Small business owners have had to pivot rapidly as the global pandemic shut down main streets across the country and shifted office workers to a nearly completely distributed model. Now, as the country moves from the response to the recovery stage of the pandemic, small businesses need to determine how to operate in an environment that will still look starkly different than the one we left behind early this spring.
In many cases, face-to-face interactions will continue to be minimized or, at the very least, changed. Businesses that depend on foot traffic will need to find new ways to communicate and work with customers. Whether you are just reopening your doors or have been open all along but planning for a changed future, we have some key tips:
Your first order of business is to retain your current customers by letting them know you’re still around and open for business. Email your customers. Send them a quick note to let them know you’re thinking about them and provide information on how they can engage with your business. But keep it short; brevity is key. Consider including a special offer to thank them for their loyalty. Also, if you have a physical store, be sure to hang a sign in the window letting customers know any changes to processes and how they can reach you.
If you don’t already have one, you’ll need to set up a website. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. A website not only gives you visibility, it also forms the hub for your sales and operations. The fastest way to launch one is by using templated website platforms from vendors such as Hostway, Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, Weebly, and many others.
A basic e-commerce program is also needed when supplementing brick-and-mortar operations online. Simple applications exist for e-commerce and credit card processing, but they'll also need to be integrated into the rest of your business operations, such as accounting and fulfillment. The easiest solution is to use the e-commerce platform embedded in a templated website, and for most small businesses these should be more than enough. If your business sells non-perishable goods, online marketplaces such as Etsy and Shopify are worth considering.
If you haven’t already, now is the best time to set up a social media presence to promote your business and stay in touch with your customers. Depending on your customers, Facebook and Instagram may have the broadest reach, but Twitter and LinkedIn are also great options. Be creative with your posts—engage with your customers: offer FaceTime for customers to virtually “shop” your store’s latest inventory or take a class if you are a fitness studio or service-based business. Create videos with tips and tricks that align with your specialty, and offer special deals that meet the unique needs of the current situation.
Some companies, such as small food and beverage operations, can do curbside pickup. Others need to mail items. This is a component that will be largely based on your business and locale, but there are probably more digital alternatives to consider than you might realize. For example, ordering food for delivery with a mobile phone was unheard of a few years ago. Now it’s commonplace. With so many businesses needing to find different ways of getting their products to their customers, it’s likely that new businesses are being created right now that will have an app that is tailored for your business and its delivery needs.
Your employees, like you, have already been through a lot. It is vital to be as transparent as possible about your plans for the future. Explain the new ways of operating: making adjustments as you go to help everyone learn to function in this new paradigm. Work together; employees will likely have valuable recommendations on how to adjust both strategically and tactically.
Adopt two types of communication vehicles: one for quick communications and one for long-term information sharing (training, processes, payroll info, etc.). Quick methods include direct messaging using tools such as Slack or Google Hangouts Chat for text. For the visual equivalent, there are options such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
The long-term information-sharing methods include Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, and other cloud-based documents that can be shared. These applications are easy to use and, depending on your workforce's familiarity with them, you might want to do quick training sessions to get them up and running.
These are challenging times. Maintaining a nimble mindset and adding more digital capabilities will, over time, diversify your ability to keep sales going and make it easier to keep loyal customers engaged and attract new ones.
Click here for more advice on how businesses are recovering from the impact of COVID-19.
Read the key steps to move to a more digital business model.
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