Business Resources & Free Guide

This workbook was designed to help businesses assess their initial responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and to build a plan moving forward during an extremely uncertain time. While a typical natural disaster (flood, hurricane, fire, etc.) is precipitated by a single event with a relatively linear recovery process, COVID-19 demonstrated a period where even the steps to recovery were unknown and constantly changing.

The truth is that our business world today IS constantly changing, and next-steps are not always clear.

As a business owner, planning for sustained uncertainty can be overwhelming. This workbook provides you with the opportunity to reflect on the actions you have already taken in response to COVID-19 (or any significant event in your business), walks you through business best practices, and helps you set concrete goals to move forward. This workbook is also available in Spanish.

The foundation of this workbook is strategic planning for small businesses. –

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Selected Resources and Best Practices

While no guide can provide a comprehensive look at all best practices, the selected resources provided here can help you learn more about select topics in the following areas:

  • Financial Management
  • Business Operations & Cybersecurity
  • Employees
  • Customers/Marketing
  • Products & Services
  • Leadership

As you reflect on your early response to COVID-19 and consider what best practices you would like to implement or enhance, these resources can help you formulate your next steps.

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Financial Management

Understand Key Accounting Terms

Understanding the language of accounting is essential for good conversations with service providers. Take time to review the 21 Accounting Terms all small business owners should know.

Understand Basic Cash Flow Management & How it Applies to Your Business

  • Looking to feel more confident in your financial knowledge? Join the SBDC at UW-Madison for one of our accounting classes to help you learn how to manage cash flow, read financial statements, assess your financial data, and more.
  • Cash flow is a term that describes the way cash flows into and out of your business. The ability to predict your cash needs is essential. Cash on hand will give a business more flexibility in uncertain times. 
  • Looking for a basic cash flow tool to help you make projections for the next 12 months? Our SBDC colleague at UW Eau Claire has created a webinar and cash flow tool that can help you make more educated decisions.
  • No-cost alternatives for Excel
  • Looking for funding for your business? Kiva is an online crowdfunding program that provides 0% interest loans to entrepreneurs and start-up businesses. Kiva loans include a private fundraising period, after which the application is posted online for a public fundraising period.

Hire an Accountant 

An accountant is a key member of your team of advisers (in addition to an attorney, insurance agent, lender, etc.). It is essential to interview several accounting firms to find a good fit. Industry experience, cost, and scope of services are all aspects to consider in choosing an accountant. Review What the 5 most important questions to ask before hiring an Accountant.

Choose an Accounting Software

A key function in being able to understand your overall financial picture is the quality of your reports. Good reporting comes from accurate inputs and functional software. Having cloud-based software allows you to easily access information remotely. How to choose an Accounting software.

Understand Your Risk Tolerance and Decide When to Take on Financial Risk

Risk tolerance is an important factor in entrepreneurship; most entrepreneurs have a higher risk tolerance than the general public. There is no one-size-fits-all answer about how much financial risk (debt) you should take on; this is an individual decision based on a variety of factors. Even so, you will want to make educated decisions in collaboration with your stakeholders. If you are signing a contract in particular, this is a good time to involve your attorney.  

Seeking Funding

The SBA has created a variety of grant and loan programs to support COVID-19 recovery. In non-COVID times, there are limited grant programs available – most commonly for specific categories of business. To learn more about loan and grant opportunities for funding, visit this resource page created by the Wisconsin Technology Council.


Financial Management for Freelancers

The Freelancer’s Handbook, endorsed by America’s SBDC is an excellent resource to give you an overview of taxes, benefits, quarterly payments and more for freelance entrepreneurs.

Small Business Taxes

View this recorded small business tax workshop from the IRS to learn more about the basics of how taxes are structured and what you need to know.

More about small business taxes from the IRS.

Business Operations & Cybersecurity


One key way to mitigate risk in your business is to purchase insurance. The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has developed the Consumer’s Guide to Insurance for Small Business Owners to help you better understand the types of insurance available for small businesses and  how to buy the coverage you need.

Reduce Cybersecurity Risks

Stay Updated on Current COVID-19 Health & Safety Regulations, Reopening Guidelines

Explore Moving Products Online

Establish Alternate Suppliers

With international disruptions in the supply chain, many businesses are looking for suppliers closer to home. The Wisconsin Supplier Network can help you find a partner for a variety of products, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Hire a Lawyer

  • An attorney is a key partner in your business. Learn more about how to hire the best attorney for you.
  • The Wisconsin Bar Association’s “I Need a Lawyer” search will help you find an lawyer to interview. Make sure to speak with several lawyers in order to find your best fit! 
  • The Business Law Section of the Wisconsin State Bar has launched an initiative to provide eligible individuals and organizations with non-litigation business law services they could not otherwise afford, especially on urgent legal needs arising in the wake COVID-19.
  • The UW-Madison Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic is designed to help entrepreneurs develop businesses that create a positive economic impact for the state of Wisconsin. The Clinic is able to work with a limited number of businesses who apply, based on the criteria outlined on their website.


