How is your small business coping with the coronavirus outbreak? In many places, social distancing, shelter-in-place orders and other necessary steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 are taking a toll on local shops. Even many online sellers expect a drop in sales through autumn because of declining consumer spending.
What can you do to keep your customers, your employees and your business as healthy as possible? We’ve put together a checklist of steps you can take now.
1. Update your customers on changes to your business
The COVID-19 outbreak is forcing many businesses to change the way they operate, like:
- Reduced hours or days of operation for businesses that need extra time to restock and deep clean.
- Limited inventory and shipping delays for sellers facing high demand and/or supply chain interruptions.
- Changes in service availability, especially for restaurants and cafes in areas where dine-in service has been limited or temporarily banned.
- Reduced staffing when employees become ill, have to self-quarantine or have new caregiving responsibilities at home.
Most customers understand that things are different now, but it’s important to communicate your changes clearly so they know what to expect.
Add a pop-up or banner to your website for updates
Apple’s decision to temporarily close its retail stores made global headlines, and the company has a homepage banner to make sure customers get the info.
You can use a banner like Apple has, or you can create a pop-up message that grabs visitors’ attention.
Hustle is a popular WordPress plugin you can use to quickly build pop-ups, promote social sharing and grow your email list. That’s convenient, because you’ll also need to share your changes and updates on social media and via email.
Update your online profiles
Start by updating your Google My Business profile. Google has step by step instructions for setting special hours. If you have a Facebook page for your business, you’ll need to change your hours there, too.
It’s also a good idea to schedule more than one post about your changes to each social network where your business has a presence, to make it more likely that your audience will see your update.
Email updates to your list
Let your email list know about your temporary changes as soon as possible and let them know you’ll send more updates as things change.
The website pop-up or banner you use to announce changes can also include a subscription box so visitors can sign up for updates—a way to grow your list and keep everyone up to speed.
Promote delivery and carryout options
One of the biggest changes for many local eateries is the need to reduce seating capacity, limit counter lines or close their dining room without driving away customers completely.
Here’s how one Austin cupcake bakery with a small seating area and frequent long lines has updated their homepage to let customers know their options for getting treats.
Manage delivery-time expectations
If you sell online or are adding local delivery options, make sure you and your customers are clear about how long it will take items to arrive. Most people are understanding right now, but they want to know before they order.
Here’s an example of both what to do and what not to do. Amazon has been slammed with Prime Now orders as people stay home and try to avoid grocery stores. This banner on the Prime Now homepage makes that clear, which is good.
However, as of this writing you have to add items to your cart—items that are in stock, hooray!–and start checking out to learn that you can’t get those items because there are no delivery slots open.
Yes, this is life in a pandemic. But it’s also not a great use of customers’ time. A better option? Be up front about when delivery is available before customers load up their virtual cart. This information can appear in a pop-up or a banner that you update as needed.
For online sellers facing supplier slowdowns, you need a different kind of delivery-time transparency:
- If popular items are out of stock, use your website banner or pop-up to let shoppers know, along with when you expect to get more of those items.
- If you have alternatives in stock that might meet your customers’ needs, suggest them.
To keep customers in the loop after they place an order, you can add plugins like YITH WooCommerce Order Tracking and YITH WooCommerce SMS Notifications. These tools will show your customers exactly where their stuff is via your website, email and text messages. That’s handy at a time when shipping may also be delayed, and you may be short-staffed and struggling to respond to customer inquiries.
2. Show customers what you’re doing to keep everyone safe
Customers want to know how you’re protecting them and your employees from coronavirus. (If you haven’t reviewed the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines for businesses yet, now’s a good time to do so.)
Explaining the social distancing and deep-cleaning steps you’re taking is good customer relations and good citizenship. For example, here’s the homepage banner for a popular Austin nursery:
Clicking through takes you to a message about how they’re protecting staffers and customers.
Consider adding a COVID-19 FAQ section to your business website
The pandemic and responses to it are changing by the day. You may want to add a section or page where you post regular updates and feature a link to it on your homepage.
Regional grocery chain H-E-B offers a great example. The company’s newsroom page is full of articles that explain how the company is cleaning stores, adjusting hours and trying to make sure there’s enough stuff to go around:
This level of communication answers customers’ questions quickly and helps maintain their trust.
3. Explore ideas to keep business moving
One reason the coronavirus outbreak is so unsettling is that no one knows how long it will last. Because of that uncertainty, it’s a good idea to think now about new ways your business can bring in revenue or find support over the coming weeks and months.
- Can you sell your products online? Invest in eCommerce hosting for your website. If you haven’t built your website yet, get one up quickly with an eCommerce website builder.
- Can you pivot? If customers aren’t buying what you normally sell, think about what necessities you might offer instead. For example, a pastry-chain owner in Seattle is keeping her business going by adding bread to her bakeries’ sweet and savory snack menu. Her business also offers home delivery and lots of pickup locations—ideal at a time when foot traffic in Seattle is basically nonexistent.
- Do you offer gift cards? If not, now’s the time to start. If you do, now’s the time to promote them heavily, because people are not going to shop for gifts in person for a while.
- What about gift baskets and gift wrap options? Travel restrictions mean we won’t get to see far-off friends and family as often, but we can still send presents. Can you create a splashy presentation with your products to help your customers make someone’s day?
- Can you offer subscription boxes? Regular home delivery of pet treats, coffee, tea or other staples gives your customers one less thing to worry about trying to find. Subscriptions for snacks, games or toys seem tailor-made for a world where children may be out of school and stuck at home for weeks or months.
You can also start looking into resources to help your business with cash flow. The Small Business Administration has earmarked money for low-interest loans in areas hit hard by the coronavirus. You can also check with your city and state small business development agencies to see what resources they have for you.
And if you’re in a cash crunch, talk to your bank or credit union sooner rather than later. They may be willing to waive service fees or work out a plan with you to help your business get through the COVID-19 crisis.
Finally, keep in touch online with other small-business owners in your area and your industry to share ideas, find resources and get the peer support you need to keep your business running and your people healthy during this challenging time.