As members of the community, small & large business owners alike are experiencing challenges caused by COVID-19. While many were forced to close their doors for good, some are reopening, while others are curtailing operations or opening with limited operations.
Regardless, there are still many methods being used by companies to not only survive, but grow and prosper! These unprecedented and evolving times have created new standards for conducting business which are expected to continue even when the pandemic subsides.
Uncertain times require creative, out-side-of-the-box thinking to adjust business models to succeed in a constantly changing environment.
The following are a number of methods used by businesses of all sizes to remain open and adapt to the new normal of "remote & digital online business practices":
1. Working remotely with digital operations:
While many businesses were deemed “non-essential” and forced to close or curtail operations; many used the opportunity to move staff to remote work from the safety of their home.
Depending on the type of business and industry, the ability for staff to work remotely may require some of the following tools:
a. Remote Access: By using remote access software, employees can login remotely to access their work station. There are numerous available softwares out there and available from free to paid. The following article details some of the best rated softwares by TechRadar “Best remote desktop software of 2021: Free, paid and for business”.
b. Virtual Meetings: Virtual meetings have become the new normal for many industries needing face-to-face contact. There are numerous virtual meeting softwares that allow employees, customers, and other attendees to meet for chat in real-time via web and video conferencing interfaces. The following link provides comparisons of many different services from free to paid “Web Conferencing Software”
c. Web-Based CRM & POS: Moving company tools to secure digital online systems (such as Customer Records Management and Point-of-Sale systems) is the new norm for anywhere-secure-remote-access and operation. There are numerous options for moving a business' operations to a secure web-based solution accessible to employees from anywhere with a secure internet connection.
While some solutions take longer to implement, they provide the business a fully online and secure solution employees and staff can access to conduct work remotely. Most web-based CRM and POS systems can be tailored and customized to fit any company’s unique needs.
2. Turn to online sales & service:
a. Online sales & e-commerce: Any business selling products in a physical storefront can utilize online sales. While most businesses have a website, not all have utilized e-commerce (online shopping and payment).
With e-commerce, companies can list all products for sale; including shipping and handling. This allows consumers to search the inventory of products, and securely purchase with the online storefront.
b. Online servicing: Online sales and e-commerce works for service-driven companies too:
* by listing services online for purchase (similar to using a shopping cart for products),
* to online scheduling for consulting services,
* to using video chat for counseling needs,
* among other remote online methods;
there are numerous viable methods a service-based business can offer services or scheduling online.
c. Online & offline combinations: For those lacking funds or time to setup e-commerce, there’s still the opportunity to update a website to request consumers advise of their needs by:
* using an online form.
This hybrid method may not accommodate complete online sales, but it still allows users to request more information on products and services they’re interested in remotely.
3. Utilizing chat, text, email & phone services:
a. Chat services: Online chat services are a real-time method for assisting users needing more information on products and services. Most chat services allow one to provide answers to many common questions by live agents, as well as AI (Artificial Intelligence). Most chat services allow agents to share files, documents, links, and images with users needing direction to information for making a buying decision.
b. Texting: Many customers already text, and often prefer texting over emails or a phone call. Make sure your company is setup to allow customers to text for questions on products, services, and customer support.
c. Email correspondence: Using email to serve customers with resources for product and service needs is still sustainable and affordable. When a business doesn’t have other viable means to provide support, make sure email options and contacts are prominent and readily accessible for users to contact about any need.
d. Phone conversations: Never underestimate the power of speaking with a customer via phone. Phone conversations provide the unique ability to assess a consumer's tone and attitude while helping provide the information needed to make a purchase or utilize a service. Encourage phone calls as much as possible when a business has limited online accessibility.
4. Utilize social media platforms:
a. Social media: Make sure all social media profiles list available services, products, and variations thereof. This additional platform allows users to glean all possible information when making a purchasing decision. Depending on the industry, it may be important to utilize more than just Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For many B2B companies, utilizing other social platforms, such as LinkedIN and Alignable, could be imperative to reaching its target market and demographic.
b. Direct messaging: Allowing users to place orders via direct messaging on their social media platform of choice is a great option to providing users a way to purchase when the company’s website does not support e-commerce.
5. Additional online & offline marketing ideas:
a. Direct mail: Direct mail options (such as postcards and flyers) have always been an excellent method of reaching prospects at their place of residence or business. While the cost of direct mail and EDDM (Every Door Direct Mail) are often more than digital advertising, it's still nominal compared to other forms of advertising including radio, television, etc.
b. Digital ads: Digital advertising refers to most any form of online ads including:
* Google Ads search & display advertising,
* Bing Ads,
* and so on.
Digital ads often show at the top and bottom of search results with “Ad” next to it. As well, digital ads often show up on related network pages (for example when reading an article on related subject matter).
Most digital advertising platforms allow any desired budget, as low as $1/day with no commitment, cancel anytime.
However, most platforms recommend a minimum budget of $250/month for local ads, and $500-1000/month for regional or national ads in order to truly be effective.
c. Social media ads: Like digital ads for search, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Nextdoor, and LinkedIN all offer variations of digital online advertising. Again, these platforms often allow any budget for as little as $1/day, cancel anytime.
d. Email marketing: While email marketing has been around for quite some time, it’s still one of the most effective methods of reaching customers and prospects. Email marketing can be an effective method of letting prospects know about the business, its offerings, ,special needs, upcoming sales & promotions.
e. Host web-based classes, seminars & workshops: As methods of conducting business have drastically changed this last year, so have customer and prospect interaction methods. Many fitness trainers, and consultant-based professionals have turned to providing online web-based classes, seminars and workshops in place of physical in-person appointments. In addition to taking advantage of video conferencing, many consultants are also utilizing social platforms offering live streaming sessions to accomplish the same goals.
f. Contact the database of customers: While this may seem obvious, contacting current clients, and notifying them of accommodations made to adjust to the changing marketplace is imperative. Always remind clients and prospects that the company will adjust to meet needs to continue service during times of crisis and change.
g. Utilize delivery & curbside pickup options: Some obvious methods to implement social distancing including offering and promoting delivery and curbside pickup. Such options keep both the consumer and employees safe by limiting traffic in and out of an establishment.
h. Utilize other online platforms to supplement: There are numerous platforms and resources various industries can take advantage to survive a changing world. Such platforms and resources include selling on:
* Amazon Marketplace
* Google Shopping
* Uber Eats
* among many more!
Such established platforms have large consumer bases visiting them daily; these supplements can help survive declining local foot traffic.
6. Google My Business cards: As one of the most important online resources for being found in local and regional search results, it’s imperative to make sure each business updates its Google My Business card to include all the latest changes each business makes to accommodate changes.
a. Update Hours
b. Update Online & Delivery options
c. Update all products and services available
Most of all, DO NOT STOP ADVERTISING! As noted in this article in Forbes magazine, it’s historically important to continuing advertising during a recession or any economic hardship. Those companies that fail to continue to advertise lose a foothold and have shrinking markets once things do return to normal. Those businesses that take advantage and increase advertising during such time, come out on top with tremendous growth once all is said and done!
While challenges change lives forcing new and innovative methods for survival; it's important to keep marketing plans fluid and updated. Always prepare for new opportunities to begin growing again!
Most of all, NEVER exploit a challenging situation for greed! Such exploitation creates bad reputations that only hurt the company in the long run. Remember, whatever a company does to cope and get through challenges, tone matters; be sympathetic to events affecting humanity!