UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of drastic measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus that had infected over 29,000 people by 2nd April 2020. The measures consist of a three-week police-enforced lockdown that includes closure of all shops providing non-essential services. Only shops that sell essential household items – food and toiletries – and pharmacies remain open.
Even before these measures were announced, business owners had already suffered a significant decline in sales, supply chain disruptions, and employee incapacitation. Still, the decisive actions are necessary to combat the spread of this unprecedented pandemic, so that life can return to normal as soon as possible.
In the meantime, learn how you can use this forced break to improve your business prospects and work on the things you were too busy to do. If you lay the groundwork properly during this period, your business has the best chance of recovering once the lockdown is lifted.
Avail Yourself of Government Support
The financial effects of the closure of your business aren’t something to be ignored; the majority of small businesses can barely afford to remain closed for one week, let alone three weeks or more. Understanding this, the government has instituted measures to help all businesses survive the COVID-19 crisis.
Such grants and tax breaks can allow your business to stay afloat and pay your employees during this difficult season. Please go through the list to see how your business can benefit from government support.
Build Your Social Presence
Because most people will be working from home and movement for non-essential reasons is prohibited, you may not make any sales while the lockdown persists. This is the time, however, to increase your digital presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat or TikTok, if your business model allows it.
During this season, increase your posting frequency so that you’re more visible on already cramped newsfeeds. Your customers are spending more time on social media, giving a ready audience for your content. You should take advantage of this attention to build brand awareness by:
- Sharing or reposting content specifically about the virus, and how people can stay safe
- Talk about indirect effects of the lockdown, e.g. how to work from home, mental self-care
- Make shareable video content or live streams related to your services/products
- Host online events with giveaways that can be redeemed when shops reopen
Sponsoring your posts can also bring them before the right audience – and you can take advantage of Facebook’s ad credits for small businesses when they become available. You don’t need a big budget for social media advertising, but it can make an impact on your bottom-line, especially now.
Encourage Engagement and Communicate Proactively
Increasing your posting frequency is only one half of the equation; the other is boosting engagement by responding promptly to your audience. Communicate proactively if there are any changes affecting your business; customers will be empathetic provided they receive prompt and proper assistance. Let them know if you’re closing shop, moving the business online, changing hours, etc.
Use your website, social media channels, and email to talk to them. If your store is open, describe the steps taken to keep the shop environment clean and take care of your employees’ welfare. If you have new logistics arrangements, e.g. special hours/delivery arrangements for vulnerable citizens, talk about them. Encourage online ordering and explain how deliveries will be carried out.
Respond to customers’ queries promptly and in detail – this is the time to volunteer all the details a customer needs to make an informed decision. If you take care of them during this crisis, they’ll be sure to remember when it blows over.
Create Video Content
Video content generates far greater engagement than the written word, so you should think about putting up some videos. You can create a challenge that’s likely to grow viral – start by sharing within your networks and invite them to take up the challenge.
Your challenge may be geared towards value-adding actions, like offering to go shopping for vulnerable neighbours and leaving their shopping outside the door. Pay-it-forward challenges are excellent for raising morale during this season. Alternatively, no pressure challenges that are inclusive and easy can also work.
Be Part of the Solution
If your business can contribute directly towards making things easier for vulnerable people (the elderly, pregnant, or immunocompromised), frontline workers, or anyone else, this is the time to do it. Find out how you can plug into any ongoing initiatives or brainstorm with your team on initiatives you can start. Frontline workers – including employees providing essential services – need all the help they can get.
Be careful about tooting your horn regarding this one; someone else will probably pick it up, and you don’t want to seem like you were doing it for the publicity. You can, however, tastefully put it on your social media pages, e.g. encouraging those who need help/can give help to reach out to you.
Promote Gift Cards
If your store is closed, you can’t make any sales, but you can still promote gift cards to infuse some much-needed cash to the business. Gift cards also guarantee that a customer will come to your business in future, and they make excellent gifts for family and friends.
Encourage your audience to buy gift cards for themselves and each other by offering discounts to those who will buy using vouchers or gift cards. An e-gift card program for the customer to print will give you their email address and eliminate the need for human contact. A gift card also gives customers something exciting and fun to do/buy once the lockdown period is over.
Move Services Online
If you’re in the service industry, you may still be able to avail your services to customers online. For example, personal trainers, tutors, and counsellors/therapists are using video-conferencing services like Zoom and Google Hangouts to run remote sessions.
If you’re in a vertical where you can’t provide services online, such as salon, or spas, you can create video tutorials, e.g., haircare routines, massages, etc. Put teasers on your social media channels then place the full tutorials on channels with paywalls like Vimeo. You won’t make as much money, but it will boost your cash flow while you’re closed.
Desperate times call for creative thinking, and while government support might help you stay afloat, you must be creative to boost your business earnings during this lockdown.
Use this opportunity also to relax and take stock of your business: you have a unique opportunity to assess your progress and determine your next steps, undistracted by normal business operations. Find out whether an expansion plan is in your future, and use this time for the necessary research. If you’re bleeding cash, see where you can cut your overheads.
The key is to ensure you’re working to make your business better every day, even while we’re in lockdown.