March 19, 2020 | Nikki Sneed

How to Weather the Storm as a Small Business

There are times in life that no one could ever have foreseen. Tragedies, crises, disasters, as a business owner there’s simply no way to prepare for what you could never predict. But there are ways to adjust or adapt when something unexpected occurs — and we have a list of them just for you.

Whether it be natural disasters, like a tornado, hurricane, or flood, or a different kind of crisis, such as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, there will always be situations where business owners find themselves unprepared. 

In the midst of storms such as these, small and mid-sized business owners need to be able to adapt and adjust. Innovation is the strongest asset for any entrepreneur, and it is never more important than in the middle of tough times. 

As countries around the globe are struggling to face the Coronavirus epidemic, citizens are being asked — or required – to stay in their homes, practice social distancing, and avoid any public gatherings. And for companies that rely on foot traffic or in-person sales, this is a grim proclamation. 

So, how do you survive, when your patrons aren’t allowed or are otherwise unable to come to your store or support your business? How do you hold your classes or sell your goods? How do you communicate with your clients or your team? The answer, of course, is the internet

We are in an age blessed with technology, which means that with just a little bit of innovation and ingenuity, your business can weather any storm that assails you. Here are some of our tips for moving your business from a foot-traffic model to thriving online.

Stream or Video-Chat Your Services

Illustration of a video chat If you run a business that relies heavily on in-person conversations or group gatherings and are no longer able to meet your clients, consider moving your business online — either temporarily or as a permanent option. 

Yoga instructors, teachers, or tutors can stream their services live via Twitch or Facebook Live. Or, pre-record your lessons and share them at the time of your choosing via YouTube, Instagram TV, Vimeo, or other social media platforms.

Jill Bartine, longtime VIEO friend and local yogini, recently used this very model to move her yoga studio online in the face of the COVID disaster. By using a subscription model, Bartine is able to continue supporting her business while offering a much-needed service to the community in these tough times. 

Counselors, therapists, or business consultants could switch to using Facetime or Skype for real-time video chats, instead of risking face-to-face encounters with clients. 

By conducting business virtually, you open up your services to a much wider audience. For example, those housebound or ill, or longtime clients that are traveling, would still be able to benefit from your services. 

Sell Your Goods Online with an Ecommerce Site

Illustration of an ecommerce online shopping cartAre you a retail presence that thrives on the foot traffic of clients? Consider an ecommerce plugin or upgrade for your website. Retailers and other small businesses that rely heavily on in-person transactions can supplement their sales during times of crisis by continuing to sell online. 

The people within your community still need your services, and they want to support their local businesses more than ever when the metaphorical — or literal — storms rage on. 

Okay, okay, I know what you are saying: “My business is a restaurant. I can’t sell that online!” But you can, my friend, you can! Just because you can’t have guests inside your physical restaurant to eat, doesn’t mean that you can’t still serve them. Switch to online orders that can be picked up curbside or meal kits shipped to your patrons’ homes via your website

Orange Hat Brewing Co., a brand-new local business, has already proven this model is a winner with their “Curbside Growlers To-Go” as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the self-isolation/quarantine models just starting up around St. Patrick’s Day — a day famous for its beer consumption — and the general uncertainty around the virus, you could certainly say that still being able to have a pint while supporting local business is very mutually beneficial. 

People may be cooped up in their homes, but they still want to live their lives as close to normal as possible. Being able to order food, clothes, household items, meal kits, or merchandise is an easy way for patrons to hold a sense of normalcy through the crisis while also supporting the businesses they love. 

Media Training Can Help Turn You into a Natural on Camera

Illustration of a cameraIf you aren’t used to being in front of a camera, the idea of filming yourself to represent your brand and company can be intimidating and overwhelming. There are so many small details that are easy to overlook, and it’s common to obsess over how you look, how you sound, what’s in the background, etc. to the point of insanity. 

But with a small bit of media training, anyone can be a comfortable natural behind the camera. If you’re considering filming yourself to move your services online or simply to better define your brand, here are a few things to remember: 

  • Speak slowly — On average, people speak much faster when giving a presentation or reciting something memorized or learned. 
  • Enunciate clearly — It’s easy to take for granted that everyone listening to you will just understand what you intend to say. Clearly articulate each word to make sure your viewers understand. 
  • Sound natural — I know, we’ve just told you to speak slowly and enunciate, so you are probably thinking you should talk like a robot. But you certainly don’t want that. Be as natural as possible in order to sound warm and inviting to your viewers. 
  • Stand, if possible, or sit up straight — All your speaking power — not to mention your lung capacity — comes from the diaphragm and when we slouch or lounge, we constrict that area. (Also, it just looks far more professional, doesn’t it?)
  • Avoid using colloquial language, slang, or jargon — Language is constantly evolving and the fastest way to alienate some viewers, and date your content, is by forcing in colloquialisms or jargon. 
  • Don’t overanalyze — Everyone is very critical of themselves, especially on camera. Don’t focus too much on the little details. Try to be objective when reviewing your content. 

This is hardly a comprehensive list, but these are the most important factors to remember when you’re just getting started behind the camera. If you’re looking for more formal, in-depth training, PR and marketing/advertising agencies (like VIEO) will be able to help!

