A message from Dawn Verbrigghe, small-business marketing professional and CEO of Jottful, a company that makes and manages websites for small businesses.
Dear Small Business Owner:
We’ve heard from many of our customers this week. We’ve also spoken with a number of self-employed professionals and business owners in our community.
The reaction has been consistent: there’s a lot of anxiety about the impact COVID-19 will have on our businesses, as well as confusion about what to do next.
At Jottful, we’re known for sharing small-business marketing tips every Monday morning. So I’d like to use this letter to consolidate advice on how you can successfully market your business and sell your services during this crisis.
I’ve compiled research we’ve done with tips we’ve received from people like you.
We hope this information will help you better prepare and navigate your way through this challenging time.
Yes, small businesses are going to experience this crisis deeply.
The NFIB recently reported a historically strong outlook in its monthly Small Business Optimism Index.
And the U.S. Labor Department announced that businesses had added a whopping 273,000 jobs in February, dropping the unemployment rate to a mere 3.5%.
Wow — that feels like a million years ago. But it was just last week.
We’re now officially experiencing a global pandemic. Virus containment is largely off the table and mitigation is the word of the day.
Let’s face it: most larger organizations will muddle through this just fine. Coming off an 11-year bull market, they are flush with profits.
Small businesses, however, will feel the economic disruption more intensely.
You will need to interact with customers and prospects in new ways.
Social distancing will drive less foot traffic to businesses and interrupt networking opportunities.
As a result, it will become more difficult to communicate with prospects and customers. Here are some ways you can continue to stay in touch:
- Step up your use of videoconferencing as travel restrictions make it more difficult to reach sales prospects and customers. Some providers are offering free conferencing software and upgrades right now.
- Forward the office phone so it doesn’t ring in an empty room as your team works from home.
- Update your hours of operation, if needed, on your website as well as anywhere else they might be published, such as Facebook, Yelp, or Google My Business.
- Add live chat to your website to make it easier for people to communicate with you instantly. If you already use software such as ActiveCampaign, you could simply turn on this feature.
- Blog about your business and any changes customers can expect. Blogging is a great way to communicate personally and directly, especially if paired with an email newsletter. (If you need help writing blog posts or setting up email marketing software, you can find a local professional in the Jottful Community directory. If you’d like us to make a recommendation, just send us an email at email@example.com and we’d be happy to do so.)
- Add a banner to your website to notify visitors of any changes in your business operations. One of our customers, an elder law firm, used a banner to link to a statement they wrote about the particular impact of COVID-19 on their clients.
Reading these tips, you may have noticed that your website serves as a valuable tool in your communications effort right now. Indeed, your website is the communications channel over which you have the most control. It’s also where your customers are likely to go first to get information about your business.
If you need website help, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to either assist you or recommend someone who can.
A focus on hygiene will change habits around greeting people, touching communal surfaces such as elevator buttons or doorknobs, and sharing goods.
To promote good hygiene in your interactions:
- Add mobile payment and customer-facing card readers if you operate a retail business. Customers will become increasingly skittish about the shared handling of cash and credit cards.
- Download a digital business card app to your phone, as paper business cards will become unwelcome. If you use a CRM, connect your app to it so you can automatically import the card information and save yourself a bunch of time.
- Eliminate handshakes in favor of elbow bumps, head bows, or Vulcan salutes. (Personally, I’ll be going with the Vulcan salute!)
People will change their buying habits.
We’ll all behave in unusual ways. Here are some things you can expect from your customers:
- More online ordering and unusual purchase hours as people are cooped up in their homes all day.
- Drive-through and drive-by ordering or pickup to maintain social distance.
- Requests that items be delivered or shipped to follow isolation or quarantine protocol.
- Contingency plans that spell out what happens if a bridal gown doesn’t arrive before a wedding date or an event is cancelled, for example.
Some marketing channels will be less effective for the duration of this crisis.
In-person events will continue to be cancelled and postponed.
This hurts us here at Jottful, too. We have a full spring and summer packed with in-person events, including: exhibiting and speaking at conferences; conducting seminars; and hosting a booth at a community summit.
We anticipate all of these events will be cancelled or postponed.
Furthermore, we expect meetings for the networking organizations we participate in, such as our local Chamber of Commerce, will go on hiatus.
All told, the cancellation of in-person events will have a not-insignificant impact on our lead-generation plans over the next few months.
And I consider us to be lucky; we don’t have a lot invested in space-rental fees, travel, and marketing collateral for these events. I recognize that many of you are not as fortunate.
PR will be less effective as your news is overwhelmed by virus updates.
Let’s face it: no one is paying attention to our new product launches, special offers, and big announcements right now.
The pandemic and presidential election are huge news stories. It will be difficult for small businesses to get much media attention for the next several months.
Your best bet may be to piggy-back on these news stories. Is there a way your company can attach itself to either of these events?
Getting new customers through online advertising and direct mail will become more expensive.
As in-person events dry up and it remains challenging to get any media attention, businesses of all sizes will rely more on online advertising and direct mail.
The additional supply in those marketing channels will make them more competitive, driving up customer-acquisition costs for all of us.
- Expect ad rates to increase on auction-based advertising platforms such as Google and Facebook.
- Direct and email marketing response rates are likely to decline as more marketers flood our inboxes in a bid to reach sales prospects. Many of your messages will simply be missed or ignored.
And yet, new opportunities will arise.
In Chinese, the word “crisis” is written with the characters for danger and opportunity. Find the opportunity in this crisis. Ask yourself:
- Could we collaborate with other businesses? Perhaps you could work on a marketing campaign together, such as a webinar that features both of your businesses and reaches both of your audiences. Or maybe you could promote a bundled service offering.
- Can we create content that engages people in their new circumstances? If we become a nation of homebodies, maybe you could deliver web-based cooking lessons or local kids programming that’s relevant to your business.
- How can we secure the loyalty of our current customers? Reach out to customers to see what you could do for them. Extend generous cancellation policies. This morning my best friend wrote to say his neighborhood feels like a ghost town, but he’s made a point to buy a coffee from his favorite local cafe. The businesses with the most loyal customers will be best prepared for a downturn.
- How can we support people? Find ways to demonstrate empathy and showcase the human side of your brand.
Finally, this isn’t a time to panic. This is a time to get sharp.
In good economic times, we can get a little fat and complacent. Take this opportunity to tidy things up a bit. Here are a few clean-up activities you can complete this week:
- Review all your marketing campaigns and kill the ineffective ones.
- Check your software applications and cut any you don’t use. In fact, just this morning I discovered a subscription we could downgrade. I find the best way to identify these opportunities is by going through your checking account to see what charges went through last month.
- Create your Ideal Customer Profile. This is one of those things we often push down the to-do list. But nailing the definition of our target customer will help us get much more focused with our marketing efforts and budget.
We’ll all be making changes in our everyday lives. As business owners, as consumers, and as friends, neighbors, and family members.
I hope this letter helped you prioritize changes to make in marketing your business.
P.S. I’d like to update this letter as the situation unfolds.
If you have ideas that might be helpful to other small business owners, please send me an email at email@example.com.
If you’d like me to email you a copy of any future letters on this topic, please sign up here.