covid-19

How Can Small Businesses Weather the COVID-19 Storm?

COVID-19 has had a wide-spread and hard-hitting impact on everything and everyone. It’s not only our individual health that’s at risk (to be sure, this is the most important consideration); the health of businesses – especially small businesses – is under siege. 

While governments try to contain the risk to public health, nearly a quarter of small business owners are already saying that the coronavirus outbreak is negatively impacting them. The key issues are slower sales (42%), supply chain disruptions (39%) and sick employees (4%).  As more lockdowns are put in place around the world, this will likely worsen.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many ways that small businesses can mitigate these effects, and even learn valuable lessons for the future. We have put together a few suggestions to keep your audience engaged and help you to navigate the challenging times ahead, even if your company is self-quarantined. 

Focus on online engagement  

Signs from markets around the world are already showing that customers are increasingly staying at home (whether out of choice or from instructions from health authorities). Naturally, this is going to cause a dive in brick-and-mortar sales, but an uplift in online engagement as consumers turn to the internet from the safety of their homes. 

To respond to this, small businesses must re-align its focus towards online engagement.

  • Virtual Meetings  

Often what sets small business owners apart from their mammoth competitors is their ability to build and maintain a sense of community. For small businesses who rely on community engagement, video meetings are a good way to stay engaged with your customers in unique ways from home. For example, yoga studios and gyms can “teach a class” to their pupils at home in their living rooms. Restaurants and cafés can teach a cooking or baking class virtually. Book stores can host virtual book clubs. Artisans can mail craft kits and host a DIY tutorial online. Many individuals are already familiar with Skype, but there are more free web conferencing tools to choose from. 

At times like this, your customers will probably have questions that you’ve never had to deal with before, and a lot more of them. With today’s high standards, they expect these questions to be answered quickly and accurately. It’s important that you prepare your employees for this increase in customer queries and provide them with all the answers that customers may now be asking. 

  • Live Chat  

There are only so many individual emails and phone calls you can handle at once. If you’ve ever been on a website and a bubble pop up on the bottom which allows you to speak to one of their representatives, you’ve used live chat. Adding live chat to your website allows you to handle conversations with multiple customers at once and provide instant responses to urgent queries.  

To help small businesses succeed online and handle a potential influx in customer queries, Comm100 is offering the Business edition of its Live Chat for free, for up to three agents until April 15, 2020. If you need to upgrade to more seats before then, Comm100 will donate 100% of your first month’s license fees to the World Health Organization

Providing live chat during this difficult period is a great way to stay connected with your customers and show them you’re here to help. Live chat provides real-time, personalized support to your customers and is intuitively easy-to-use for everyone. It can reduce the number of customers waiting to speak to you and wait their time, keeping customers happy and attended to. 

Enable online sales 

Analyze what other digital platforms you could sell your products or services through and determine which would work best for your audience. There are many different platforms beyond a website that you can list your products or services on. Here are a few to get you started: 

  • Facebook Shop 

While most companies have a Facebook page to boost brand awareness, you can also use it to directly drive sales through the ‘Facebook Shop’. Your customers can browse, share and purchase your products all within the Facebook app. However, ‘Facebook Shop’ doesn’t allow you to sell internationally, so if many of your customers reside outside of the country you operate in, Facebook Shop might not be the right channel for you. 

Remember that if you’re driving traffic to your social media page, you need to make sure that you’re providing as attentive customer service here as you are on your website. Today’s digital-first consumer expects quick help on whatever channel they choose to reach out to you on, and social media is no different. Find out more about how you can easily provide real-time, personalized social media customer support here

Recommended for you – The Definitive Guide to Social Media Customer Service   

  • Instagram Shop 

Similar to Facebook, ‘Instagram Shop’ could be the perfect platform for you to boost sales, especially if your products are aesthetically-pleasing. The same can be said for your target audience age, with 34 years old and below accounting for over 50% of global Instagram users. The social media platform also has an impressive audience engagement rate – 58 times higher than Facebook and 2000% higher than Twitter, according to Forrester

By setting up an ‘Instagram Shop’, online sellers can upload their product catalog alongside their profile, and so easily promote these products through posts and stories. Customers can even access the online store through the ‘Shop’ tab on your profile, stories, and posts. 

  • Amazon 

When it comes to selling online, it would be remiss not to mention Amazon. If you aren’t there already, Amazon is a very straightforward eCommerce platform, and you can be certain its popularity with consumers isn’t diminishing with the outbreak of COVID-19 – just this week Amazon announced it will be adding 100,000 positions across the US to keep up with the surge in demand. 

Also, restaurants and cafes can sign up for food delivery services that they previously might not have like Foodora, Deliveroo, Uber Eats, etc.  

Communicate with your key suppliers 

Aside from a drop in brick-and-mortar sales, the second issue for small businesses now, and more so in the near future, is supply. Many businesses are already facing supply chain issues, and if you are not yet, you should get prepared for this development. 

Start by talking with your key suppliers, finding out what challenges they are facing and if they are going to be able to continue reliable delivery to you. If they are based in a location that has enforced strict rules, production could be slowed down or stopped, and travel time could be increased by customs clearance points. Make sure you also speak about pricing at this stage to make sure that complications like these won’t see costs creep up. 

If you think that your supply could be at all affected, start researching alternative suppliers. You may need to look into local suppliers too, even if this leads to higher costs. 

Prepare your staff and workplace 

Staff are the lifeblood of any company, so it’s crucial that you do everything you can as a responsible employer to help prevent the spread of infections in your workplace – not only to reduce working days lost to COVID-19, but more importantly, to stop the spread of the virus. Here are some key things you can do to help: 

  • If your employees are still working in the office, studio, or store, ensure the workplace is clean and all objects and surfaces are frequently wiped with an alcohol-based disinfectant.  
  • Promote regular handwashing within your company, making it as easy as possible for everyone to do so. For example, display posters of hand-washing tips to remind people, place hand sanitizer dispensers in key places around the workplace and offer guidance from healthy and safety officers. Here is a handwashing poster distributed by the World Health Organization. 
  • Advise staff on travel plans, recommending them to consult national travel advice before any trips. Many places have banned non-essential travel.  
  • Promote staying at or working from home even if they aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19. As mentioned in the first section, employ your staff to update the online store, live chat with customers to ensure speedy online purchases, or host virtual classes. 
  • Encourage your staff to stay in touch on text message, email and video calling. Think about how to keep morale high in these troubling times. Make it a fun contest for who can come up with the best virtual customer engagement idea and provide a prize. Have lunch virtually together to keep up the workplace banter or conduct a lunch and learn.   

Take advantage of employee programs 

Around the world, businesses are being forced to reduce their employees’ hours, and even make redundancies. This is not a position that businesses or staff ever want to face but it will be unavoidable for some. However, governments across the world are attempting to mitigate this by expanding on current employee benefit programs. 

The Government of Canada for example, is enhancing its Work-Sharing Program, a scheme designed to help employers and employees avoid layoffs during a reduction in business activity that’s beyond their control. The program provides income support to employees whose hours are temporarily reduced, and the maximum duration of this agreement has been extended from 38 weeks to 76 weeks across Canada due to the epidemic. Your employees can find out if they are eligible for this scheme here

Similarly, in parts of the US, if an employer has reduced a staff member’s hours or shut down operations due to the virus, employees can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. This also provides partial wage replacement payments to these workers and the one-week unpaid waiting period has been waived. 

Wherever you are based, make sure that your employees are fully aware of their work rights and use these programs to their full advantage.  

Conclusion 

The effects of COVID-19 have reached almost every industry and will present new and unanticipated challenges over the coming months. However, it’s important to stay positive and think creatively about ways that your business can continue to function as normally as possible and even discover better ways of functioning. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others in your industry – you are all in the same boat, so brainstorm together and think of ways to help your industry weather this storm.

Use the time wisely to fix parts of your business that you haven’t had time to (or have avoided!). Everyone has parts of their business or improvement projects they wish they had time to focus on. Now is your time to try new things!

For a limited time, Comm100 is offering its Live Chat Business edition for free, for up to three agents. Connect with more customers with real-time, personalized live chat. In the office or at home, all you need is an internet connection. Find out more here and get free live chat!

About Kate Rogerson

Kate is the Content Marketing Specialist at Comm100. She has extensive experience in content creation for technology companies across the world, including the UK, Australia and Canada. She specializes in B2B messaging, branding and soccer trivia.