COVID-19 is an incredibly sensitive subject at this point in time — in fact, let’s not even begin to talk about it (I’ll even hold my tongue for 5 minutes about the lockdown protests 🤦♀️).
What I want to talk about is the period of time this virus is giving us:
In my own lifetime, I cannot remember any other time, other than snow days, where workplaces are voluntarily closing up and/or telling employees to go and work from home.
For a lot of us with our own businesses, this ‘social distancing’ time of our lives could wreak havoc on our income.
And, so, there’s never been a better time to learn some new skills or hone your existing processes to allow your business continuity and longevity.
I’m going to run through some tips to evolve your business at a time when it is at risk of shrinking, by boosting your online presence and engagement.
While you may not see an immediate impact on your bottom line, the groundwork you put in during this period of time should:
- boost your enquiries and incoming footfall in the future (whether physical or virtual) by being more accessible and in people’s minds
- open your metaphorical doors for producing more online marketing, which is often cheaper than offline
- give you an opportunity to reach out to your community of potential customers who, like yourself, may be stuck at home, bored, and looking for something to entertain them
So let’s get right to it:
CLEANSE YOUR MAILING LIST
There’s nothing better than a good mailing list full of eager ears who just LOVE hearing what you have to say in your weekly newsletters.
If the above sentence has you befuddled, then I recommend immediately to go and research a good email marketing package (like Mailchimp or sendinblue) and start gathering your client details online (with their permission, of course) so that you can reach their inboxes.
In order to keep your newsletters effective, you really want to keep an eye on those email addresses that you’re sending to.
While a lot of small business owners believe about their mailing lists ‘the bigger, the better’, in actual fact:
I would (a bajillion times over) rather have 300 highly engaged recipients than a list of 5,000 random email addresses that often mark me as ‘spam’ or immediately delete me.
The point of a cleanse is not (only) to improve your campaign reporting, but to reduce the amount of spam complaints you get (that is: when people report your email as ‘Spam’ because they don’t want to receive it). Email providers like Gmail will punish senders for too many spam complaints and this damages your sender reputation.
Here’s some Email Hygiene tips:
- Check the email addresses that keep bouncing as there might be some glaring errors (ie is there a typo in the email address, “@gnail” instead of “@gmail”)
- Reach out to recipients who haven’t interacted for a while. On most email management packages you can create segments of recipients who haven’t opened your recent emails (e.g. the last 5). Create a new campaign to that segment and request feedback about what they want to see from you. If people still don’t interact, remove them from your list
- Remove admin@ or info@ accounts — marketing emails to these inboxes usually never get read
- Make sure it’s easy for people to unsubscribe. Nothing p*sses people off more or ruins your brand reputation by hiding this link in the small print. Proudly wear it, so that recipients can opt out easily. Better someone walks away with no hard feelings, than clicks the Spam button out of annoyance, damaging your sender reputation.
LEARN ABOUT SEO
Search engine optimisation is something that eludes even the most highly skilled marketers.
Many think of SEO as the holy grail of internet marketing, because it can literally be the difference between no one finding you online versus everyone stumbling across your website, even by accident.
There are some easy(ish) actions you can take to improve your SEO, such as:
- adding links on your own website to other high quality, useful websites, where relevant
- re-visit old blog posts or pages and link to your newer posts (and vice versa)
- think about what keywords are relevant to your business and website — and this Keyword Explorer tool is helpful for identifying how many people are searching for those keywords
- write quality content. I know what you’re thinking — “how is this easy(ish)?”. Well it’s not really, but you can find some online resources to help you out. A little bit of studying goes a long way, as does taking some time to think about what your audience would like to actually read about
But, honestly, the best thing you can do is either start learning about SEO yourself (there are plenty of SEO courses online) or hire a well-reviewed SEO Manager to do it for you. The latter would absolutely be money well-spent.
BE BRAVE: CLICK RECORD
For the past several Januaries, I’ve read with eagerness those articles predicting the upcoming year’s social media trends. They’ve told us year-on-year how big video is going to be/continue to be.
And they didn’t lie.
Video has transformed the face of Instagram: once deemed a YouTube imitant, IGTV has become a super stable part of many brand’s social strategies, allowing customers to access things like how-to guides, tips and other longer term save-able visuals that brands post.
One brand doing this particularly well is digital marketer Helen Perry, known as @notaboutthekids on Instagram. Helen regularly posts simple but captivating IGTVs instructing brands on how they can achieve Instagram success.
Many businesses are utilising live and pre-recorded Facebook and YouTube videos to keep at the forefront of their customer’s minds in this weird time.
Recently we took part in a pub quiz held by the Alexandra pub in Wimbledon. Whilst they’ve had to close their doors by law, they are still hosting weekly virtual quizzes to keep their customers entertained.
And providing this free service, and that sense of familiarity, really hit the heart strings. I’ve never visited the Alexandra before but the next time I’m in London it’s going to be my first stop as I’m grateful for what they’re doing for their community.
Think about the ways you can utilise video right now, and ideally in the future too. Think about how you can Educate, Entertain or Inspire with what you post.
GATHER SOME NEW TESTIMONIALS
Right now is a great time to get in touch with some of your top customers to check in and make sure they’re doing alright.
