The coronavirus outbreak has had a profound impact on local businesses, and this is especially the case for independent proprietors. With people self-isolating in their homes, consumers are largely unable to spend money in bricks-and-mortar establishments, with only a handful of exceptions, such as grocery stores and restaurants offering takeout.
In these difficult times, many independent operators are struggling to figure out what to do, both from a communications and marketing standpoint. But there are some simple, practical steps you can take to keep lines of communication open with regular customers and put yourself in a position to attract new ones when the crisis is over.
Tip 1: Communicate with
Critically, make sure you’ve updated your homepage to reflect current circumstances, and if possible, highlight links to where customers can access relevant information and support. If you’re tech-savvy, consider creating a dedicated landing page on your website that provides more in-depth information. But even if it’s simply the adding the words, “Temporarily closed due to COVID-19” or “Open for takeaway,” to your homepage, your customers will appreciate being able to find out what’s going on. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective. If you’ve shut down for in-premises business but have delivery capabilities, your website is a simple and direct way to let them know.
Email is a great way to get the word out, but we’ve all been inundated recently with COVID-19 emails from companies ranging from airlines and grocery stores to retailers and more. Rather than getting lost in the noise, make sure if you are sending emails, that they aren’t too general or corporate – make sure you truly have something to say, and that it actually addresses your customers’ most pressing concerns. Are you a pub that is now providing takeaway? Let customers know about the services you are providing.
Today, you have multiple channels to reach your customers. Make use of your social media accounts to engage your audience with useful and appropriate information. If you don’t have any, now may be the time to sign up. Social media provides you the opportunity to connect with customers and build relationships.
Tip 2: Update important, public-facing business information
Government guidelines during COVID-19 are changing rapidly, and as businesses adapt, they need to keep customers updated. And with everyone limiting their trips to outside of the home, it’s crucial that businesses keep their information current and accurate.
Although people are mostly staying at home, they are still looking for your business online to see whether it’s open or closed, and whether you offer contactless delivery or accommodation to critical workers. Your online business listings are more important than ever.
As a first step, update your Google My Business information. Google is often the first place people consult to determine if you’re open or if you’re offering the services they need. Google provides a list of information that should be updated now, which includes: changed business hours (use special opening hours for that), changed business information, such as special precautions, extra services to customers or community, expected delays etc., and updated phone numbers to make sure customers can reach out to you. Because of COVID-19, Google has made some functions unavailable in order to focus more on verifying the information on Google Search and Google Maps. Consequently, new ratings, responses to ratings and new Google Q&A are not currently available. Check out the Google My Business COVID-19 Help page for more information.
Where possible, make these updates on the key online platforms for your business, whether that’s Tripadvisor or Facebook.
Tip 3: Revisit marketing plans
Take a look at your marketing strategy. Many businesses are putting marketing efforts on hold until the second half of 2020, when they anticipate a rebound in spending or demand. But now may be the perfect time to get your marketing plan in shape, by working on refreshing your website, figuring out whether to re-allocate marketing spend, or brainstorming new marketing tactics.
Whether you’re scaling back or moving ahead with your marketing strategy, you need to be sensitive and thoughtful, evaluating your strategy carefully and running some scenarios. It’s crucial not to hit the wrong note, and come across as insensitive now, or going forward. Keep in mind that there will be yet another “new normal” post-coronavirus crisis, and you will need to adapt to it.
These are undeniably tough times, but it’s important to remember there are positive steps you can take to preserve – and even build – your customer relationships. Businesses that communicate well with customers, and genuinely seek to support their customer communities now, will not only survive, but thrive when they come out the other side.