Strange times indeed, and unprecedented circumstances call for some serious out-of-the-box thinking. If you have always been a cautious small business owner, now is the time to be outrageously courageous. After all, you really don’t have anything to lose. Here are some ideas on how you can retool your business for COVID-19, retain your employees and make sweet, sweet lemonade out of all those lemons.
Sell Something Completely Different
Canlis is an upmarket restaurant that provides multi-course meals to its well-heeled customers. When restrictions to dining in were imposed, they retooled and started selling breakfast bagels through a drive-through window in the mornings, burgers at lunch and dinner with a bottle of wine in the evenings. They offer a bottle service replete with cocktails, a CSA for local farmers and a delivery service. Their new approach has been a hit and they were able to maintain all 115 employees.
Our Lucky Stars, a coffee shop in Ontario, started offering curbside pickup of coffee beans instead of serving coffee. They also made bulk batches of the condiments they serve in the restaurant, like salad dressing and chutney, for online sales and curbside pickups.
Pizza Transit in Michigan started offering pizza kits for kids to give them a fun activity to do during lockdown. “A lot of our business is families and with all of the kids at home right now, we really wanted to have something fun for families to be able to do since they can’t come in and dine with us like usual” said owner, Sarah Brittin. “We’ve had a great response,” Brittin said. “Lots of people coming in to get them and asking questions about it so far, so it’s been really positive.”
Delivery and Pickup
You can sell products through contactless delivery or curbside pickup. Set up an online ordering system, and then offer deliveries or curbside pickup to keep customers safe. For example, Shasha Bread Co. is an artisanal bakery which produces nutritious, organic and natural products including breads, flours, healthy snacks and cooking supplies. When the coronavirus hit, they retooled their retail store to offer food boxes for families using Square Payments and their online store builder (they even have a free version). Aware that people wouldn’t want to venture out for a loaf of bread, they began to offer bulk orders with several products for curbside pickup and delivery.
Move your Office Online
If you are in the service industry, you may be able to move your business into the virtual space. Teach a yoga class? Offer an online class instead. Sell online courses and classes to fill in your income gap until the lockdown has lifted. You no doubt have unique expertise, take this time to share that knowledge through video on YouTube or Vimeo or Podcasts.
Special occasions are a little less lustrous at this time, but people can still celebrate birthdays, achievements and anniversaries through gift cards. You can set this up in 30 minutes using GiftUp! and Stripe for credit card processing. IMTBIKE hosts motorcycle tours of Europe for individuals or groups. In order to keep their income flowing, they are using photos from their archives to stir nostalgia for the open road, using iconic images of Spain like road signs, food, mountains and peaks and asking customers to identify them. Reminding their customers of the good times they have had on the road encourages the gift of future travel through gift cards and helps to engage their audience.
This is a great time to work on your relationship with your customers using email marketing. Since 20% of your customers usually provide 80% of your revenue, turn your best clients into super fans by offering discounts, gifts and special offers. Offer free shipping, curbside pickup or local delivery, even pre-purchase plans when your clients order online.
Social Media is Everything
You know how you keep putting off working on your social media strategy? Now’s the time! Your customers are in isolation, so take this time to make a personal connection. Get creative with your social posts to offer different experiences. If you sell clothing, post an online poll to see which dress is the most popular, host contests and offer Q&A sessions. Post personal content so your customers get to know you better and make a connection.
Be sensitive here, you don’t want to flood feeds with spam or look like you’re profiting off a bad situation. Instead, be sincere, tell your own personal stories and stay true to your brand identity. Be sensitive and kind and offer your customers content for free. A free yoga class, a daily recipe, free “how-to” videos or fun activities are all good ways to connect.
Use this time constructively to build your online audience, to touch base with existing clients and work on your social marketing. Here’s some ways you can make use of this downtime:
- Update your website
- Grow your mailing list and connect through newsletters
- Automate your emailing system or update the content
- Create an online store
- Grow your social media presence
- Refresh your brand identity
- Create new marketing materials
- Create content in the form of blogs, podcasts and videos
Anyway, I hope some of the ideas mentioned above will give you some guidance on how to move quickly. Keep safe.