And while you’re there, ask if they wouldn’t mind providing a testimonial that you can add to your website. Better yet, send them a link to your Facebook, Google Business page or Yelp so they can leave a great review of your services.
This is one of those tasks we’ve all put on the back burner. But realise how important those reviews really are to your online searchability. You deserve those reviews — you worked hard for them!
HOST A WEBINAR
This is an especially poignant action if you recently had to cancel upcoming events.
A good way to gather your community and potential customers right now is to give them a valuable webinar to attend online.
There’s so much technology around now to help you, for example GoToMeeting and Zoom both have fantastic packages that make holding your own virtual conference super easy. Unfortunately GoToMeeting doesn’t have a free version, whereas Zoom does, though it’s basic.
My yoga instructor, Lisa from Spiral Essence in New Jersey, is a perfect example of making this work — she is hosting live online yoga sessions for a discounted price. The classes are run at similar times to before, so it isn’t disrupting our weekly schedules, and we all log into Zoom so that we can yoga out of our bedrooms, safely under the teacher’s watch. Lisa is thereby still serving her community, keeping her customers actively engaged with her brand, as well as it being a financial lifeline for her during the time she’s had to close her physical studio.
Many brands are also making use of social media to hold virtual events.
Locally to me, the Borough of Collingswood is holding a #CollingswoodConnects Facebook event, allowing different local businesses to go live every week providing virtual cooking classes, dance classes, garden seminars and more.
This is a good marketing tool for the Borough of Collingswood, who is providing community support during a tough time, but also a way for local businesses to keep at the forefront of their customer’s minds at a time when physical footfall is zero.
COLLABORATE WITH OTHER BUSINESSES
A problem shared is a problem halved, as they say.
The likelihood is, unless you know a lot of Netflix engineers and toilet paper manufacturers, all of the local, and virtual, businesspeople you know are struggling for work.
Use this time to build some new connections and collaborate efforts with complementary businesses (i.e. not businesses competing for customers).
This article here makes a fantastic point about co-opetition — including examples of how a hairdresser might collaborate with a nail salon, or a dog groomer might work alongside a dog walker — all businesses right now that are, mostly, unable to work (dependent on location).
Here’s three collab ideas:
- each business writes to their respective mailing lists, providing a discount/coupon for the other business’s services for when everything is back open
- follow the Webinar point above and co-host an event to your Instagram or Facebook audiences, providing education, tips and tricks relevant to your work that might help your customers out during this time (i.e. a dog walker and groomer could collaborate on a series of videos for new dog owners: “the dangers of dog parks” and “how to safely remove ticks” etc)
- combine efforts and invest in an exciting prize for a giveaway (i.e. some hair and nail products for a hairdresser and nail salon), whereby people have to follow both social media accounts and tag a friend, or you could set a contest for viewers to do a challenge and use a hashtag. This would also provide some key user-generated content for you both to use.
IMMEDIATE ACTION POINT: Write a list now of local businesses you could collab with and think of ways you could effectively reach your joint audiences with them.
DECIDE HOW SOCIAL DISTANCING IS GOING TO SHAPE YOUR FUTURE
As much as a certain Wotsit-coloured political leader is going to push to re-open the economy, the truth of it is: we just don’t know what’s going to happen.
The next days, weeks, months and years are going to be very much a play-it-by-ear changing dynamic.
In a year’s time we might all be back to normal. But there’s a big chance that even if covid-19 gets under control, humans will still be wary of social distancing.
We might start subconsciously leaving a metre gap when standing in line at the Post Office (I mean, us Brits kinda did that anyway due to being social pariahs, but now maybe the rest of the world will follow?). Concerts and football game organisers might restrict crowd numbers. Will parents avoid taking their kids to germ-filled jungle gyms?
And, importantly to us, will consumers respond to businesses differently?
Think about if you’ll need to start implementing things like:
- video consultations versus face-to-face
- reduction in the amount of team meetings, and using a tool like Slack to connect with colleagues
- using tools like Zoom for virtual events rather than physical
- will you attend industry webinars more than physical conferences for learning and networking?
- if you have a bricks and mortar store, will you think about moving to e-commerce?
Now is an ideal time to formulate a remote contingency strategy for your business. There are several resources available to help you with this, such as this page from BlueandCo, this publication from CWSI Security, and this article from the US Chamber of Commerce. This ZDNet article has some good tips about working from home too.
You’re welcome for the new bedtime reading!
FINALLY, AND IMPORTANTLY, DON’T EXPLOIT THE SENSITIVE NATURE OF PEOPLE’S TENDENCY TO PANIC BUY
Platforms are already banning advertising exploiting the panic over the covid-19 situation. Don’t even try and be clever about this. Don’t be a jerk.
Be Brave and Carry On
Yes it’s a weird time, and, for many of us, a dangerous time.
But it can’t go on forever.
Think about those things you’ll be able to do on the other side of this: walks on the beach, having a pint in your local and hugging your family. It is worth staying inside now to flatten that curve so that our countries can re-open as soon as possible.
Let’s all hope it won’t be too many more weeks or months before communities can re-open and you can get your business back up and running again, and that maybe we’ll have a chance to enjoy our summer outdoors.
And, when winter rolls around, you’ll never, ever, want to see a snow day ever again.