Many small businesses are suffering from the economic and even social impacts of the coronavirus. A key to survival may lie in pivoting your business practices, channels, or models. In June, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that 1 in 5 small businesses surveyed had closed, either temporarily (19%) or permanently (1%). Their survey said more than 80% of small businesses have made, are making, or are planning to make changes in response to the pandemic. Here are some suggestions on ways small businesses can adapt — to better function or remain at least partially open for the new future.
1. Get online for ecommerce (or to ease commerce)
Businesses that have an online presence, especially those who already conduct operations virtually, already have an advantage when it comes to staying open. However, even if your business is a local brick-and-mortar store with a basic or underutilized website, there are several ways to do more, and upgrade quickly.
Build a virtual store. If you don’t already have online ordering available on your website, there are numerous ecommerce platforms available from third-party vendors.
- Digital marketplace giant Alibaba has launched a new set of e-commerce tools, including Tmall’s Super Consumer Growth Accelerator program, to help American small businesses who are struggling through the coronavirus outbreak.
- Shopify, WayFair, BigCommerce, and other major platforms also make it easy to sell your wares online.
- Other smaller online marketplaces, like Bonanza and Etsy are popular with crafters and other more niche sellers looking for alternatives (or in addition to) to Amazon and eBay.
Localize your online presence. If you’re new to ecommerce, rather than trying to do business on a global scale or competing with others on Amazon and eBay, think local instead. Consider ways you could focus on customers within a 10-20 mile radius. For example:
- Offer free local delivery within your radius.
- Use your web store to schedule curbside pick-up.
- Embrace window shopping by using expanded window displays to showcase your products like a beautiful life-size catalog or vending machine, showing clear product codes and prices so customers passing by can purchase items for curbside delivery using their smartphone (or email during off-hours).
- Add or highlight locally-sourced products of interest to your community, from small-batch local food and beverage producers to hometown athletic or community-branded apparel.
- Use signage and social media to promote your small business in a way that appeals to your neighborhood’s pride in supporting local shops.
- Set up virtual tip jars to help support furloughed or laid-off waitstaff, bartenders, or other service staff.
2. Listen to your customers and fill their needs
Now more than ever, it’s essential to deepen loyalty with existing customers. It’s also important to actively listen and adapt to what they need.
- Make use of customer feedback surveys, online through email or social channels. Customers can give you invaluable insights about your business and products which you may not have been able to notice yourself.
- Dig in and look at your data, including what you know about your customers, your sales, and your marketing. Be honest with yourself about what you learn about what initiatives worked and what didn’t, and create a profile of your best customers.
- Seek out customer reviews, photos, and stories you can share on your social media to grow trust, audience, and engagement.
- Offer a new service or product predicted to peak in demand, such as niche products gone viral or newly-passed laws that require your services (such as legal or construction help).
3. Talk to your team
Your employees are more than your staff; they can be a great resource for business ideas. Be upfront with them about the challenges you’re facing, any necessary staff changes, and the plans you have. This is especially important regarding safety precautions, immediate changes (such as social distancing) and your plans or need to pivot business processes or models. Ask your employees for ideas, such as:
- Suggestions for new strategies, products, or business opportunities.
- Hidden auxiliary expertise or talents they may have, such as in art or marketing or even musicianship that they may offer to help your businesses pivot or differentiate.
- Availability to work on different roles — including local delivery — or working flexible or expanded business hours.
4. Partner or brainstorm with other business
Not only are you and your neighboring small businesses in this together, but you probably have other business partners (existing or potential) who may be able to help you and each other through innovative sharing of primary or secondary skills and resources.
- Find ways to use your supply chain or partners to fulfill shortages of hard-to-find items or services in your area.
- Consider negotiating with local delivery, courier, even taxi companies to help you offer or meet a demand for home deliveries.
- Ask your larger partners, like tech companies, if they could help you navigate the new normal by acting as consultants on your business or marketing or even customer data analysis. Some organizations who can’t help financially may still be able to offer free advice or even mentoring sessions.
- Collaborate with other small business owners to develop value-added bundles, coop marketing, or cross-promotion plans.
- If you are a restaurant needing to add more space, especially for outside dining, talk to the owners of locked-down neighboring shops or parking lots to see if their areas could be used for customer seating.
5. Diversify, adapt, and add business models
Sometimes, pivoting may actually necessitate doing something with your business you had never previously considered. This includes broadening your services or products. While foot traffic to your establishment may be down or even restricted by local ordinances due to COVID-19, there may be other ways to utilize your space and staff for generating revenue.
- Turn your restaurant into a market. In Atlanta, a handful of restaurants have converted into makeshift markets, by repackaging their bulk items like rice and flour, dry goods, and even paper towels and toilet paper, which can be ordered online or from new “menus” for touchless, car-side delivery.
- Teach live online classes or produce videos on the skills your business prides, whether it’s cooking lessons, kickboxing workouts, self-styling hair and beauty tips, or even virtual professional services from accounting to counseling.
- Expand your operating hours, for dining or shopping — or providing 24/7 customer service by phone or online. This makes a competitive way to build loyalty and serve more customers while space is limited.
- Become a convenient place for your community to accept deliveries. You can partner with Amazon to become an Amazon Hub, housing Amazon lockers for self-service pickup or utilizing your own kiosk and staff.
Take advantage of this time to evolve
Many businesses are now faced with the choice to either close or change. Many of these changes may turn out to be more than temporary. However, the agility by which you’re able to respond to this crisis, as unexpected as it was, can help arm you with the skills and strategies to remain resilient for whatever comes next.
Disclaimer: Fundbox and its affiliates do not provide financial, legal or accounting advice. This content has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for financial, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own financial, legal or accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.