Much of the news cycle centers around the negative outcomes of COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on local businesses. For many small businesses, it’s hard to see through the noise and identify opportunities to stay open and stay healthy. So we decided to start aggregating some of the top ideas for local businesses to do something productive. Below are 10 things your local business can do to grow, keep your team busy, and engage your customers:
All the noise on social media is three parts worry, two parts paranoia, and one part politics. Give your customers something else to look at and interact with other than all the nonsense. Under normal circumstances, you may be too busy to man (or woman) the Facebook page, but chances are you have a bit more time. Post your favorite COVID-19 memes. Do an audience Q&A or a livestream. Interact in the comments more than you usually might. Send an email (or six). Keep your customers informed on what you and your team are doing, what products or services are still available, and what your perspective is. Small businesses are community influencers and your thoughts matter.
2. Be transparent!
Now is not the time to put on a stern face and a stiff upper lip (unless that’s what you’re into). Be transparent about how COVID-19 is impacting your business. The reality is, most of your customers chose your business because of the people who work there. You’re not an Amazon or a Walmart—they picked you because of the human flavor of interacting with your store, shop, or office. Clue your customers and clients in on how they can help your business most right now. Is it buying online? Purchasing a gift card? Pre-booking a service? Maybe even consider a crowdfunding campaign if the need is there.
3. Launch a new service or product!
If you can’t do what you’re accustomed to doing, look for new opportunities. Take a peek at what your competitors are up to or what similar businesses in other cities are doing to grow through this season. Lots of doctors are launching telemedicine solutions on their websites through plugins or third-party services to help ensure they provide great care to their patients, even when they can’t meet in person. Is there a remote or virtual option for your business? What about new product lines? While goods from China have been harder to come by, there are plenty of Made in the USA products languishing on shelves, and for the most part, domestic shipping and freight are still operating normally. Can you do a couple of unique screenprint t-shirts asking for Quarantinis or riffing on some of the jokes that are resonating with your clients? Necessity is the mother of invention, so get out of your normal way of thinking!
4. Offer gift cards and prepaid services!
A lot of small local businesses need to increase their cash flow today and may not have inventory or the ability to provide service due to restrictions in their region. We’re helping many of them set up a prepaid service offering or a gift card selection that helps bolster their revenue while things get sorted out on the health and economic level. Consider offering a discount for prepaying for appointments two or more months out—customers will have more confidence in the date, and they get the upside of saving money and helping a business they love. If you don’t normally “sell” a product, consider launching a simple ecommerce storefront that offers prepaid services or appointments a couple of months out. There are a lot of web design and development agencies that would love to help you.
5. Go to the streets!
Consider doing what Amazon is doing and getting in your own vehicle and running some of your local deliveries to your customers yourself. If business is slow at the shop (or you’re closed), bringing a smile to your customers in person (and from a safe distance of 6 feet or more) adds a real personal touch to their experience and creates a shared memory that will outlast whatever COVID-19 throws at us. If you’re running retail and can’t open the store for employees, perhaps a small sidewalk sale is in order if the weather is nice. Keep things nice and spread out to avoid any germ spread but enjoy some open-air retail (which is also supposed to be safer than being indoors). We’ve seen dine-in restaurants start drive-throughs.
6. Do good!
If you have some budget and a team of people you’d love to keep paid and productive, consider coming up with activities for a cause that your customers would be willing to sponsor through purchases, subscriptions, or other means. There are a lot of people out there who could use a little help and allowing your customers to keep your team employed while benefiting the community is a win-win. Some of our clients are offering pre-paid service ‘cards’ or discount memberships on future services that in turn go directly towards the current staff at the business.
7. By-appointment-only can work for you!
For some service providers, providing variable hours outside of their norm and creating an appointment scheduling option can help avoid putting people at risk while maintaining social distancing. The same is true for restaurants and businesses that may not normally be accustomed to having set times for visits. If you have inventory and staff available, doing phone, email, or social in an appointment setting can be an easy way to avoid creating a health issue for employees and customers alike. Plus, it provides a much-needed reprieve for people who are stuck at home but also want to observe government recommendations on managing the risks of infection.
8. Look for help!
Many local, state, and federal agencies are beginning to roll out programs for employees and employers alike. We all love a good rags-to-riches story and we often want to DIY our business success on our own. However, we are experiencing a unique shift in our global economy and way of living that may require us to get some help. Don’t be afraid to get help while you need it. When we’re sick, we take a day of rest and take some medicine. Don’t let the coronavirus infect your business long term in a way that’s not needed. The SBA website is a great resource for federal assistance options, though there are a number of other resources you should be able to find for your state and city.
9. Collaborate with others!
Set up a standing Zoom or Skype call with other businesses in your neighborhood or around your city. Talking to others can be a great way to boost your mood and keep perspective. It’s also a great opportunity to collaborate with other businesses and come up with unique approaches to beating the COVID-19 impact on your business. Together, we’re stronger.
10. Don’t stop marketing!
Many businesses will pull back on sales and advertising, but as long as you have the ability to be open safely for your customers and employees, marketing can continue. Digital marketing is especially effective, as more and more of your regular clients or customers are accessing businesses online. Pay-per-click ads (PPC) costs in a number of industries are dipping as some advertisers are pulling back. SEO is seeing increased impressions and clicks as people turn to Google more and more to find ways to work from home, shop from home, and really live at home. Further, customers have more time to engage with your social media and email content or website posts. Dropping all sales and marketing activities usually compounds the impact of a recession or event-oriented economic downturn. Don’t give up!