As if there already weren’t enough sales-related challenges facing America’s small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, another potential crisis is looming on the back end of their operations. Supply chains are failing for a multitude of reasons, but the result is often the same: the strain pushes already fragile small businesses to the brink of failure. How vulnerable is your business to supply chain disruption? That depends on factors such as your industry, size, and business model. But if you’ve followed the recent trend of streamlining your inventory, you may face an extremely bumpy road ahead. Maintaining a lean inventory is an efficient way to run your business, but it also reduces the margin for error when deliveries stop arriving. “Small businesses that have been weakened by years of extended payment terms now have to deal with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic,” explains a supply chain analysis from the Harvard Business Review. “In addition to the precipitous falloff in demand and mandated shutdowns caused by the pandemic, outstanding invoices are not being paid. Their situation is precarious.” While none of us know exactly how this pandemic is going to play out, it’s obvious that more difficulties are on the horizon. Even if a vaccine were miraculously released to the global population tomorrow, there would still be a transitional period as businesses struggle to get back on solid ground and reconfigure their processes. So what can you do when your supply deliveries are late due to delivery issues or operational problems with your supplier? Here are a few ideas: 1. Keep Your Supplier Relationships Strong It’s unlikely that any of your suppliers will burn you due to apathy. When promised deliveries don’t arrive on time, it’s usually due to deeper challenges faced by the delivery company or the supplier. It’s important to stay in contact with your suppliers and let them know you value the relationship. When you’re a loyal partner rather than a faceless contact, you have a better chance of becoming a priority when things become difficult for the supplier. 2. Watch for Issues Proactively If you’re in close contact with suppliers, you’ll also be able to talk to them about potential threats to the supply chain. These conversations can reveal upcoming issues, allowing you to get ahead of the problem instead of being caught flat-footed. It’s always easier to anticipate solutions to a challenge than to come up with answers in the heat of the moment. Make supply chain forecasting a priority so that you can prepare better for what lies ahead. 3. Communicate With Your Business Partners and Customers Just as you’ll benefit from candid conversations with your suppliers, those who rely on you also deserve to be kept in the know. Anytime you experience or anticipate delays, reach out to your business partners and customers to explain the situation. Better yet, seek their input when possible and come up with mutually beneficial solutions. Many business owners put their heads down and suffer in silence when their supply chains fail them. By bringing your partners and customers into the conversation, you stand a better chance of maintaining relationships and avoiding damage to your reputation. Remember, perception is reality. Let them know the realities you’re facing—this way, they won’t form inaccurate perceptions regarding your business. 4. Utilize Inventory Management Software These types of systems allow you to track what you have on hand at any given time, allowing you to forecast your needs and make more accurate decisions. Additionally, your software can link up with your supplier’s inventory. This makes it possible to keep a better watch on orders and see where issues exist. 5. Learn How to Track Shipments and Report Delays There are plenty of times when delivery delays aren’t caused by your suppliers. Instead, they’re the inevitable result of delivery services that must deal with their own challenges. If you’ve stayed in contact with your suppliers, you’ll be able to ascertain quickly when a delay is out of their hands. In these cases, it’s important for you to file a report with the carrier immediately so you can get the issue on their radar. Basically, the squeaky wheels are the only ones that get oiled when strain exists throughout the delivery service’s operations—so squeak as loudly as possible. Even in the best of times, supply chain complications will arise—and the events of 2020 have only exasperated this fact. But if you anticipate and navigate supply chain disruptions, you’ll be better able to manage inventory and fulfill your orders. It’s a delicate balance, and there will be continual need for rebalancing—but this approach will help you to keep your operation moving in a positive direction.