Last week, 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment–most of them as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic business shutdowns. I was one of them, and I wanted to write a post to try to bring some reassurance and positivity to a situation that might otherwise seem very bleak.
But first, some background.
A quick Google search finds that CNBC is estimating as many as 47 million Americans may become unemployed due to COVID-19. To put that in perspective, during the Great Depression there were approximately 122 million people living in America, and 15 million of them were unemployed. That’s roughly 12% unemployment. Today, there are about 327 million people in the United states. If 47 million become unemployed, that means our unemployment rate may be 2% higher than we saw during the Great Depression.
This is insane, and the implications of that are just as insane.
COVID-19 is affecting not only the United States economy, but the economies of other countries as well. Widespread non-essential business shutdowns, as well as numerous workers falling ill, has disrupted supply chains, transport, the ability to meet and network–you name it. But most substantially, from my perspective, is the impact this virus is having on American small businesses and the self-employed. Whether these businesses have shut down temporarily or permanently, or maybe are still open but just hurting for business, my goal here is to offer some suggestions on what you can do to help your business, your employees, or yourself if you are self employed, stay productive and generate revenue in these unprecedented times.
What do you do best?
First off–you need to know your business. What is it your business does? More importantly, what does it do best? Can it continue to do what it does best in the midst of this crisis? If it can’t, what is the next best thing it can continue to do, or what can be changed to enable it to do that thing?
For example, as seen in the restaurant industry: Here in NYS, restaurants have been told they can’t offer dine-in services (to comply with social distancing). Most have switched to offering takeout or curbside pickup, and some have even taken on delivery. Some are also selling pre-made products online (since mail services are considered essential and are still operating, this is one important avenue to consider). What do restaurants do best? They serve food. There are multiple ways to serve food, and most have adapted to their new (and hopefully temporary) reality of serving food in a way they may not have done before.
How are you promoting what you do best?
Nothing you do or sell matters if the general public isn’t aware you’re doing or selling it.
Read that one more time, out loud.
Promotion is more important than anything else, and if you’re stuck in a rut and business is slow, that is the time to be thinking and planning. Research everything you can about marketing and advertising, and take notes. I can’t stress this enough. If you are depending on your customers to find you, to know about you, and to come to you, you are losing opportunities and you are losing business. Always assume that no one has heard of your business. There is always someone who hasn’t heard of you. Word of mouth advertising is one of the most powerful methods of advertising there is, and you just have no idea how many connections that one person (the one who hasn’t heard of you!) actually has.
Internet Based Marketing
If you’re reading this post, you currently have an internet connection. If you are not using the internet to market & advertise, you are losing opportunities and you are losing business. 6.6 million Americans lost their jobs in the past few weeks–chances are, a good portion of them are spending a lot more time on their phones or computers than they otherwise might. You absolutely need to leverage that right now–but not just to sell, because it is also important to consider that these individuals may be having a very hard time getting by. Offer to help them, somehow. Freebies are great, if you can afford it. If you can’t offer a freebie here and there, consider a discount. If you can’t do that, add a little extra personal flair such as a handwritten “Thank you so much for your business!” note. You want your customers and potential customers to remember you–and what better way than to support and reassure them during what may arguably be one of the most traumatic and stressful experiences of a lifetime?
Remember–you have no idea how many connections that one person has, and word of mouth advertising is one of the most powerful methods of advertising there is.
It’s easy, and relatively cheap, to run an ad on Facebook for a week. Google is almost always mailing out credits and promotions for Google Adwords (assuming your business is listed with Google–something you should also ensure happens!). Twitter is a great place to interact instantly with your customers. Live Tweet Q&A sessions, storytelling, or video sharing are all simple to learn and can build your following. The greater your following, the more chances you have to make a sale. If you’re a visual-focused industry, check out Pinterest or Instagram and make sure your images are high quality. Reddit is another potential source of customers, although much more volatile and less predictable (and you should probably lurk around it for a while to learn the ropes before utilizing it). Lastly, make it as easy as possible for your customers to order your products if you’re selling online.
The most important thing to remember with any sort of internet based marketing is that it’s not just selling–it’s interaction and visibility that matter. You want to build your brand and gain an identity–to do that, you need to interact with your customers (like and comment on their posts, photos, etc.), and stay in the forefront of their minds by making sure to appear in front of them at least a few times a day.
Direct Mail Marketing
In this time of mass shutdowns and social distancing, direct mail should be a very important piece of your marketing repertoire. Mail delivery services are still operating, and for businesses whose market may be in a more rural area who may not have access to stable internet, direct mail is the next best option. This can be expensive, depending on how many mailers you send out, but making potential customers aware of your existence and products will likely be worth much more in the end.
Business cards, postcards, fliers, menus, coupons, etc. can all be mailed in one way or another, and pairing direct mail with internet based marketing can lead to increased brand awareness and hopefully increased sales.
While in-person marketing is a confusing subject to consider during a pandemic, there are ways it can be done. Essential workers will still be out and about during the COVID shutdowns, and people will be out to retrieve necessary supplies–and you can help them help you. When someone makes a purchase from your business, enlist them as a sales partner, of sorts. Create a referral promotion–anyone they send to you nets them some sort of benefit or reward, be it a discount, a free drink, etc. This ties in to word of mouth advertising, but is achieved by initial interactions between business and customer. While you as a business owner may not be able to interact “in-person,” others might need to (especially if they are a part of our incredibly important healthcare, retail, or utility industries), and their recommendations can act in your stead.
How can my business compete when everyone is struggling?
- Find out what your competition is doing, and do it better
- Offer a specific service/product/recipe they don’t
- Offer more/better discounts or add value to your service/product/recipe
- Expand your market to include those your competition won’t service or who are under-serviced (this can even extend to other countries as well!)
- Stand out
- Update your branding
- Do or create something memorable (viral marketing)
- Utilize direct mail while everyone else is focusing on internet marketing
- Ensure your website is easy to use and order from
- Never underestimate the importance of quality photography and videography
- Leverage the power of live video for socialization in this time of social isolation
- Create “experiences” instead of just products
- Incentivize purchases
- Offer discounts or coupons
- Deliver products when the customer spends over a certain amount
- If you are a restaurant, create a more concise menu to encourage impulse purchases through fewer choices
- Create a referral program that benefits your customers and the customers they refer alike
- Form an “alliance” with other businesses and leverage your combined skills and/or share resources to attract customers
In the midst of this global pandemic, businesses have to be savvy to survive. Now, though, is the time to be cultivating that savviness. Pay attention to what others are doing, and expand on their ideas until you find something that works for you and your business. It is also important to remember that even though right now is a time of great stress and negativity, this will eventually end, and we will come out stronger by the time it does. Now is the time we will learn which companies are the strongest, and we must all learn from them. We must all learn from each other. If this article helps or inspires even one person, my job here is done. Stay strong America, and stay strong humankind. We’ll get through this!