, in partnership with Vistaprint, is launching the Save Small Business Fund, which provides $5,000 for businesses that employ between three and 20 people, among other qualifications.
  • Facebook is committing to supporting 10,000 U.S. small businesses with a $40 million fund. The fund is only available in certain locations.
  • In partnership with Verizon, the digital fundraising and advocacy platform Hello Alice is offering emergency grants of up to $10,000 for companies impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • GoFundMe has partnered with Intuit QuickBooks, Yelp, GoDaddy, and Bill.com to give small businesses a $500 grant if they raise at least $500 on GoFundMe.

State Grants

  • The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) website features a state tracker of financial incentive programs across the country, updated twice a year.
  • Illinois' Department of Commerce is providing businesses not located within the Chicago area, through the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program, grants of 60 days of working capital up to $25,000. This is available for businesses that employ 50 people or fewer.
  • The Texas Black Expo is offering micro-grants to small business owners who have been in business for two years, are currently open, and are experiencing coronavirus-related hardship.
  • Virginia entrepreneur Pete Synder is offering emergency funding for businesses that employ three to 30 people and have been operating for at least a year.
  • Washington allocated $5 million to the Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grant program, which offers grants up to $10,000. Applications will be administered by the county. Small businesses must have been active for a year, employ no more than 10 people full-time, and use the money for operational expenses.

City Grants

  • Seattle-area businesses can apply for Amazon's Neighborhood Small Business Relief Fund. Available to businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue that have brick-and-mortar locations.
  • Businesses within the South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood of Seattle can apply for emergency relief grants from the SLU Chamber of Commerce.
  • The city of Lacey, Washington, is offering grants of up to $10,000 from a $500,000 pool to small businesses with fewer than 25 employees.
  • Many cities in Oregon are offering small grants to local businesses, click here to see what’s available near you.
  • The City of Fitchburg, Massachusetts allocated $100,000 for $2,500 grants for small businesses, particularly ones hardest-hit by the coronavirus. Applications are available here.

County Grants

  • Duane County, Wisconsin, businesses struggling with Covid-19 can apply for grants of $1,000 to $50,000. Applications are due June 15.
  • Shawnee County, Kansas, via GO Topeka, is offering grants up to $5,000 for small businesses that face coronavirus-related hardship, and particularly affected industries like restaurants and retail.

More Resources:

We hope this information was a helpful tool and will lead you on your way to reopening and staying in business. As Long as you follow the CDC guidelines set for essential businesses and practice social distancing, you will fall under state law ordinances to legally stay in business.

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