Evaluate Your Employee Needs

While many businesses may currently be limiting hiring to save costs, that means that when hiring does take place, it needs to count. The first step in making an effective hire includes writing effective job descriptions.

Adding employees to your team can take a variety of forms beyond full-time staff. In fact, hiring part-time or temporary staff can help you better understand your needs. Several options include:

    • Hiring freelance staff through websites like Fiverr or Upwork
    • Hiring refugees
    • Hiring employees under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit program.
    • Hiring student staff
      • The Federal Work-Study program is a federally funded initiative that aims to bring employers and college students together to build impactful employment opportunities that benefit both the employer and student. In the past, this program has been reserved for on-campus and non-profit organizations, but has recently been expanded to small businesses in the surrounding Madison area. Benefits of and eligibility for the program:
        • 75% of the wages earned by eligible students will be covered by the program, leaving only the remaining 25% to be paid by your business (until the student’s award amount has been met)
        • Verify your eligibility for this program by completing the Federal Work-Study partner eligibility questionnaire. The process of becoming a FWS partner takes about 3-4 weeks, from the date the application is received to the final approval. If deemed eligible, you will be able to compensate UW-Madison student employees using funds provided by the FWS program.

Understand New Employment Laws

Create or Update Your Organizational Chart

By having an updated organizational chart, you have the ability to better acquaint new members to your team and to better clarify how different roles in your organization fit together. View a sample organizational chart here.

Update Your Employee Handbook & Policies

Functionally, your employee handbook serves as both your contract with your team and a resource to new employees as they seek to learn their role in the organization. If you do not currently have an employee handbook, you can view a few example employee handbooks here. If you do already have an employee handbook, it is likely that you will need to make updates to include additional information about COVID-19 safety protocols. The Dane County Public Health website has examples of how to:

  1. Create and adopt a hygiene policy
  2. Create and adopt a cleaning policy
  3. Create and adopt a protective measures policy
  4. Create and adopt a process for staff receipt, acknowledgement, or training on the policies

Understand Unemployment Options

Understand Information About Employee Rights

Establish safe office practices: Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene COVID  Consultation Program Can Help

Just as our Navigating the New Normal guide can help you plan your business response to COVID, the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene can assist you with your COVID-19 health response. Services include:

  • Developing a COVID Exposure Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Plan
  • Helping identify potential administrative, engineering, and PPE controls related to COVID exposure in the workplace
  • Conducting a job hazard analyses or workplace risk assessments pertaining to COVID

What can businesses expect from the service? You will receive a service term agreement that spells out expectations. Then a consultant will determine if an onsite or virtual visit will be conducted. Prior to the visit, the consultant will review any COVID plans already in place to help identify deficiencies and will provide industry-specific guidance on best practices. The consultant will take notes and rate the business using a COVID Report Card. Following the visit, you will receive a visit summary including details on recommended improvements. The consultant will be available to provide advice on how to make these improvements.

How do I request a consultation? Fill out the COVID-19 Consulting Service Request Form onlinee-mail, or call (608) 226-5246 with questions.

Guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

WorkFlex and Telework Guide

FAQ…What steps to take if your Employee tests positive for Covid 19 or is exposed 

Customers & Marketing

Understand Your Target Market

Use the data from your business to identify demographic information about your customers. This can come from sales records, a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system, social media accounts, mailing lists, etc. What do you know about them for sure and what do you know about them anecdotally? When you wrote your initial business plan, you likely did research to understand the customer. Some of this research was through library sources like IBIS World, or through trade associations. You may have determined geographic location or market size via US Census data. You may have conducted other research via surveys or small focus groups. You sought to understand their needs, wants and what motivates them to purchase. It is necessary during this time of disruption to review this important information.  In addition, you will need to understand how to build consumer confidence, the feeling consumers have about the current and future economic outlook.  

Understand Customer Psychographics (Empathy Map by XPLANE)

An empathy map is a tool that business owners can use to better understand their customers’ psychographics, including needs, wants, and motivations. Likely, when you started your business, you created something similar to this; however, it is a good idea to revisit the process now that so much has changed for our customers as a part of the pandemic. This particular empathy map was created by XPLANE.  

