The unprecedented public health threat and global shutdown due to coronavirus is posing some serious challenges to small businesses.
Many businesses have been forced to cease normal operations, with many people now working from home. Remote working can make being productive and surviving the coming months much more difficult so it is important you operate as effectively as possible. These are truly unique times and our thoughts are with those affected by the virus, those who are sick and we wish everyone well and a speedy recovery.
Our priority is the health and welfare of our employees and clients and we are also doing our very best to ensure our clients are as well prepared as possible. We’d like to reassure you that we are able to provide uninterrupted service to our clients and we are here for you, business as usual.
With the challenges of remote working and lack of face to face meetings, online services and collaboration tools become much more essential to ensure business continuity. With that in mind, we’ve written this article to help support our clients, looking at ways to weather the current and future hardships which bring uncertainty to us all.
Here’s what’s covered in this article:
- How to stay connected with your customers
- Minimising Loss
- Collaboration tools
- Social Media communication tactics
- Digital Marketing strategies
- Marketing help & support
- Government help & support
- Remote working tips
- Supporting local business
How to stay connected with your customers
At this time, the most important thing for small businesses is to stay connected with their customers. It is therefore essential to make sure you are communicating regularly to help retain customers until the coronavirus restrictions have passed.
With future developments still unclear, businesses have to take a proactive approach to disaster response right now and thinking outside the box has never been more important. Digital platforms offer the obvious benefit of a “no direct contact” service so there are benefits to ensure your website is working hard for you.
Online shopping has seen an obvious increase, especially in food shopping with Tescos, Sainsbury’s, Ocado and many other unable to provide delivery slots and even disabling the service in some cases due to high demand.
B&Q has also seen an increase in sales as many people now have time on their hands and considering home improvements. While this may not be applicable to you, its worth considering how a shift to remote working and the potential of more people being at home and seeing your marketing, will impact your business.
Think of your website as an employee that works for you 24/7, promoting your services, answering questions and solving problems. More people will be confused as to how you are operating in these tough times and will seek information from your website. Now more than ever is it time to reevaluate your content and messaging to ensure your customers are as well informed as possible.
You’ve likely received a number of emails, just like this one, explaining the position of each company but it may not be practical for you to do the same. Ensuring your website explains your position how and you expect to continue to do business should be a top priority.
Small businesses could minimise losses by thinking of ways they can take their offerings to digital platforms. For example, could you change they way you work to allow your services to be provided using online collaboration tools and video conferencing? Are your products available online or does your website provide enough information to allow your prospects to make informed purchasing decisions?
Many businesses are now thinking outside the box and adapting their services to help mitigate the impact. Restaurants are offering deliver to your doorstep, others are creating entirely new services, shifting how they deliver products, replacing in-person appointments with video conferences and more.
You may already offer phone and email support to your customers, but now is the time to consider increasing your customer service capabilities and ensure your clients and prospects can reach you, no matter where they are.
Although social media is a good place to start, with options to chat using Facebook Messenger, you could consider embedding a chat function on your website, for those who are not on the platform and would rather ask a quick question rather than make that call.
No matter what products or services you offer or what industry you are in, your business will have financial ups and downs at some point. Strengthening your business with additional channels to create new revenue streams will help build in resilience both now and in the future.
As a small business owner during the coronavirus pandemic you now face the true test of being able to operate and adapt to a rapidly changing situation. If you need to collaborate with a customer or colleague on a document, spreadsheet, calendar or presentation then consider utilising tools such as Google G-suite.
G-suite allows you to work on a single document with team members or people outside your company. You can see edits as others type, communicate through built-in chat and ask questions in comments. Several people can work at the same time, and every change is saved automatically. Utilising online collaboration tools such as Google G-Suite means there’s no need to email documents backwards and forwards which can dramatically slow down progress when remote working.
You can find more about Google G-Suite here: https://gsuite.google.com/
Social Media Communication
Many small businesses rely on social media to drive sales, however it’s important to ensure the messaging is appropriate and considerate during this national emergency. You therefore should reevaluate things every day. Make sure the tone of your messages is right, given what is going on in the world right now.
However, you should remember that social media can limit the reach of your messages as not everyone could be on the platform and Facebook (for example) naturally restricts your reach unless you pay to boost it. Ensure your website is updated with important announcements so all your customers are up to date.
