There’s no question that we are living in a surreal and scary time. The COVID-19 virus went from being a distant headline to an overwhelming reality. Cases in the United States and around the world are increasing exponentially and in a short time, we’ve gone from business as usual to most of the world’s population sheltering in their homes.
For business owners, the element of uncertainty looms large. Governments are advising non-essential businesses to close to protect employees and the public. If your business is going to survive, it will be because you find a way to keep your products and services relevant to the people in your target audience.
The answer for most businesses is going to require creative thinking. Here are some tips to help you find your relevance and maintain your audience during the global crisis.
Start with Your Customers
In a time of uncertainty, it’s always a good idea to let your customers lead the way. Ask yourself what your customers need from you right now – and what they’ll need from you a month from now. Better yet: ask your customers what they need.
While there’s certainly a lot of stress involved in running a business during a pandemic, it’s important to remember that we have resources that are still available to us even if our offices and stores are closed. We have technology to help us keep in touch with our audiences. That’s not a small thing.
Your customers may need you to deliver services in a new way. They may need your services or products to adapt to their current situation. You won’t know unless you ask.
Embrace Creativity to Retain Your Customers
Once you know what your audience wants, it’s time to figure out how to adapt your business to provide it. The answer may be an obvious one. For example, many restaurants have transformed into takeout and delivery services. Diners may not be able to come in and sit down, but people still want to support their favorite eateries.
Here are some other suggestions that may inspire you:
- Fitness trainers can do Skype or streaming classes. A great example comes from the martial arts community, where schools have been agile at switching to virtual classrooms to keep their students engaged.
- Consultants, including personal coaches, lawyers, and financial consultants, can offer Skype or Zoom sessions in lieu of face-to-face sessions.
- Some businesses (think electricians and plumbers) may be able to keep working with proper protective gear, including masks and gloves.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to figure everything out on your own. There’s help available.
No business will survive the current crisis that doesn’t take the situation seriously. This is not a time to take the pandemic lightly or act as if the safety of your employees and customers doesn’t matter. People are being hit hard by an ever-worsening reality and they won’t thank any business that’s dismissive of their fears.
Some of the things you can do to show you care and that you take your customers’ health and safety serious include:
- Posting a statement on your website and on social media outlining the precautions you are taking to minimize the risk. Here’s a good example from Target. You’ll notice that they’ve talked about what they’re doing to help employees, new cleaning procedures for their stores, precautions for product pick-ups and deliveries, and their community efforts to help people impacted by the pandemic.
- Offering deals on your products or services that are specifically helpful to people at this time. That means being creative and being mindful of the needs of the people you serve.
- Avoiding anything that seems opportunistic. Of course, you are worried about the survival of your business, but showing empathy to the very real concerns of your audience won’t help you survive.
- If you have clients or customers that owe you money, work with them to create payment plans if they ask you to. It’s natural to be concerned about cash flow but pushing people who are worrying about their own financial futures won’t make them pay you more quickly. In fact, it may make them avoid you. Be compassionate and you’re more likely to get paid.
In other words, you should market and advertise, but it’s essential to do it in a way that’s mindful of the current circumstances and shows your audience that you care.
Embrace the Uncertainty
Uncertainty can be difficult to cope with, but the truth is that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring – or next month, or the month after that. Despite hopes that social distancing would be a temporary measure, the rising number of cases suggests that we’ll be battling this virus and its devastation for a long time.
One difficult decision that’s on the horizon for some businesses is the need to lay off employees. If you can’t meet your payroll, then it’s best to lay people off now and file a claim with your local department of labor or unemployment office. When you file as the employer, you’ll be smoothing the way for your laid-off employees to collect unemployment benefits.
The businesses that will survive this crisis are the ones who manage to maintain their agility in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. As a business owner, you’ll need to lead your employees in a way you never have before, providing steady guidance and reassurance even if you’re filled with doubt.
Take Help If You Need It
Finally, and this is important, don’t hesitate to take help from any source that will provide it if you need to do so. I’ll go into greater detail about the help that’s available in another article, but you should be aware that the Small Business Association is providing disaster loan assistance to qualifying companies. You can learn more here.
Not every business will survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The ones that will are those that listen to their customers, get creative, and find ways to stay relevant. It’s going to be a long road, but your business can get through with some hard work and luck.