We face a tough challenge in the fight against Covid-19. It is fighting with huge unknowns and limited medical treatments, impacting our personal lives and economy. Small business marketing strategists are facing an uncertain time when business markets experience shifts, pressures and are looking for guidance and answers to generate sales during this period of extreme hardship and different consumer priorities and preferences.
I want to share a bit of what I have experienced with my web design business and offer some guidance to other companies and to our clients that may be experiencing similar changes in their businesses.
The Importance of Risk Management Plans And Business Impact Analysis
Should The Risk Management Plan We Developed For Our Business Be Effective Against Covid-19?
Bearing in mind that the global economy had endured pandemics before – like Spanish Flu (even if it was more than 100 years ago), Ebola and Zica – in theory, Covid-19 would be a known risk. But, I am sure you have never thought of something of the same magnitude, and therefore the risk was unknown to you. That seems to be the situation of most small and large businesses.
But, just as a caution to ourselves, we cannot say that we have not had wise words before warning us of the danger. Listen to the points Bill Gates has told audience members in April 2018 at the New England Journal of Medicine’s Shattuck Lecture in Boston: “Given the continual emergence of new pathogens, the increasing risk of a bioterror attack, and how connected our world is through air travel, there is a significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.”
It is a pity, Gates’ next affirmation has not come true: “As I said at the start, I’m fundamentally an optimist, and that gives me hope that we can get prepared for the next big pandemic”. Not yet. But we are learning fast!
The Impact Of Covid-19 On Risk Assessment
I do not think business owners could accurately assess the impact of Covid-19 – or not much of what is to come yet. But there are important warnings to learn.
WHAT LESSONS DO WE NEED TO KNOW IN A WORLD THAT CERTAINLY WILL FACE OTHER THREATS?
Now, the time for the preparation of risk management plans and business impact analysis for your business has passed. At this point, it’s time to think broadly, understand the scope of the risk for our business and develop an urgent plan for a realistic and cost-effective strategy to deal with the impacts.
Return on Equity (ROE) is a central measure of business performance. I suggest that many times pre-crisis ROE is a reliable predictor of business risk during the crisis. A solution for companies struggling to increase ROE during the Covid-19 crisis would be to increase their return on equity.
Common ways used by large companies to increase ROE are:
- going public,
- improve liquid position,
- move their operations to another country with lower tax rates and lower labour and raw material costs,
- increase prices,
- better utilising their assets.
All these methods are useful to larger businesses bearing in mind the company management standards previous to the crisis. Considering small businesses, if the liquidity position of your company does not support investment in large scale and you do not have high cash reserves, especially when the demand for your product is going down, you need primarily to improve management efficiency and labour skills to expand your business to cater to new market demands produced by the crisis situation.
Ashish Patel uses the illustration of pharmaceutical distributors over or underutilising assets during Covid-19 crisis. In the example of overutilisation, if the pharmaceutical distributor loads a 20-tonne truck with 30-tonnes of medicine and products, it seems it is saving the cost of buying another truck. Still, in reality, in the long term, it is depreciating the asset value faster and running the risk of damaging the truck due to heavy load.
On the other hand, if the pharmaceutical distributor had ten trucks and is currently only using 5, the distributor is wasting its valuable resources. They could either sell the other trucks or rent them to other companies. This process would save maintenance, storage and additional costs and allow the distributor to utilize their capital in different ways to increase its market position during the crisis.
Conduct a Risk Assessment On The Impact Of Covid-19
Let’s divide the risk assessment into two parts, external factors and internal factors.
Analyse the exposure of your country or community to the threat. How many people are infected in your area at the moment? What are the government restrictions imposed? What health impact risks your region is facing? How much do you depend on people working in person? Could they work remotely?
With these answers in mind, then analyse the following problems:
- The economy strength within your target customers
- How dependant your target market is on business continuity in your region
- How dependent they are from imports or exports
- Your supply chain, local business and stakeholders impacts
- Your current risk plans cover crises.
It is a fact that a robust monitoring system is necessary to keep our business going. We need to improve more robust methods to build resilience and mitigate disruptions. Adopting a people-first mindset should be our goal, especially in times like we are living now, with increasing uncertainty and stress.
Positive, transparent and regular communication with your employees with accurate information will demonstrate leadership qualities and develop a strategy to deal with the crisis.
Along with the accurate business communications and information you send, express empathy and compassion for the human side of the threat. Leadership and business strategies should share the same spirit during the crisis to help build more assertive communication between your business, your employees and your customers.
Is your business personnel confused and terrified with the crisis, or are they adapting to the problem and working diligently?
- Your business is located in high-risk areas,
- Your business depends on people working in person or face to face
- Your staff could work remotely
- The crisis favourably/unfavourably impacts your stakeholders and salespeople
- You are not neglecting your positive, hands-on leadership during this crisis time.
Threats like Covid-19 need to be responded proactively. You need to immediately establish specific protocols that must be followed by your employees, identify alternative sources of supply, create a standby emergency budget and take many other precautions to help your business survive.
Adapt Your Business To The Exigencies Of Covid-19
It is critical to set a pattern of transparent information flow from top to bottom and do not penalise employees for taking health-related issues to management’s attention.
Times are tough. But we still have options. Small businesses need to use these hard lessons to learn to implement new exciting innovations into their businesses, be proactive and build their brand up.
2020 is not a terrible time to be a business owner. It is an exciting time, full of incredible innovations and intriguing new possibilities to set our brands for success and build resilience across the organisation. It is time to build creativity, prepare ourselves and our business accordingly.
Steps To Take As An Individual
- Updated knowledge of what is happening in terms of government restrictions and medical research;
- Supplies that you will need shortly, their limitation and availability (soap, hand sanitiser, disposable gloves, masks, disinfectants, long-life foods) especially if you will be isolated or choose to isolate yourself;
- Hygiene to avoid infection such as the good old washing your hands, covering mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose and keeping social distancing
- And responsiveness, being ready to change old habits and do things differently; if you are in Queensland, follow the Australian and State regulations and Covid-19 Plans.
- Be prepared for absenteeism
- Maintain staff and customer welfare or plan to suspend their services
- Be prepared for some financial stress and cancellations from customers
- Plan for post-pandemic trauma and the possibility of a second wave of the virus.
Ensure that your business is working in synchronicity with our global society to respond to Covid-19. Never try to capitalise on the coronavirus global challenge. As an example, Facebook is blocking ads to exploit the situation as a step to respond to Covid-19. It is not okay to share information that puts people in danger or exploit the crisis situation.
Ways To Build Your Brand During Covid-19
Other recommended strategy to adapt your business accordingly would be to use the time to review your accounts to keep pace with the changing markets and trends that may affect your business.
Clear, effective and efficient communication will be the key to maintaining customer relationships. Build trust and confidence with your current and potential customers regarding changes you might have to do to your business and be a point of reference for those who experience stress and hardships. Empathy, both affectively and cognitively, produces a sense of purpose in communication with your employees and customer experience.
If your business is affected, communicate those changes to your employees, stakeholders and customers online and on your brick-and-mortar business premises. Not only let your customers know when they can stop by but also give information regarding additional precautions that you are taking and changes in the service you offer.
Build Customer Loyalty During Covid-19
Creating and improving customer loyalty is fundamental to the management of our businesses. A 2018 research from HubStop reveals that 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies who offer excellent customer service. This is another thought-provoking research to read if you are interested.
In his article, Patel lists effective methods to create and improve customer service:
- Offer exceptional customer service – small businesses are multiplying with the impact of Covid-19, thus increasing competition and therefore, options from customers. Train your workforce to make your customers happy and use Social media to reach all those people who are staying at home at the moment.
- Give out free amenities – customers love to receive unique gifts; isn’t it great to have barista-quality coffee and biscuits while you are waiting for your hair highlights to set at the hair salon? Or develop a reward program for their continued business. Host events, give out free samples of new products, personalise email communication. Creating an inviting and comfortable atmosphere demonstrates that you care about making your clients’ experience pleasant.
- Observe, listen and implement customer feedback – view your customers’ feedback (either positive or negative) as constructive criticism and use them to improve your service. Look at your customers’ body reactions to the service you offer; see how satisfied they are to be there and how pleased they leave your shop.
- Retaining existing loyal customers – Statistics say that loyal customers are about 20% of your entire customer base. Yes, but they bring 80% of your profits! Therefore, value them. Loyal customers love exclusive discounts or receiving update cards on new products before you announce them to the ordinary public. Swarovski, for instance, rewards loyal customers with high-quality gifts as a powerful marketing tool. It costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain an existing one. Your business will profit, and your customers will feel valued.
- Invest in your business – invest in devices and technology tools to create better customer experiences. As an example, my vet uses database software on his computer’s screen while he is examining my dogs to have instant access to the health history and care the dogs have received in the past. This brings peace to my mind as I know every information he needs is there ready to check. Like me, your customer will notice investments you have made to improve the service you offer them. And they will appreciate it. And probably strengthen your reputation with word-of-mouth recommendations to other customers.
It costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain an existing one.
Small business owners have limited resources, workforce or capital to invest. They should be wise in using creativity to retain customers and improve services without needing to invest in financial analysts.
Our culture is changing radically during this time, and some changes are here to stay. Some of them can be stressful, but we, business owners, should use the opportunity to look forward to connecting with our customers with clear, concise and accurate communication. Ensure your customers they will receive the same quality service you always offered them plus some additional that will outlast COVID-19 as your customers are your first priority.
Website For Small Businesses
A good website can change how your brand connects with the target audience and your search for new markets. A professional website will help you develop a content strategy with beautiful visuals to deliver a personalised and consistent experience for each visitor navigating through your business digital space.
Do you think that a small business like yours need a website at this time when you are suffering the impacts of Covid-19? What difference would a website give you and your business?