Remember that there is often “fake news” on social media. People hear something and then try to pass it off as fact to others. This is common especially as news is changing hourly with regard to Coronavirus. While intentions are good, if you pass something on that is incorrect it could damage your credibility. So double check any information you state is factually correct before you post.
Digital Marketing Strategies
Content marketing can become an effective way for you to remain in touch with your customers and increase lead generation during the coronavirus pandemic. Communicating and engaging with your audience can remain undisrupted, no matter what the situation is, as long as you have the proper content marketing strategies in place.
With the cancellation of many trade show events, some businesses will naturally be at a loss for leads and have a need to redistribute that budget quickly to try to generate additional leads and content marketing could help.
Content marketing is more than just blog posts, It’s a holistic approach that relies on a broad range of digital marketing strategies tactics such as email, social media, website SEO, and paid media to continue engagement with customers. Communicating brand identity and values remains important during this difficult time.
At some point, this unfortunate situation will pass and consumers will return to the streets, the cafes and the various other activities that they have been denied. Keeping your brand light burning ensures your customers are aware that you are still available and interested in their business throughout 2020. The cost of snuffing it out for the rest of 2020 and then trying to reignite it next year could be gigantic.
Marketing Help & Support
Educating yourself on incentives for any available marketing support is a good way to stay ahead of the game.
Facebook have announced a $100M financial support plan available in cash grants and ad credits for 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries.
There is a Facebook grants support page that gives a little more information but they are about to announce more details imminently.
We’re recommending that everyone signs up for the Facebook updates to receive the information as soon as it becomes available. This will become popular, so early adoption is recommended before it becomes unavailable.
It may be likely that other platforms (e.g. Google Adwords) will follow suit and offer some free advertising incentives to help small businesses. We’re keeping an eye on what Google are doing here but for now they have recommended that businesses update their Google My Business profile to provide the most accurate information customers.
For example, change your hours of operation if you’re closing early, or add more details to your description. The updates will show on your Business Profile on Google Search and Maps. You can read the full article here.
Government Help & Support
The Chancellor has set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19. Again, this may change over time but if you have this link you can keep updated.
The chancellor has announced this week that “Any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, the salaries, suppliers, or purchase stock, will be able to access a government-backed loan, on attractive terms.”
The new scheme is known as “Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme” (CBILS) will be provided by the British Business Bank through participating providers, will offer more attractive terms for both businesses applying for new facilities and lenders, with the aim of supporting the continued provision of finance to UK businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.
For those who are VAT registered and payments are due, they don’t need to be paid until June so preserve your cash reserves.
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.
How to access the scheme. You will need to:
- Designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
- Submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)
- HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement.
Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until the 31 January 2021. This is an automatic offer with no applications required. There will be no penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.
HMRC have also scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of the Coronavirus and have outstanding tax liabilities.
Remote working tips
Anyone working from home will inevitably get distracted at some point and if you have a family who’s around because of the coronavirus, it could be even worse.
Sitting in front of the TV while working is obviously a bad idea. Try and work from a room where there are less distractions and remember to take regular breaks. Allocating yourself blocks of time to focus and times where you’ll get up and out your workspace help maintain a consistent workflow and avoid burnout.
It is hard but try to think positively and take care of your mental health. Ensure that you are taking walks, getting fresh air and going for a walk at lunch.
The bottom line is you’re not going to be as efficient or productive in getting work done from home as you were at the office. Don’t get down on yourself because of that. Even if you feel like you’re getting nothing done at first, you’ll eventually get the hang of things and find your bearings.
Using collaboration tools with your colleagues allows you to quickly ask questions and collaborate effectively, not to mention make you feel less isolated. We use Slack on a daily basis to help collaborate on projects and work together effectively, even if we are in the same room. The basic version of slack is free. More about Slack here.
Supporting local businesses
We are big believers in supporting local business and helping them become more resilient to change. This is an unprecedented situation and new information comes to light on a daily basis. Our aim is to keep you posted as much as we can to help our clients accordingly.
Your accountant should be able to offer help and advice and be up to date with government incentives you can take advantage of. For those with VAT bills, Corporation Tax and office rent to pay, there may be options to defer or help with some of those payments coming up, which may help you but contact them in the first instance for guidance.
We are all in this together, It is stressful, unknown, difficult, and there is a reality that there are lives at risk. Everyone’s problems are ultimately their own, but be kind, be thoughtful, be considerate, and work with people, not against them. If there was ever a time to lean in, it has arrived.
Finally, we’d like to thank all our clients for their continued support. Stay safe everyone.