Our fearless leader, Brian Oster, often speaks to groups of people, passing along marketing and general business advice that might otherwise take years of experience to learn. This virus crisis has obviously put a stop to that. Or has it? As it turns out, there was a safe way to keep doing what he’s good at by sharing timely COVID-19-era marketing advice in a webinar. Unfortunately, not everyone could be there for it all at once, so we’re laying the meat of it out here for you in four simple points: Say something. Do something. Spend something. Plan something.
So here we are in the midst of this mess. Doors closed. Product on the shelf. No orders coming in. A lot of small businesses are facing this same challenge at the moment. And one of the things that many of them have in common is that they’re going radio silent about it. But in order to make things happen for you, you have to say something.
Make an announcement to your customers. Are you still open? Tell them. Update your website with new hours, with an update about the status of your business, and with something to help them manage their expectations of you during this time. Are you doing curbside pickup or delivery? Something else? Let people know. They’re still checking your online information, so update your google listing with adjusted hours. If someone comes to your business and finds it closed during regular hours, they’re going to assume you’re closed for good. Keep them informed. That goes for the physical location, too. Make sure your open signs are prominently displayed and there are instructions on mask use, curbside pickup, or whatever details are relevant. And please, in saying something, don’t make jokes. No “killer deals.” Don’t try to be cute. Just get the information out. It’s easy to spark sensitivities when tensions are high, so it’s best to steer clear.
After people know you’re open, you have to do something. You’ve gotta adapt to this new world we’re emerging into. It may not be forever, but it is certainly for now. And if you’re not prepared to do something a little different than you used to, you’re going to be at a disadvantage to everyone who does. So what can you do? We’re glad you asked.
With no one being able to physically visit your base of operations, one of the practices you can implement is to start curbside pickup or delivery options. Some places are even doing private shopping appointments where they can. Other ways you can adapt to keep yourself, your customers, and your employees safe is to start taking credit cards if you aren’t already. Cash has been shown to contribute to the spread of the disease, so take caution with it by washing hands or wearing (and discarding or replacing) gloves when handling it. There are simple credit card solutions like Square available to make processing cards an option. Otherwise, the sale of goods and services can be taken online, even embracing digital gift cards.
The meat of it is that you’ve got to take this time to pivot. Find what your customers need and turn to meet them at that need. There are companies in our area such as Whiskey Acres or Upstaging that have switched to producing medical supplies from what they were doing before. They’re pivoting to meet a need. Pay attention to what people are asking for, and try to meet them at that need. Make yourself relevant and you can make yourself essential.
Now that you’ve let people know you’re open and have focused what you offer in order to be relevant, it’s time to spend something. Yes, it seems counterintuitive, especially in a lean time or a time when expenses from pivoting your strategy are high. However, statistically speaking, those who market their product or service during a downturn bounce back faster and return to making a profit in the future than those who don’t market. If you’re pinched, revisit your budget and see what you can do to free up some money. Maybe you could divert funds you had planned for live events and expos into something else.
Some of that money can be used to get creative with your marketing. Boost social media posts to reach people you may not have reached before. Start an email marketing update to stay top of mind when people are distracted by big box online shopping. Offer some deals for people who donate to help first responders or other causes. Get out there, and if you have to spend a little money, don’t be afraid to do so.
People know you’re open. You’re doing relevant work. You’ve spent some money on marketing. Now what?
Now it’s time to plan something. Shift your focus to your existing customers. Put yourself in their shoes and see if there’s a way your product or service can expand to fit into their lives in a new way. If your expertise dovetails nicely with another organization’s, consider extending an invitation to cross promote with them. It could get you ahead during this time, which is important when there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. But there will be an end to this, so now is a good time to prepare for when shelter-in-place is lifted and people can be in your space again.
There are plenty of things you can do to prepare. If you can manage it, having face masks and sanitizer for people who come in would help keep everyone safe in and out of your business. Are you planning on extending your hours when you can? Think about it so you’re prepared when the time comes. There may be regulations in place for a long time that dictate how close people can sit or stand. Do you rearrange your inventory? You may need wider aisles or a larger area for people to queue for checkout. Use this time to make sure you’re not scrambling with the rest of businesses who aren’t prepared when things get better.
Find Yourself with Extra Time?
If, in all of this madness, you find yourself with extra time, we have advice for how to spend that time effectively–and you should probably tell people your secret to having so much time. This time without in-person business is a decent time to take inventory, learn a new social media, get friends and family to like and follow your business on social media, update all your profiles across all those places (how long has it been since you updated your LinkedIn profile?), learn Google analytics, and update your Bing listing. Basically, it’s a good time to get your ducks in a row, metaphorically (unless you’re in the duck business, in which case we may be speaking literally). Lastly, take the time to ask regular customers to write you a recommendation or a testimonial. Chances are, they’re looking for something to do all day, too.
Hopefully you found some of these tips helpful and will put them into practice. These are hard times for everyone, and the best way for us to get through it is to share our knowledge and expertise with those who need it. Feel free to pass this along to your partners and peers, and we’ll see everyone when this has all passed. If you have questions or comments, want to share helpful tips, or would like to get Brian to speak to your business or organization, contact us HERE or find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram.