The continuing spread of COVID-19 is taking a big toll on small businesses. Here in New Jersey, all non-essential businesses have had to close their doors to the public and send employees home, under the governor’s orders. This came just days after the governor warned against holding religious services, weddings, funerals, and house parties. “It’s time to cut the crap,” Governor Phil Murphy said bluntly. With similar scenarios developing around the country, what’s a small business to do? While I can’t lend you expert advice on managing your expenses, I can tell you one thing you should absolutely NOT cut: marketing. Marketing in the era of social distancing is arguably even more important than it is when things are going well.
Here are a few things to put into practice, starting now.
- Be honest with your customers. Remember your parents telling you “honesty is the best policy”? It’s still true with business. Especially for those of you who rely on customers from out of the region, the state, or even the country—where COVID-19’s impact may not be as severe—tell them what’s going on. For example, if your physical office or shop is closed, is your staff still working remotely, reachable via email and phone? A brief email blast, and a note on your website, explaining the situation will do wonders.
- Continue to communicate. Time and time again, businesses in all sectors cut or even eliminate marketing, advertising, and general communication with current and potential clients. In the words of Julia Roberts from the movie Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Huge.” Yes, the future is uncertain. Yes, many things are outside of your control. But if you have any notion of reopening once things settle down, you need to stay top of mind. Social media is your friend. Facebook and Instagram are where we’re all “gathering” in these days of social distancing. Make sure you’re there, too: Keep your business’ social media accounts active, and engage with your customers.
- Stay open online. Merchants aren’t the only ones who can do transactions online. For independent contractors, for example, options like PayPal, Square, and Venmo make sending and receiving invoices and payments simpler. Furthermore, communications services like Zoom and FreeConferenceCall are keeping us all connected to our fellow contractors and clients in this era of social distancing.
- Give your customers hope. We buy as much with our hearts as our heads. As much as you want to get back to normal, your customers do, too. Sell gift certificates; it’s money in your pocket now, and something for your clients to look forward to in (hopefully) the not-too-distant future. Post photos of your favorite customers on your social media pages, and encourage them to share the same with you. Did they patronize your place for a special occasion? Mention that in the post, and that you can’t wait to welome them back for the next major milestone.
I realize some of these tips are easier said than done. But without trying, there is not even a glimmer of success.