Email & Social Media are Your Communication BFFs

icon-social-likeWhen you can no longer rely on in-person conversations and messaging to communicate with your clients, digital means are there to pick up the slack. Segmented email marketing and social media messages can keep you connected with your loyal patrons and even get your brand in front of new eyes. 

But what if you’re not familiar with social media? Where do you start? If you’re just starting out with social, here’s what you need to know: 

  • Each platform is different, so experiment to find the best medium for your brand voice. Does Twitter’s short messaging layout seem better for you? Or would Instagram’s photo-heavy spread be a better fit?
  • Know your audience and research what they are using. The demographics across all social platforms are very different but easily found. Compare them with your own clientele to know which is the best fit. 
  • Plan your posts ahead of time to save yourself time, effort, and stress. It’s important to be organic with your posting, but you can also plan ahead for holidays, special events, etc. to keep your feed strong. 
  • Use a template or content calendar, like this one from HubSpot, to help you plan out posts and create a sustainable posting schedule. 

Illustration of an envelope representing email marketingIf effective email marketing hasn't been a focus for you in the past, here are a few of the tips from our downloadable email marketing checklist

  • Segment your database to ensure that the right people are getting messages at the right time. Instead of sending the same message to your whole database, split out your email lists based on lifecycle stages, geography, industry, job role, purchase history, and other categories that help you target the correct people for the correct messages — meaning more opens, more clicks, and a higher email sender reputation.
  • Send relevant, personalized messages that help your customers and prospects solve their problems and overcome challenges. When emails don’t deliver, they wind up unread, deleted, or even marked as spam — all of these actions lower your reputation with your email provider, which affects your delivery. 
  • Carefully craft your subject lines and preview text. Create clickable subject lines that clearly relay why your reader will benefit from opening your email. Subject lines are important, but you should also pay attention to the preview text — the line or two of text that appears at the top of emails when you view them in your email client or on a mobile device. Preview text has an allowance for more characters than subject lines, and it tends to load before the body of the email, making it the first thing readers will see. It’s a great way to highlight important information or catch someone's eye and entice an email open.
  • Include a Call-to-Action (CTA) that's easy for someone scanning your email to spot. Think about your main goal for sending the email — what were you hoping the reader would do? Use action-based language on your CTA button that explains what’s going to happen when they click. For example, “Sign up to receive our awesome deal” instead of “Register Here.”
  • Design your email with mobile in mind. Almost 50% of all emails are opened on mobile devices, so mobile optimization is vital for a successful email campaign. Use a minimalistic design that won’t overwhelm a small mobile screen and make all your links, CTAs, and other buttons touch friendly to improve your click rate.

Getting your hours, business status, and messages out there through social and email helps to remind your community that you are still with them — no matter what storms come your way. It’s also the best way to communicate new information quickly to a larger audience. 

Update Your Business Information on Google My Business

Illustration of a map icon for Google My Business PageLetting people know when you are and aren’t open — especially in times of natural disaster or crisis — is paramount to getting clients into your business. When people want to know where to go for the things they need, they first visit Google to search for what’s open. 

That’s why it's important to make sure your Google My Business profile is updated regularly, especially when things may be chaotic and hours could change from day-to-day. 

Local business listings and customer reviews are the front lines of communication with potential and current customers. Updating your GMB account is a simple way to make sure that you remain top of mind for your clients. Additionally, addressing any missing, inconsistent, or inaccurate information will also help your local SEO efforts!

Keep in mind that as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, Google is constantly updating it's in-house staff and changing the available tools, so some access may be restricted. For example, Google recently announced that in an effort to protect their in-house workers, they are limiting staff on the premises, which means that: 

  • Some users will be restricted from updating business information as edits to health-related businesses will be prioritized. 
  • Newly created listings, claims, and verifications will be delayed as priority is given to critical health-related businesses. 
  • New reviews, review replies, and all Q&A are suspended temporarily during this time. 

Additionally, Google has now added an option for you to mark your business as "temporarily closed" on Google My Business throughout the COVID crisis, an option that was not previously available. 

Use Your Experience to Create a Disaster Plan

Illustration of a disaster alert iconAs they say in the IT world, disasters happen and how you respond to them is what defines your business. If you feel like you are floundering right now, just remember that we are all in this together — and we are all using this as a learning experience. 

Take what you have learned and everything you implement into your routine and craft a disaster plan that you can work from in the future, should anything like this ever happen again. Monitor all the data you have from this time and use it to gain a better understanding of how your client traffic works, how your audience thinks. 

This way you’ll be even more prepared for the next crisis or disaster — if one should ever occur. 

Are you a small business trying to weather the storm? Do you need someone to throw you a life preserver and point you in the right direction to innovate and adapt your business? We can help. We’re all in these troubling times together, and if there is any way that we can support you and your business, we will.

If you need help with moving your business online, improving your local SEO, media training to get behind the camera, or social media advice, set up a free brainstorming session with us, we'd love to help!

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Nikki Sneed

Nikki Sneed

As VIEO's content marketing strategist, Nikki Sneed creates content strategy for VIEO and our clients. She works with the content team to create, document, and revise creative content strategies that help clients and customers better understand each other.

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