Every day during the COVID-19 shutdown brings new information, and business owners are trying to simultaneously monitor updates and adapt to shifting circumstances. No one yet knows what is going to happen in the coming weeks or months. However, there are some things that you can do, right now, to best prepare your business for these uncertain times.
1. Create a COVID-19 advisory notice on your website
Every company is responsible for creating their own response to social distancing rules and different local mandates. For both physical and digital companies, customers and clients are wondering whether your business is operating and, if so, under what restrictions.
The first step to take away any uncertainty for your customers is to create some sort of advisory on your website. Whether you are adjusting your business hours, still actively taking orders, or maintaining your normal support team, let your customers know as soon as they visit your website.
To update your customers, consider implementing one or both of these options:
- Notification bar on your site homepage or every page:
- Landing page that explains the COVID-19-related protocols your company has implemented, either for your product or with your employees:
- Examples: Farm Burger
2. Run an email campaign that demonstrates your value to your customers
During this crisis, our inboxes have been stuffed with emails from companies we don’t even remember ordering from, informing us about their COVID-19 response (truly, we didn’t need to know what the company that manufactured that one cell phone case from four years ago is doing right now). Email is a powerful way to connect directly with your audience; however, if an email doesn’t provide value or meaning to a customer, it can feel like spam.
Don’t tell your customers that you’re washing your hands, or that you’re “with them” during this pandemic. People are looking for anything they can cut right now—unnecessary emails may make them hesitant to buy your product, or remind them that they are paying you every month.
Instead, if you are sending an email to your customers, go above and beyond what you normally provide. Consider offering extra services, promote discounts, or compile resources relevant to your audience.
Go the extra mile for your customers, because keeping this relationship is essential. Not only can their support help your business get through this difficult time, but if your relationship is severed, it’s that much harder to get them to restart that retainer, service, or membership after the economy opens up again.
3. Update your Google My Business Profile
Your customers are already dealing with uncertainty in the news, so your online presence shouldn’t leave any room for guessing. If you have modified your business hours or availability, make sure to immediately update your Google My Business profile and any other industry-specific platforms.
Many sites, like Google My Business and Yelp, now have specific fields for any temporary coronavirus-related adjustments. For guidance on updating info and adding temporary closures, check out Google’s COVID-19-specific support page.
4. Experiment with Contact Channels on Your Website
People are distracted right now (us included). It is more challenging than ever to get your emails opened or cut through the noise of endless scheduled conference calls.
To make communication easier between you and your customers, experiment with more flexible ways of contacting your business. You may not necessarily keep all of these channels in the long-term, but options like the below can open up your communication with existing and potential customers:
- List your phone number at the top of your website
- Add the free, easy Call Now Button plugin on any WordPress website
- Try a live chat widget (Zendesk offers a free plan for one concurrent chat on any type of site)
5. Don’t blindly cut your marketing budget—but do change your strategy
Everyone is online right now. Your cash flow may have changed during the current shutdown, but there are more eyes on your site than ever. If you have the ability to reallocate your existing marketing budget, shifting to online marketing can be a wise investment.
For example, in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising right now, the general PPC cost per keyword is down for many keywords. It varies by industry, but many companies aren’t actively pursuing PPC or are cutting their PPC budgets.
This dip in PPC cost is going to be relatively short, so now is the time to get an edge on your competition. If you have the budget to capitalize on this opportunity:
- Check with your PPC, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), or marketing company to analyze what’s happening in your industry and where you could gain keyword traction
- Consider using a service like Amazon Advertising, which offers an effective, cheap, and growing ad channel for online retailers
6. Grow your online reviews and local SEO
In the past, customers may have visited your physical location or been referred after chatting with a friend over coffee. But in these times, your potential customers are relying almost entirely on online reviews.
Your competitors may not think this is a good time to ask for reviews, but if you are proactive, it is actually a beneficial time to build your reviews. Focus on Google Reviews, because the platform works with your local listings and reviews help boost local SEO, as well as any industry-specific platforms (Yelp for restaurants, Angie’s List for contractors, etc).
When you check in with your most loyal customers and regular clients, consider a few different approaches for garnering reviews:
- If you have a good relationship, or a customer asks how you’re doing, don’t be afraid to ask directly for reviews (“We’re adjusting to everyone looking at our business online—what would really help us out at this time would be a review from you.”)
