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Small business marketing and operational tips during COVID-19

Photo by Alev Takil

Amid the swirl and stress of operating a small business in the current environment, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. When it happens, don’t underestimate the power of stopping to take a deep breath. Take a moment to organize your thoughts, set goals, and write a to-do list with small and large tasks that you can check off for that satisfying feeling of accomplishment.

To help build that plan, we’ve compiled marketing and operational tips for small businesses dealing with the effects of the Coronavirus, designed to educate and inspire in mindful and innovative ways.

We also published a similar version of this post for restaurants specifically.

Get creative and efficient with revenue sources

Customers are eager to support small businesses however they can, so consider looking for new and different ways to generate revenue, especially those that boost cash flow now.

  • Selling gift cards has become more mainstream than ever. Be sure yours are available online and that the link to purchase is easy for customers to find on your website, social media sites, and review platforms. You should also submit your business to be listed on local and national aggregate sites—like Help Main Street, which hosts links to the websites of restaurants, directly connecting customers to a place where they can buy gift cards from their local favorites.
  • If offering curbside pickup, ensure the process is smooth and efficient so you can fulfill as many orders as possible and keep customers coming back. Some restaurants are having success using waitlist apps to manage their takeout service.
  • Make and sell larger volumes of your signature items, even if it’s not something you normally sell as a standalone, whether that’s your restaurant’s special tamarind-cashew dipping sauce or your salon’s specialty leave-in conditioner.
  • Promote retail products online, like branded apparel and swag.
  • Sell gift bags filled with signature goodies from your business.
  • Start a fundraiser on a platform. Be clear about what the proceeds are for, whether it’s a virtual tip jar for furloughed or laid off employees or to cover your rent and utilities until you can reopen.
  • Assemble full-meal/full-family pantry boxes or meal kits for sale; as an added bonus, on your social channels, share recipes based on the ingredients included.
  • Offer pre-paid options where loyal customers can pay ahead of time for future services or products 

Keep your online and social information up to date

With everyone staying at home, there’s naturally a huge surge in online activity. App Annie reports that the weekly time spent in apps has grown 20 percent year over year as users spend more time online. That makes this a good time to review your business’s online presence for opportunities to make updates and improvements. 

  • At a minimum, keep your operating information up to date—especially your hours, service availability, and contact information.
  • Update your photos to reflect your current offerings.
  • Confirm that your business information is updated on all all sites that reference your business—from your own website to third-party platforms—to ensure your customers are getting the same, consistent information and messaging.
  • While you’re checking the various platforms, check your business description and take the opportunity to update it if you haven’t done so in awhile. 

Focus on virtual interactions

Think creatively about the ways you can take your business online—virtual consultations, how-to videos, online Q&As, social engagement, and more. Or keep it simple and just be present and active in keeping in touch with your customers. Don’t be afraid to be candid and personal—most people are going through a tough time right now, and your customers will appreciate your honest representation of how you and your business are doing.

  • Try one-on-one consultations or targeted group meet-ups via video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. You may consider offering certain basic services for free, while charging a fee for more robust and customized services. Providing some level of free service helps you engage with past and current customers as well as develop a lead list of potential new customers for the future.
  • Stay engaged with your audience on social media, even if you’re temporarily closed—share videos of your home office, create staff spotlights, or offer a behind-the-scenes look into your business.
  • Maintain active conversations with your followers as well as other businesses and organizations in your neighborhood. Comment and respond frequently to keep up the dialogue with your community.
  • Encourage your customers to engage with your business. If you post a how-to video, ask them to re-engage by posting their attempts and results, and then reshare your favorite responses. These interactions have the potential to create long-lasting relationships for when you’re back up and running as normal.
  • Use social media as an educational opportunity to teach your audience more about what you do best. Alex Day of Death & Co says social media is normally “a lot of kind of bragging or just kind of throwing out the day-to-day interactions of the bar. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about teaching people, helping them, growing their skills, growing their engagement. We’re not just posting pretty pictures of cocktails, we’re sharing our knowledge, be it recipes or how we work.”

Tackle your to-do list

If you’ve had to reduce your operating hours or temporarily close, you may now have time to dig into your list of things that have typically been put on the back burner.

  • Catch up on industry reading, do research on potential new suppliers and technologies, explore best practices, and look at other businesses in your field for inspiration and ideas.
  • Explore potential business leads and opportunities for the future; “Your business will be well-served by having a deeper pool of prospective clients to work with over the long term” (Small Business Trends).
  • Build out detailed training documents for all staff positions to help ease the rehiring process later and to be generally prepared for future training needs.
  • Revamp your branding and marketing materials, and if possible, tap into employees who have skills in graphic design, photography, writing, or general marketing. For example, ensure your business name and branding are consistent across all your platforms, or if your logo is old or nonexistent, consider creating a new one.
  • Get a head start on tasks you were planning for the upcoming months. Keep yourself and staff busy and get ahead of schedule on things like spring cleaning, planning future specials and sales, designing signage, or doing inventory.

Use small business discounts and support channels

More than ever, businesses can lean on each other and leverage resources designed to help small businesses.

  • Consider purchasing from small and local businesses for your supplies and service needs.
  • Take advantage of special discounts for small businesses’s needs and supplies.
  • Share your experiences and business strategies with other small business owners. Restaurateurs Erik Oberholtzer and Josh Kopel discuss lessons learned from the 2008 Great Recession and how to apply those learnings to the current environment in this episode of the Full Comp podcast.
  • Consider joining forces with other small businesses for partnerships such as exchanging services or discounts or bundling products together to be sold to customers. In Wisconsin, Camp Bar Tosa, Cranky Al’s, and Central Standard pooled their resources to create a pizza-and-brandy combo package with something from each of their respective shops.
  • Look for local small business groups where owners come together online to share advice, learnings, strategies, and more. The private Facebook group “Corona: BUSINESS Owners Fight Back!” was started to provide that social resource for Seattle-area business owners.

Other resources

  • Fully explore all financial options available—whether it is on a federal, state, or local level. Check out this easy-to-read breakdown of the CARES Act, covering what it delivers for small businesses and how owners and employees alike will benefit.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a very detailed workplace preparation guide for the virus.
  • The Better Business Bureau has collected a multitude of resources, including the top six coronavirus scams plus tips to help identify and avoid them.
  • Check out Yelp’s complete COVID-19 resource hub for businesses for more information on additional financial support services, staff and customer communication tips, and more.

Want to share your own business strategies?

Tweet us at @yelpforbusiness or email businesscontent@yelp.com.

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The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.