Running a business is challenging in the best of times. During these extraordinary COVID-19 circumstances, your role as a business leader is even more critical. If your business has been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, you may already be considering adjusting your business model and finding alternative streams of income.
Some changes may be more viable for your particular business than others, but the key is to experiment and keep an open mind. You are of course working to keep your business healthy during this challenging time, but many of the changes you make to your business now may also help you evolve in innovative ways in the future.
Here, we explore some creative business ideas and new offerings we are seeing in our network, as well as a few tools to help you get started.
Transition core services into virtual alternatives, like tele-consulting
For companies based on in-person services, social distancing restrictions have probably heavily affected your business. Providing services like tele-consulting, even at a reduced rate or for free, can help you start to grow your book of business again.
For example, say you are an electrician during times of social distancing, and in-home visits have dried up. However, since you have the time, tele-consulting can help keep your project pipeline flowing. Virtual visits may allow you to bill a consulting rate, or at the very least, line up future business by working through initial troubleshooting with the customer. With an understanding of client needs, projects on the calendar, and perhaps even a deposit, you can be ready to jump back into business as soon as restrictions are lifted. Tele-consulting allows you to generate leads while following public health recommendations.
If your industry is especially budget-conscious at the moment, but you have the time, free tele-consulting can still be a long-term investment. People especially remember how you treated them during tough times. Providing support for existing or potential customers can pay off in the future, adding to your reputation or bringing you referrals.
Experiment with educational or professional training within your industry
If your typical work has slowed down, and you aren’t working with as many customers, there is one audience who is definitely still interested in your expertise: professionals in your industry.
Educational courses and professional training are taking off as people spend more time online, looking to take advantage of any extra free time they have. Video learning is becoming wildly popular across many different platforms. Our two favorites:
- Teachable, a complete, turnkey platform for selling courses
- Vimeo, a free video hosting platform with a Pro Plan upgrade that is a drop-dead simple option for selling your videos on social media or embedding into your own website
Providing professional training may create an additional income stream for your business, but it can also serve as a business development tactic for the long-term. Providing resources as an expert in your industry can not only grow your network (with those who may be future employees or colleagues), but also strengthen your reputation as an authority in your niche (with your peers).
Promote products, not services (if possible)
If your company is dependent on a physical store (like a hair salon or a gym), your business has almost certainly dipped. However, as long as you still have your audience, you may be able to pivot toward selling something better designed for our current restrictions: products, not services.
If you don’t have a history of selling products, consider partnering with a company that could leverage your platform (hair products for a hair stylist, or a unique home workout set for a gym). If you can think creatively about the products you and your community use, you may be able to find a natural partnership that can benefit both companies.
Upgrade your E-Commerce, with a careful eye to your supply chain
Many businesses are pivoting to invest more in e-commerce, with good reason. Even if you’re not selling toilet paper or card games, your online presence is probably getting more traffic as consumers shop online more than ever. However, if you’re going to pursue an e-commerce strategy, make sure to keep an eye on the parts of your supply chain that are outside of your control.
This is undoubtedly the time to experiment with the role of e-commerce in your business.
This pandemic may be pushing many businesses toward e-commerce faster than before, but e-commerce is not a new trend. The ease and convenience of e-commerce is here to stay, and companies who invest in an online sales platform are providing their business with an extra layer of adaptability. Even when restrictions are lifted, and you go back to your brick and mortar business, e-commerce can remain a healthy and viable stream of income.
If you are just starting out with e-commerce, and you have a following, it really can be as simple as using social media:
- List and promote your e-commerce items on your social media
- Take money through online payment platforms like Venmo or Cash App
- Sanitize and ship the product out yourself
If you are starting out and looking for a dedicated e-commerce platform, we recommend a few in particular:
- Squarespace is simple, user-friendly, managed e-commerce platform
- Shopify is a more complex platform, but has more business ready functionality without a large upfront investment
- Woocommerce is a great choice for businesses already using WordPress for their website, and it is free with many paid add-ons available
If you already have an e-commerce arm in your business, now is the time to invest further in building out your platform. Experimenting with new products or promotions can help you gain and maintain an edge on your competition, now and in the future.
However, if you are pushing further into e-commerce, you need to watch your supply chain.
Growing your e-commerce can be a great business tactic, but be sure to monitor what is happening beyond your online store with your supply chain.
It is common for many businesses to not manufacture their own products, or to use a third-party warehouse to store and ship inventory. Unfortunately, due to changing federal and local COVID-19 restrictions, there is a real possibility that warehouses or manufacturers that you use may be deemed “nonessential” and shut down at some point.
This is not a reason to not offer e-commerce, but you should plan for this contingency. Talk to your vendors and fulfillment center, staying up-to-date on their situation so you can plan accordingly.
In addition, make sure your software is ready to adapt to changes in inventory or fulfillment. Many online carts and platforms don’t have a “catalog-only” mode, where you can take an order without fulfillment. Catalog-only mode allows a customer to do things like submit an inquiry, without checking out. Here is an overview of the adaptability of a few common platforms:
- WooCommerce provides many different ways for you to enact catalog-only mode
- Shopify does not offer catalog-only mode, so you should warn users with a notification bar that you are taking orders but cannot guarantee delivery dates
- Squarespace also does not offer catalog-only mode, and will require you to use a notification bar
The business climate has changed, and no one knows for certain what it will look like in a few weeks or months. However, as a business leader, if you are making an effort to pivot your business and explore new revenue streams, you are taking the first step towards the innovation you need to adapt your business. With the right approach and an open mind, you are well-equipped to weather this storm.