- Create an easy link for customers to write Google Reviews
- Add a reviews link or call-to-action button to your communications or invoices with your existing customers
Adding reviews can help grow your business’ online presence now, and the effort will continue to pay dividends in finding new customers quickly once the economy picks back up.
7. Leverage strategic discounts or gift cards to get paid upfront
We’ve all seen customers buying gift cards as a way to support their favorite service-based businesses impacted by COVID-19, such as restaurants or spas. Unfortunately, if you are offering gift cards in a service-based industry, your competitors are probably also offering them as well. Competition for support from an increasingly thrifty public can be tough.
Discounts need to be calculated with your cash flow needs in mind, but to stand out from the crowd, consider offering gift cards that include additional discounts. If you are considering offering gift cards, check out these resources:
- Shopify made digital and physical gift cards available for all plans
- Square is offering online and in-store gift cards for Square users
- Gift Up! creates customizable online and physical gift cards with gift card software that works on any website. You can get started for free (they charge a fee percentage per gift card)
8. Take advantage of SBA loans and local aid
All businesses should be looking to take advantage of new Small Business Association (SBA), federal, and local funds. Many COVID-19 business support programs are, at a minimum, no-interest loans—with many of the “loans” fully forgiven under certain conditions.
The stipulations and rollout of many government programs is changing by the hour, so make sure to research programs thoroughly and talk to your bookkeeper or accountant. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Economic Injury Disaster Advance Loan (EIDL, from the SBA)
- Emergency $10,000 loan that can be completely forgiven.
- Apply for Disaster Loan Assistance here.
- Payroll Protection Program (PPP, from the SBA):
- Loan designed for small businesses to keep workers on the payroll. This loan can cover your payroll, as well as other expenses like health insurance and the payroll of independent contractors you pay regularly. This loan is available for sums larger than the emergency $10,000 EIDL, and if used correctly it can be completely forgiven.
- You need to apply for this through your bank, and the SBA loan officer at your bank will work with you on the decision.
- Find out if your bank is part of the Payment Protection Program, and contact your bank to learn how to apply.
- The program is in limbo due to depleted funds, but go ahead and apply as the government may release more funds.
- InvestAtlanta (if your business is local to Atlanta):
- This fund was set up for small businesses in Atlanta.
- Applications are currently closed, but they may potentially be opened up again. Keep an eye on the Business Continuity Loan Fund page.
- If you are not local to Atlanta, check out your local business chamber’s website for similar funds and opportunities.
9. Explore discounts to upgrade employee tech
Your business’ workflow may not be first on your mind right now. However, if you find yourself with more time on your hands, it is an excellent time to upgrade your internal processes. Many project management and communications platforms are now offering steep discounts or free trials for businesses.
If you’re still working from a cluttered Word doc or Excel sheet, many new tools can upgrade your workflow and help make your business more efficient. When you spend the time now, you are investing in better communications, time tracking, project scheduling, and asset tracking when business picks up again.
Check out some of our favorite tools, linked to their special deals or lifted paywalls:
- G Suite Hangouts – video conferencing
- All customers can now host larger meetings for up to 250 participants per call, live stream for up to 100K viewers within domain, and record meetings to Google Drive
- Cisco Webex – video conferencing
- Businesses who are non-Webex customers can secure free 90-day licenses, which include unlimited usage, up to 100 participants, and toll dial-in
- Existing customers can expand usage at no additional cost
- Loom – video messaging platform
- New users get an extended free trial of 30 days, the price of Loom Pro has been cut in half (now $5/month), and there is no longer a recording limit on the free plan
- Microsoft Teams – project management platform
- MS Teams licenses are free for the next 6 months (and they compile some truly helpful resources)
- Wrike – project management platform
- New customers can now sign up for Professional edition for 6 months at no charge
- Zoho Remotely – project management tool
- Remotely is free until July 1
- Hubspot – marketing, sales, CRM, and customer service software
- Prospects and customers can receive reduced prices and free tools like Meetings, E-Sign, and 1:1 Video, customers can receive increased limits
- Calendly – scheduling software
- Customers are offered Zoom and GoToMeeting integrations (previously Premium tier features) free of charge through June
Take action now and prepare for the future
You can’t predict what is going to happen tomorrow, and navigating your business and employees through these murky waters is not an easy task. However, with proactive, intentional steps, you can do your best to meet the changing circumstances head-on. By focusing on what you can do today, you are better prepared for whatever comes next. Now may be a great time to get a site audit. Call us today to learn more!