The fallout from COVID-19 is impacting the livelihood of workers across the country, more so every day. Small businesses and corporations alike are grappling with how to sustain their businesses while also being cognizant of the health of their employees and customers alike.

While this pandemic is undoubtedly hurting many businesses, especially small and local businesses that depend on in-store and in-person services, it's also making way for ingenuity and scrappiness. Already, we're seeing the agility of businesses as they pivot production and distribution of services to better accommodate those unable to leave their homes.

In this post, we're breaking down some immediate steps businesses can take to adjust their services for the weeks and perhaps months to come.

1. Responsibly service customers and clients amid social distancing

Now, more than ever, small and local businesses need to alter their strategies if they hope to weather (and potentially even thrive during) this chaos. Making a few key changes to normal operating procedures will likely be the difference-maker in the success or decline of your business.

Here are three ways to service customers while respecting social distancing:

Curbside Service

Many businesses, especially restaurants and grocery stores, have already (or are preparing to) shuttered their doors to customers. But this doesn’t have to mean that business stops completely. Adapt to this situation by offering curbside service. This allows you to service customers in a responsible way that keeps everyone safe but also keeps revenue coming into your business.  

With small adjustments, businesses can easily transition to curbside delivery. The first thing businesses that want to offer curbside delivery need to consider is how customers will place their orders.

  • Take orders over the phone - If people are unable to come into your business to order, allow them to place orders over the phone. While most businesses already have the capability to take orders over the phone, it is probably not their primary system. Be prepared to take on a large volume of calls and plan how you will organize and fulfill all of the orders.
  • Take orders online - Most modern local businesses have a website. However, not all of them have online ordering systems. An online ordering system allows customers to place orders on their own and organizes the orders to help you keep track of everything. This means details won’t get missed and you free up valuable time that would have been spent taking orders by hand. A few top-rated online ordering systems include ShopKeep, Toast, and TouchBistro.

Once you’ve planned how you will take orders, all you need to do is get your packaging ready, bring in the appropriate staff, and inform customers where to park.

Delivery

If your business hasn’t offered delivery in the past, now’s the time to start. Even if offered temporarily, a delivery service will keep your business going and reach customers who would otherwise be stuck at home.

Chances are that your state requires some type of insurance to cover employees using vehicles to make deliveries. If you plan on using in-house personnel to complete deliveries but don’t already have the appropriate coverage, contact your local small business association. They will be able to provide you with details about your location’s requirements and the next steps you should take.

Processing times may vary for getting your business covered, so an alternative solution is to use a third-party delivery company. These are B2B businesses that specialize in delivery solutions. Check around for local businesses, or see if national brands like Dropoff or Shipt operate in your area.

Videoconferencing

If your business primarily deals face-to-face with customers but you don’t necessarily need to physically interact with them, there’s a good chance that you can adopt videoconferencing while we practice self-isolation. Utilize video call services, such as Google Hangouts or Zoom, to connect with your customers.

Using videoconferencing, you can take appointments, host classes, give demonstrations, and more. Examples of services where video conferencing would suffice include:

  • Therapy and psychotherapy
  • Teladoctors
  • Art lessons
  • Music lessons
  • Tutoring


2. Get creative and pivot how your business operates

Local businesses are acutely affected by this pandemic. Small business owners need to think outside of the box to find creative solutions that keep revenue flowing. Adapt the ideas we discussed above to work for your business or use them to spark ideas of your own.

For more inspiration, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite creative tactics used by small business owners.

  • Bars are creating carryout cocktail kits for pickup and delivery.
  • Jewelry designers and other artisans are offering custom pieces of jewelry and goods at discounted prices.
  • Hairstylists are providing take-home coloring kits with instructions.
  • Artists are offering online tutorials and private classes
  • Personal trainers are offering video sessions
  • Distilleries are using high-proof alcohol to make hand sanitizer.


3. If possible, establish a remote work option

For businesses with at least some employees who can work remotely, this is the time to allow it. This may mean slight (or even drastic) changes to someone's role for the time being. If there was ever a time where someone might need to take on responsibilities that they wouldn't usually, this is it.

Here are a few common tasks that current employees can do remotely:

  • Customer service - Given the volatility occurring right now, customers are likely going to have questions and need additional support. Remote customer service would be a good alternative for someone who's typical role is adjacent to similar functions, such as a waitress or a front desk clerk.
  • Social media and email marketing - While these roles often require expertise in these areas, most small businesses don't have employees who only focus on these specific tasks alone. However, social media and email are the most proficient way to communicate with your customers, which is pivotal right now (more on that soon).
  • Assistant - As a small business owner, you're about to need a lot of support from your staff in order to help everything run smoothly amid these changes. Designate an employee you trust to help with the random tasks you'll find yourself needing to address during this time, such as bookkeeping, organizing deliveries, calling distributors, etc.

Working remotely can be a huge adjustment for some individuals, so it's important to ensure everyone knows what's expected of them on a given day, as well as making sure they have what they need at home to be successful. Check out our advice on how to keep employee engagement high for temporary remote workers.

4. Provide clear, transparent communication for customers

There is a lot of confusion in the world right now, don’t let your business create more. With stores and establishments closing every day, it can be difficult for customers to know which ones are still up and running. Your customers are looking to you to provide clear information about if and when your business is open and what kind of services or inventory you’re currently offering.

Now’s the time to over-communicate with your customers. Here are a few tips on how to clearly communicate information about your business in an efficient way.

  • Post on social media - Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are playing a major role in the conversations around COVID-19 updates, meaning people are particularly active on social right now. Share with your followers, and ask them to share with their friends and connections, any relevant information about your business, including adjusted operating hours, delivery services, and more. Many people are looking for ways to support their local businesses, so make it easy for them to find you.
  • Add an announcement on your website - A simple banner or pop-up image regarding the status of your business will help customers and clients know immediately whether or not they can still utilize your services.
  • Utilize your email lists - Send customers updates about your business, including the ways in which you're working to protect the safety of your employees and how you'll be providing services in a responsible manner.
  • Update your Google My Business listing - Your GMB listing shows up on search engine results pages, and is typically the first thing people see when searching for your business online. Since many businesses are changing their hours during the outbreak, whether by choice or by law, be sure to update yours, as well as any information regarding delivery of pickup. To help create a seamless experience for customers, you'll want important information regarding your business to be the same no matter how people are finding it.


We're all facing these challenges together

You, your employees, and your business all play a valuable role in your community and are also facing real hardships. While we recognize that these tips only go so far for many businesses, we also know that implementing them could breathe new life into some businesses that would otherwise shutter. As of now, agility and ingenuity are the only way forward.

In times of great financial and personal stress, we also see people rallying together to support those who need it most, including small businesses. In the past weeks, we've seen more efforts to help small businesses sustain themselves than ever before. From social media posts encouraging people to utilize local business' new delivery options to countless news articles on tips for supporting businesses that are facing massive declines, this aspect has been a major part of the conversations surrounding COVID-19.

We hope that the aforementioned tips help you and your business during this challenging time. And even more so, we hope that you're able to expand your business to areas and places you would have never considered before.