How (Most) Small Businesses Can Survive COVID-19

Howdy, friends. This is Jillian from SMG.

I waited two weeks before writing this post due to the uncertainty swirling around the Coronavirus outbreak. I wanted to see a clear trajectory before I started speaking openly about it. 

Here we are. We’re doing this. 

We all saw COVID-19 coming to some extent. We paid attention to what was happening in China. Then we solemnly watched what was happening in Italy. We knew it was only a matter of time before we would see our own cases. It felt like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the lone knight was running toward the castle for a comically long time only to suddenly stab the guard and run inside. The knight is in the castle, and he stole all the toilet paper.

So, what do we do now? 

This situation is evolving, so the first step is to be flexible but aware. This week’s plan will likely be different than next week’s plan. Entrepreneurs freaking love to plan and forecast and have things under control, and we can still do that to some extent. Instead of a Plan B, come up with a Plan B, C, D, E, and maybe even an F. If x happens, we do y. Keep your plans handy, and prepare for all possible outcomes. Meanwhile, pay attention to what’s happening and try to anticipate what will happen next. 

Got your plans ready? Good! Now take a comprehensive look at your business and see how you can still serve your customers. A few of us (this company included) are able to move to working remotely and still keep the whole team busy. But even we have had to pivot. We’re a full service ad agency, but we’re known mostly for our commercial and documentary film production. On Thursday, March 12th 95% of all filming dates through April on our calendar cancelled. Fortunately, we can get those back on the schedule in May and pick up where we left off. In the mean time, we’re focusing on the services we can offer remotely. We build great websites. We have an incredible graphic designer in house. We can make animated videos without leaving the house. We’re offering these services at a lower rate right now to help other businesses, keep ourselves busy, and obviously maintain cashflow. Think about how you can serve customers in this new normal. 

I’ve put together a few examples for different types of businesses. 

Spoiler warning – they all involve video.

Professional Services: Advertising agencies, law firms, financial planners, insurance brokers, and similar businesses can easily move to virtual work. Zoom is one of the many heroes of the pandemic as it allows people to connect in a meeting from the comfort of their home. 

Some Healthcare: Again, Zoom is your friend. Mental health professionals, you can still have sessions with your clients from afar. The privacy of your client may be an issue with them at home, but there are a few ways they can achieve privacy at home. Primary care, functional medicine, and even some specialists can do the same. Telemedicine is trending during this outbreak, and I don’t see it going anywhere when it passes. 

Retail (No Shelter in Place Order): This will look different for each business, and will also depend if your area is on lockdown or not. If you’re not under a shelter in place order, you can remain open, but with new policies in place. Consider having someone at the door who is tasked with limiting the number of people within the store at all times. Install a hand sanitizer station at the entrance, and another at the register. While it’s hard to find hand sanitizer in the store, you can work with companies like Cintas who will install sanitizer stations throughout your location and refill them as needed. Consider making tape squares on the floor to designate 6′ distances to give customers a visual reference. Consider going temporarily cash free. Offer customers incentives to use touch-free payments like ApplePay or Venmo. With each purchase, give the customer a coupon or discount to get them back in the store at a later date. Use video content to tell customers about your new policies that have been designed for their safety. 

Retail (With Shelter in Place Order): This is where it gets real. Retail stores are mostly considered non-essential. Now is the time to look at moving to ecommerce. If you haven’t embraced Shopify, now is the time. Shopify works seamlessly with Facebook and Instagram to allow selling right through the social media platforms. Create a Facebook group to engage with your customers. Offer an incentive for joining the group. A consistent 10% off all purchases across the board for group members should do the trick. Facebook groups are key because they trend higher in Facebook’s algorithm, and right now the algorithm is insane because of all the COVID noise. Groups rise above the noise. Within your group, find a balance between engaging and selling. Utilize video (especially live video) to show your products to your customers. A great function of Shopify is the ability to tag your products in your post which creates the ability to buy with one click. Offer delivery, shipping, or curbside pickup. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to shop with you. Don’t just sell products, though. Talk to your customers. Be funny, be relatable, be empathetic. Now is the time to forge connections with people. 

Fitness: This blog post is starting to sound like a commercial for Zoom, but it is not. Personal trainers, zumba instructors, yoga studios, Pure Barre studios, and more can take their classes online. You can either open your classes to anyone who wants to join, or you can create a private Facebook group where only paying members can join and host live classes there. I’m a member at Pure Barre Pooler, and they’re doing this beautifully. 

Restaurants: Takeout is key. If you don’t have a website that allows for online ordering, now is the time to do it. Utilize apps like ChowNow and GloriaFood to start quickly taking online orders for delivery or curbside pickup. Use video messaging via social media to tell your customers about the temporary change, and also to talk about your safety and cleanliness policies. Let them see the inside of the kitchen! Let them see your line cooks wearing protective gear. The back of the house is a mystery to the public, and now is the time to lift the veil and show off your food safety policies. 

What about the businesses who can’t work from home and can’t deliver tangible products? 

I hear you, and I feel for you. The best thing you can do is keep your social media channels active with great video content so that when people are allowed to re-enter society, they’re excited to come back to you. 

I keep talking about utilizing video. Here are some quick and dirty mobile phone video tips that anyone can use to make their video content without a professional. 

First, get a little mobile phone tripod to steady your shot. They can be found on Amazon for under $30. This one is fine.

Next, get a lavalier microphone with a fairly long cord that will plug into your phone. You might need an adaptor if your phone doesn’t have a standard headphone jack. This one has a 19′ cord, which is a great length because you can move around while you speak. Don’t forget to run it up the inside of your shirt before clipping it to your collar. 

Now you’ll need to set up a space for filming. I would decide on one time of day that you’ll film all your videos so that the light is consistent in every video. If you’re filming outdoors, find a shady area and avoid harsh light. If filming inside, make sure the light source (probably a window) is in front of you. If it’s behind you, the background will be super bright, and you’ll be very dark. Experiment with different light sources, and find the one that works best. You can’t beat natural light, though. 

Finally, practice what you’ll say. Speaking on camera is intimidating. I know this because most of my career is based upon filming people speaking on camera. Pick up a random article and record yourself reading it aloud just to see how your voice comes out. Adjust as needed. It’s a good idea to let go of the need to be perfect and just do it. 

These are weird times we’re living in, but we’ll get through this together. Savannah is an entrepreneurial community that was built on the common goal of doing business locally. The community-minded foundation upon which we’ve built our economy is unshakable, and we will prevail. Stay healthy, and we’ll see you soon.