Small Business Survival - Focus on your Customers and use Social Media to Bridge the Social Distance
This week showed the incredible speed at which a small business's operations can be impacted - from COVID-19 starting as a far-away issue to a full-blown National Emergency in just a few days. It's become clear that our communities will be dealing with this for an extended period of time, and it will be a while before many businesses, no matter how big or small, will be back to normal operations.
The question many are asking is - "with everything changing so rapidly, how can I make adjustments to my business model to accommodate radically different customer needs and the health and well being of my employees?" And of course, the bottom line question is - "How do I keep my doors open and stay in business?" Small business owners are searching for answers to questions about the fundamentals of their business - staffing, suppliers, vendors, marketing and more. While we may get short term answers for the next 24 hours, we aren't able to project what new questions may arise for the day after tomorrow, next week or even next month! We need an organized way to approach this chaos to start knocking down those things in the "unknown" category, minimizing disruptions for you and your customers Here are some ideas to get you started:
Begin with your customers - what do they need from you now? How can you quickly shift your normal business model to meet their new needs? Beyond the current situation of out of stock supplies like hand sanitizer, cleaning products and toilet paper, what will they need next?
If you are a brick and mortar store or service provider, the first barrier for customers is safety - Have you ramped up efforts to sanitize areas that customers and employees frequent? If you have, let them know! Use the tools you have in place to make a statement on how you are focused on the health and well being of your employees and customers - think email, social media, signs on the door, in the restrooms, and more.
What products do you offer that will meet a new need they have? Restaurants can focus on food delivery and take out, enabling social distancing. Shift your wait staff resources to "curbside service" if your municipality allows it.
Personal care providers like Massage therapists, Salons, and Spas have a unique challenge and opportunity - these are stressful times, and eventually, people will look for self-care opportunities. Ask your clients what services/products would be most helpful and how can they be delivered most effectively?
Traditional retailers should highlight their online stores and home delivery capabilities - Consider your products and offerings that will make it easier for families to spend time at home together - think puzzles, games, and books. Consider assembling activity kits and sell them online. DIY and home maintenance projects will likely be on the rise - can you offer home delivery for some of your goods like tools, parts, etc.?
If you are a service provider such as an insurance agent, or financial advisor, proactively offer video or conference call options rather than in-person meetings.
Use social media to ask a simple question: "How can we help?" One of the drawbacks of social distancing is it cuts off the feedback loop we all enjoy with our customers. Consider engaging on social media to make up for that gap.
Many customers want to help your business - they just don't know how! Give them ideas such as buying gift cards for future services, purchasing pre-made lunches for kids home from school or seniors in need. Help your customers help you succeed!
Ask your employees and vendor partners - after your customer group, they are likely to have ideas about what you can do to see new opportunities. No matter how big or small your team is, they have a vested interest in your business surviving, and they probably have some great ideas.
Start with addressing their concerns over safety and security. Set some guidance on how you'll handle employees who become ill and stick to the guidelines. Be as transparent as you can about things like sick pay, call-in policies, shift coverage, schedule changes, etc. The more predictability you can offer, the more likely team members will adhere to your guidelines.
Once that foundation is set, ask your team how they can best manage through these times. Be open to ideas that may sound outlandish initially, but have some merit. Think differently about your business model and reward those with ideas that work.
Really think outside of the box on how to implement social distancing in your operations. Ask your team to brainstorm solutions. For example, a restaurant owner might ask their team how they would re-arrange the dining area to make sure tables are no closer than 6 feet apart. A brick and mortar retail store might ask a team if they can create a curbside pick up program for their regular customers. A coffee shop might ask their team to determine how to minimize contact in their sales counter transactions. recognize and reward creative ideas that you can implement.
Be as transparent as you can with everyone involved. Use social media and digital tools wisely to update your customers, employees, and partners on how you are providing solutions for them and managing your business differently.
Social media and website traffic is on the rise right now. Your audience is out there, waiting for relevant and useful information from you.
This week showed the incredible speed at which a small business's operations can be impacted - from COVID-19 starting as a far-away issue to a full blown National Emergency in just a few days. It's become clear that our communities will be dealing with this for an extended period of time, and it will be a while before many businesses, no matter how big or small, will be back to normal operations.
Don't wait until you have all of the answers to communicate what you know - your customers understand that things change.
If you know something is going to happen, communicate sooner rather than later. If an event is going to be canceled, let customers know as soon as you can. If a high demand item is not going to be in stock for a while, let customers know. Knowledge is power - share it with your customers.
Stay active and engage with your fans on comments, messenger, and emails. Don't post and walk away. If you are a local gathering place with regular customers, allow a space for them to connect digitally.
While the news right now is serious and concerning, there is a time and a place for light hearted and humorous sharing. If you are worried about something being offensive, ask your team to review your messaging - remember that sarcasm rarely translates well in the digital world.
We are all doing our part to help each other through these challenging times - it's going to be the community that holds us all together! If you have other ideas or would like to brainstorm solutions with us, please reach out! Call or text us at 612-382-3723 or reach us via email: Jenny@littleboxsocial.com