Establish Your Brand

Your business’ brand is one of the non-tangible assets you have available to you to leverage. That brand may have shifted during the pandemic, or it may have stayed the same. Either way, it is helpful to consider brand planning moving forward.

While you navigate crisis, a brand mantra can help your team establish focus and build motivation. This resource provides additional information about how to create a brand mantra.

Develop a Marketing/Communication Plan 

Whether you are working with a marketing professional or doing the work yourself, it is helpful to understand the basics and key terms associated with customer acquisition, as explained in this “101” SBDC blog article.

Communication is always key with your customers, but it is especially important during a time of so much change and uncertainty. This sample marketing plan template from the Wyoming SBDC can help you make communication decisions.

As you think through your marketing objectives and tactics, review this 12-step template, including topics like conducting a SWOT and competitive analysis, setting SMART marketing goals, establishing KPIs, planning marketing tactics, and more.

Understand Consumer Confidence

  • Morning Consult studies consumer confidence across the country. Their website will help you understand how consumer’s perceptions have changed nationally since January 2020; however, it is always more helpful to poll your local markets and customers.
  • More locally, online surveys is one way to assess your customers’ consumer confidence level. Here are the six best online survey tools.
  • The Wisconsin School of Business blog also shared more about what Evan Polman has learned through his research about consumer behavior during COVID-19.

Sprout Social is a tool that will give you demographics from social media platforms.

Consider Expanding into International Markets

Unfortunately, few Wisconsin companies take advantage of the opportunities that exist in international markets.  Regardless of the product or service, with the advent of the internet, licensing deals, contract manufacturing and low cost intermodal shipping, these opportunities are more attainable than ever before.  In addition, thanks to the USMCA free trade agreement, exporting into Canada and Mexico is easier than selling to some parts of the US.  Take advantage of the Wisconsin SBDC Network’s Go Global Initiative to discover the opportunities that international markets represent:

Products & Services

Research Alternate Suppliers to Minimize Disruption Chances

Without reliable access to products from your supplier, your business could experience a partial or complete disruption. Edible Alpha has provided a few resources for food businesses – though the concepts and information are broadly applicable – about avoiding supply chain interruptions. These resources include:

Research your Industry

Trade associations are a great way to get industry specific outlook regarding the current status and future trends of your products. They often conduct research on behalf of members and do legislative advocacy.

Additional sources of information can be found at your local library. Companies like IBIS conduct research and create reports that outline key indicators of success and areas of concern. Participants in our SBDC courses have the opportunity to work with a librarian from the Wisconsin School of Business. If you are not participating in one of our courses, local card holders can use the online resources and receive support from a librarian who specializes in business and technology. Not a Madison Public Library cardholder? Many of these resources may also be available at your local Wisconsin library.

Complete a Competitive Analysis

When you started your business, you did a competitive analysis as to what made your product or service unique, especially compared to other similar businesses in your area. Because many businesses pivoted to different business models during the pandemic (online products or services, carry-out, kits, etc.), this is a good time to re-assess what your competitors have stopped or continued offering and re-evaluate what might be your best fit.


Crisis Management

Managing during a crisis has some different characteristics than the more holistic leadership you can demonstrate the rest of the time. 

  • Leading or Managing in a crisis
  • How to talk to your team when the Future is Uncertain
  • Perfectionism can be a Liability, how will your leadership change during a crisis? How should it look moving forward?
  • Psychology behind effective Crisis Leadership (Holding)  
  • Why empathy is one of the most overlooked skills in Business. As employees begin to return to work this summer or fall, they will likely have a lot on their minds. In addition to the collective global trauma of a global pandemic, individual employees may have additional or changed child care responsibilities, have lost family members to COVID-19 or not been able to attend important life events like weddings, graduations, and funerals. Because of all of these collective traumas, empathy will be more important than ever.

General Leadership Topics

Having a better understanding of your natural leadership and communication styles – as well as the styles of those around you – can give you a better sense of how to maximize your natural skills and make adjustments when working with an employee whose style is different than yours. 

  • The SBDC at UW-Madison offers a variety of leadership classes about leadership style, coaching communication, performance reviews, and more.
  • There are a variety of leadership assessments (usually paid) that you can take to learn more about your leadership style and how you can better interact with teammates who have a different style than you. Find out the which 9 professional tools and tests that are the most common assessments. 
  • One of our biggest human motivators (consciously or not) is emotion. As a leader, developing emotional intelligence is key to being able to help your team thrive. The Six Seconds website includes several resources, including:


Learn more

The Wisconsin SBDC Network is a proud part of the Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship in the University of Wisconsin System.
It is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.