The covid-19 global pandemic seems to have hit every neighborhood regardless of location and size, with many small businesses forced to shutter their doors permanently as their incomes dried up when customers stayed at home. If you run a business, you’re probably struggling to find ways to protect your business so you don’t suffer the same fate.
The unpredictability of our current situation makes achieving business growth nearly impossible and even staying afloat is challenging. Will your area go on lockdown? This week? Next week? Never? More importantly, even if you don’t experience a lockdown, will customers feel safe coming to your store, or restaurant, or gym? And, even if customers come, will they spend enough to cover your operating expenses? Will you have sufficient staff to serve them without having the high costs you can’t cover with too many staff to serve too few customers?
With that in mind, here are some important things you can do to protect your business in light of spreading covid-19 infections.
Adapt To Online Alternatives
One of the most important and obvious ways to keep your business going during a pandemic is to choose online alternatives. If you don’t have an e-commerce store, you need to get one up and running in short order, even if you just offer a product list with pricing to allow customers to call in orders for curbside pickup. Certain products aren’t in high demand during a pandemic, so think of ways to make your offerings more appealing. For instance, some breweries and distilleries, with strict regulations that made them hard to sell in the current environment, switched to making hand sanitizer, which was in short supply and highly lucrative.
But think beyond moving your current operation online as a means to protect your business. Think about what people need during a pandemic and how to serve their needs. For example, you can set up virtual events instead of the physical ones you normally provide. This is especially critical in the performing arts, where revenue dried up overnight. Meeting this challenge, businesses offer drive-through or drive-in entertainment, creating pop-up theaters for performers. A new company formed to supply revenue to performers by charging moderate fees for private performances, such as a special wedding song or birthday greeting.
Give employees flexibility
A major concern should be the question of how you are going to keep your employees during the pandemic. The last thing you need is to emerge from the pandemic without your greatest asset, your employees. Many first furloughed employees as a means to reduce payroll but retain employees for a time when things go back to normal. This reduced payroll, as furloughed employees likely only received benefits and, maybe, a small salary. These employees feel valued when you don’t lay them off and, in most areas, they still qualify for unemployment benefits. Valued employees are ready to return once circumstances improve.
Of course, many places are on lockdown and that means you must allow employees to work from home. When employees work from home, you need new programs to help them feel connected to each other, such as virtual happy hours and celebrations for birthdays, just like you’re still working from the office. Employees working from home need more support, as they likely deal with additional stress, especially if their kids are also at home. Consider having mental health days and providing ready access to counselors for staff feeling a little overwhelmed by it all.
Also, consider security with all your staff working remotely. For instance, you might need to provide a VPN (a virtual private network) to ensure secure data and communications. Equipment loan programs might help remote employees with older equipment or none at all.
Even if you are somewhere not experiencing full lockdown, you must ensure you provide your employees with a certain level of flexibility to work a staggered schedule (for instance one partner working days while the other works nights to provide childcare), can take time off to manage outside needs, such as grocery shopping for an elderly relative, or just to relieve stress. After hours spent sitting in front of a computer on one Zoom call after another, everyone needs a little mental health break to take a walk or lift some weights.
Change marketing tactics
Marketing is one area that’s critical to your operation and probably needs a little makeover to meet the challenges of the pandemic. Otherwise, you might find that your business struggles to meet customer needs, and ultimately this failure will make things so much more difficult for your business, especially in terms of trying to retain market share after the pandemic is over.
So, ensure your marketing reflects the changing needs of the marketplace and evolving customer demands. Make whatever changes you can to accommodate your market, as consumers have long memories of who helped and who didn’t. Protect your business by ensuring you still have a market to return to after the pandemic is over.
One suggestion I made early in the pandemic, before we knew it would extend beyond a few weeks, was to build a strong market before you face a challenge like the pandemic. Sure, a pandemic might be a once in a lifetime occurrence, but your business constantly faces stress from outside, whether it’s a competing product or a service failure. The best approach to handling these potential dangers is to build a strong brand well before danger hits.
One thing to bear in mind is that providing for good health and safety during a pandemic is not something that should interrupt your business’ chances of future success and growth. As long as you do everything you can today in preparation for emerging from the pandemic, you should survive this event. If you do that, you are going to be achieving the best of both worlds, and you will find that this is the far superior way to approach running a business in good times and bad.
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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.