Small businesses have plenty to figure out right now: payroll, social distancing, loan applications and potentially reforming their entire business model, to name a few. A study found 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic and as many as half are at risk of closure.
Still, small businesses have found some ingenious ways to stand up to the big guys. Restaurants shift to sell groceries from suppliers, adapt menus to family takeout meals or even offer a free roll of toilet paper with orders during a shortage. Retail businesses expand online options and contactless pickup. Distilleries pivot to churn out hand sanitizer. Fitness studios hold classes online.
We need small businesses during a pandemic. These businesses make up the personality of a community, and we know from several studies that, on average, 48% of purchases from local businesses recirculate in the local economy compared to less than 14% of chain store purchases.
But if small businesses are being scrappy, resourceful and helpful to their communities in a pandemic but don’t communicate effectively, all effort is wasted. In a time where advertising dollars may be out of reach, small businesses should evaluate opportunities to connect with owned media.
First off, let’s consider some owned media options most small businesses already have: a website, social media, blogs, email or other digital platforms. They may also have a storefront or physical location. All of these spaces are tools to make a connection with customers.
Leave No Room for Interpretation
Customers expect hours to shift, services to change and businesses to close while COVID-19 remains a risk. Your policies should be clear, accessible and leave no doubt your business is open and prioritizes safety. Here are some suggestions:
- Consider adding a COVID-19 tab to your website containing relevant policies and procedures for protecting workers and customers.
- Hit your email list with a “we’re open” message or coupon.
- “Pin” a message about how to order online to the top of your Facebook or Twitter pages, where it will be the first thing a customer sees.
Have you Googled yourself recently? Google has added an alert to businesses saying, “Hours or services may differ.” Suggest an edit to Google if something has changed about your hours or phone number. A Google search is often the first connection you have with your customers, so keeping this information updated is important.
Adapt Online Customer Service
Americans have been spending more time online during the pandemic, particularly on social media sites. Small businesses likely have social accounts already, but the biggest mistake they could make is to leave them stagnant. If your last update was in March, you may inadvertently communicate your doors are closed. It’s not enough to begin generating content – someone from within the business should be responsible for actively monitoring and responding to questions on social pages.
Consumers have new customer service expectations that may endure beyond the pandemic. Small businesses should have someone at the helm of the email inbox, online chat feature, Instagram DMs or wherever people ask questions. Without the option to meet customers in person at the time of a transaction, businesses must be quick on their feet to address concerns or risk losing a sale.
Offer Virtual Experiences and Online Shopping
Individuals and businesses have plenty of free tools at their disposal to connect over chat or video. The average person has become comfortable with meetings over Zoom, and businesses should consider using this as a form of outreach. Local businesses can connect with the community by offering online classes or consultations. While hairdressers may be unable to meet with clients in person, they can still host online consultations for styling hair. Yoga studios may keep their community together with online classes and advertise these classes to existing customers with an email campaign.
Consumers are used to easy access and quick delivery from Amazon and other retail giants. Small businesses can keep up by ensuring their products are visible online and offering shipping and delivery services that rival the expectations of big box stores.
Small business owners are masters of adaptation and community connection. By combining their creative ideas with effective communication, they can continue to serve their audience through unusual circumstances. Until we can return to our favorite record stores, go-to brunch spots or cycling classes in a more traditional way, the community will be ready to show up as long as small businesses keep their lines of communication open.