Since a lot has changed lately, a professionally designed website would offer new opportunities for your online business and marketing activities. The challenges and opportunities you face require an acceleration in the adoption of digital solutions.
Your new website is your focal point in the business marketing circle. It makes it possible to deliver an individualised and consistent experience for each visitor that comes to your online space with more personal connections to your brand audience. The information you share, enhance your marketing strategy and help your business better serve the customers.
Spend Your Cash On Customer Experience
The objective of customer experience is to interact with your organisation and your customer during the duration of your business relationship. In other words, it is the impression your brand transmits to your customer. Positive customer experience is critical for your business to succeed. We all like happy customers, don’t we? And happy customers are likely to become loyal customers who will help boost your business.
Think of the last time you had a good experience as a customer. Remember the ways that experience left you feeling. Happy, awesome! You felt like promoting that business and advocated that product and that brand— word-of-mouth marketing building your reputation on the go!
In contrast, think of the last time you had a poor experience as a customer. How did you feel? Did it impact on how you looked at that business as a whole?
That is why customer experience is so important. It is the impression your customer gets from your business through all the aspects of the buying process. It results on how they view your brand, and it will be an impact factor related to your success and your revenue.
HubSpot offers a great template to develop and analyse your Customer Experience Mapping here. Make a journey map and create buyer personas (or use some of your loyal clients as buyer personas) to obtain data and analyse ways you can create positive connections with your customers, get feedback and build useful content to help you better serve your customer needs.
New Opportunities That Came With Covid-19
- Help others selflessly with your business services – more people are staying indoors, and lots are going online much more than before. Consider what you can give away for free. If you work with education, for instance, you could give away an introductory course. Many of those who accept your free course and are interested in the subject could enrol in subsequent paid courses. Primarily, you will be helping people during this virus crisis and indirectly benefiting of helping people out.
- Address customer’s experience during the time of Covid-19 to shape stronger connections in the future. The crisis has made us rethink the customer care we offer our clients. Now it is not just what customers want, but actually what they need. The interaction clients have at this time shape the trust and loyalty they develop towards your business. Are your clients feeling your concern, your care, your empathy towards their needs? The Covid-19 crisis allows you to meet your customers where they are now and build capabilities to focus and personalise your connections with them.
- Bring your business to your client’s homes. Some restaurants, food delivery companies, grocery shops, for instance, are doing just that. And they are succeeding. A touch-free delivery system can be organised to protect clients and employees that will result from a convenience to a necessity and will leave lasting memories in your client’s minds.
- Some “digitally resistant” customers are getting used to digital functionalities with the crisis and broadened their minds to new possibilities. Free trials are a great possibility that could ensure the continuity of services after the situation is gone. You, as a business owner, should offer the opportunity, adapt to increase the adoption and guarantee to maintain the same level of customer relationships after the crisis. Many new digital users will switch permanently to the latest offers and accept them as the “new normal”.
- The crisis will finish at some point. Ensure your clients understand that the customer care you offer now will outlast Coronavirus. Economic impacts, of course, take longer to recover and leave scars. Make your business a leading company that understand the customer experiences and deliver to their needs. If your business depends on a brick-and-mortar building, imagine new ways you will use to reopen and adapt the shops to the new needs. Re-examine how your local shops will fulfil the necessary options to serve your clients better.
- The Covid-19 crisis is also a great call for you to adopt agile innovation to serve new customer experiences to your clients rather than waiting for the perfect time in the future. Agility is crucial to building long-lasting customer experiences with long-lasting benefits.
- Crisis time is also a time to look at failure models adopted in the past. Never miss the opportunity to be critical of your business model and your internal capabilities and use the data to support your employees (who will appreciate it) and feedback on customers’ insights to adapt to the new practice as a leader.
Prepare For Business Continuity – Resilience And Recovery
Resilience and recovery will be critical in our response to the pandemic economy. Determine and scope your precise goals and objectives. Identify and prioritise revenue opportunities, new targeted strategies to win back loyal customers, develop new customer experiences based on the trends you find in your industry, adjust your products or services prices, offer new promotions based on new data, digitize sales channels and support remote selling. Move on to the new reality. Maintain that sense of possibility as a competitive advantage.
After rethinking your business strategy to rebuild your operations, you will be far more equipped to defy the challenge and the opportunities of the new normal. Rigorously prioritise your new measures to impact on earnings and your business ability to work faster and better.
Maintain that sense of possibility as a competitive advantage.
Making a turnaround demands innovation. It will require the creation of a unique business style that can perform as a cohesive team even when all known routines are gone. And always remember that your business will require leadership on the management and the working force. Skill yourself continuously to be better prepared to impact your business performance positively.
As we have seen, many businesses around the world believe they can come back and succeed after the ordeal caused by Covid-19. Most will. The winners will come back stronger; they will be driven by urgency, and they will embrace agile methods and more decision-making authority. More efficient leadership skills will emerge from the toughest experience and help their business grow and thrive now and after Covid-19.
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