As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, social distancing, while necessary in terms of community health, has forced many businesses to shut down. Fast Company published the results from a research they held among different small businesses around the world to find out what are they doing to survive. The main takeaway from all of them: flexibility.
We are not living under “normal” circumstances, and we don’t know yet what the new “normal” is going to be, but we do know to keep your business going you need to get creative and make things work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this post we share 5 creative ways published by Fast Company that can be helpful for any SMB.
5 creative ways small business can succeed during the COVID-19 pandemic
1. Expand your market
In many cases, your existing clients won’t be able to make use of your products or services. For example, Cleaning service Aman for Home services had to find new clients because their regular customers understandably didn’t want people coming into their homes Instead, they began offering sterilization and disinfection services for entrances of buildings that were still in use. Although the demand isn’t as high as normal, it allows them to operate.
Similarly, many local distilleries have shifted to making hand sanitizer. There are those like Litchfield Distillery in Connecticut, who are giving it away for free, which is a great marketing strategy to increase loyalty. Others, like Tamworth Distilling in New Hampshire, are selling it in order to keep their business operating during the crisis.
2. Consider new ways to deliver your products
Many dine-in restaurants and bars are offering online ordering and curbside pickup. But other brick-and-mortar businesses need something more personal. When your business model involves people coming in to browse or interact with you, you need to figure out how to make that happen virtually.
La De Da! gift shop in suburban Chicago is all about offering personalized recommendations for gifts. People don’t come in knowing what they want—they browse, and they rely on the owner, Jill Carlisle, to point them in the right direction. With social distancing in full swing, Jill now has customers complete a Google Form, mimicking the kinds of questions she’d ask when a customer walks in or calls her. From there, she can work with the customer virtually to find the perfect gift.
Necker’s Toyland, a toy store in Simsbury, Connecticut, that’s been in business since 1948, also had to get creative. They’re offering a FaceTime browsing option, virtually walking kids around the store, so they can pick out something that’ll keep them busy during quarantine. Then they’re offering curbside pickup or delivery to nearby towns.
Service-oriented businesses are doing something similar. McAlister Training in San Luis Obispo, California, like many fitness studios, has taken its classes virtual. They’ve also taken the opportunity to expand their market, offering classes for kids who are at home with some energy to burn.
By offering your services online, you retain existing customers during social distancing, while also potentially opening your market to people outside of your geographic area.
3. Partner with other businesses
Some struggling businesses, like Metro Bis restaurant in suburban Connecticut, are partnering with other, less-affected businesses. Metro Bis has been selling prepared meals at a local grocery store to make up for the lack of business in-house. This partnership gives them a way to safely serve their customers.
At the same time, some struggling businesses are teaming up with each other. City Home, a home decor and design business out of Portland, Oregon, has partnered with a local florist to offer an incentive to customers. Three City Home customers will receive a surprise bouquet from local florist Old Town Florist with their delivery. For City Home, the promotion serves as an incentive to purchase. But Old Town Florist benefits, too: it’s a new marketing channel, targeting customers who have a vested interest in home decor and would be likely to purchase flowers to brighten a room.
4. Stay connected with your customers
Your customers may not be buying from you right now, but you’ll need them more than ever once things settle down and they can come back to you in person. That’s why it’s so important to stay connected through virtual channels. You can reach them out by email and let them know how are you operating right now, update your website with relevant coronavirus information related to your business operation or you could even ask them for ideas.
Liz Morrow, a creative interior designer out of Tacoma, Washington, took to Instagram to ask people what they’d like her help with. Letting your customers guide your crisis strategy ensures that you’re providing products and services people want. Plus, it allows you to continue to market and connect with your customers even when they’re not coming into your store.
5. Invest in your business’s future
While business is slow, you can use the time to figure out what you can streamline for when your business is back in action.
For starters, identify what processes you can automate. Here are some ideas of the kinds of tasks that are ready for automation:
- Tasks you have to do frequently or on a schedule
- Tasks that involve moving information between apps
- Boring tasks that don’t require higher-order thinking
- Tasks that take you away from what you really want to be doing
- Automating your processes will help you now if you’re short-staffed, but it’ll also pay dividends in the long run.
George Kontos, cofounder and CEO of Marshmallow Streaming, found a bottleneck in his business when managing customers across multiple applications including Salesforce, QuickBooks, and Google Drive. He decided to use the slow period to automate some of those tasks.
Another way to invest now for future gains is through your content marketing. Creating high-quality content is something you can do by yourself, on your own schedule. You can send it to your email list and post it on social, keeping your customers engaged during social distancing. But it will also serve you in the long run, especially if you keep SEO in mind.
Because folks are spending more time online during social distancing, now is a great time to offer this kind of content: it’s a marketing channel for you and a benefit to your fans and potential customers.