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How small businesses can prepare for new waves of COVID-19

Close up hand of customer paying with smartphone. Cashier hand holding credit card reader machine and wearing protective disposable gloves at bar counter, while client holding phone for payment. Woman wearing face mask while paying bill with mobile phone during Covid-19 pandemic.
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15% of SMB owners believed that their business won’t survive a second wave of Coronavirus. SMBs have been hit hard by the pandemic. In response to a survey, almost 40% of small business owners believed a second wave would have a severe impact; a huge 86% of respondents said that a second wave would have some negative effect on their business.

With traditional trading options cut off or significantly reduced, small businesses must find an alternative. An online presence has never been more important. The humble website is still at the heart of any company’s digital presence – even for small businesses. Here’s how you can help your SMB customers prepare for the continued waves of Coronavirus and why a website is so critical to small business survival.

COVID-19: The current state of play

Rapid progress towards a vaccine, and some distribution around the world, offers a glimmer of hope – yet new waves of the pandemic is a very real prospect for lots of countries. As Governments react to growing case numbers, the restrictions, lockdowns and safety measures come into play once again. If small businesses are to survive, they must adapt.
Now is the time to talk to your SMB customers. Encourage them to set up a website or to revisit their existing site. BaseKit’s website builder is specifically aimed at small businesses – our mission is to help everyone thrive online. With usual shopping habits disrupted by forced closures and social distancing, websites will play a more important role in helping small businesses survive.

Preparing SMBs for new waves of COVID-19: internal vs. external factors

For SMBs to survive further pandemic disruption, there are two key things they need to do. First, business owners need to look inward, to assess where they are and what they need to put in place. Second, SMBs must look outward as they head into more uncertainty.
This article is split into two parts: 1) internal process; and 2) how tech can help connect small businesses to the external world, through a strong online presence.
We hope you find the guide useful when talking to your SMB customers.

Part 1: SMBs need to look inward first

To get ready for new waves, encourage your customers to take three steps: review, prepare and build.

Review:

What did they learn from the first wave or the first lockdown? Encourage customers to list things that went well. It’s important to be honest about what didn’t go so well. Remember, your customers shouldn’t beat themselves up – this isn’t about telling anyone off. It’s about being realistic and finding areas to improve.
One of the best ways small businesses can achieve this is to ask for feedback. What did customers find helpful? Was there anything that they didn’t like? SMB owners can then start to put things in place to address customer feedback. Which leads us to…

Prepare:

SMBs are the lifeblood of economies around the world. So when they grind to a halt, the impact is felt far and wide. Supply chains shouldn’t be disrupted to the extent they were earlier in the year. And while businesses of all shapes and sizes are better prepared than they were in spring, 2020 has shown that anything can happen. Remind SMBs to keep a close eye on stock levels and also to review suppliers.
Ask business owners to be realistic: do they have enough stock and supplies to see them through disruption to their supply chain? Being proactive is important too. Encourage SMBs to keep in contact with suppliers – how is their situation? Do they foresee any problems? Are they still trading? It may be worth SMBs increasing their little black book of suppliers, just in case.

Build:

A business without customers isn’t a business. The first thing SMBs must do, is to build a good relationship with their customers. This must be at the heart of any initiative the SMB undertakes. Loyal customers are an asset in themselves and must be taken care of accordingly.
SMBs can also build additional revenue streams and – if necessary – a new business model. Some industries may need to pivot entirely, such as hospitality and events. Encourage your small business customers to think creatively and to consider the longevity of their business as it stands, as painful as it may be.

Coronavirus will likely be a feature of life going forward. We don’t know for definite when a vaccine will be available, or what further restrictions may be introduced. There could be more lockdowns to come. There’s no need to scare your small business customers, though it makes sense to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

SMBs can prepare for new spikes with clear internal processes

Safety underpins all preparation for new waves of Covid-19. No business owner wants to be responsible for anyone becoming ill. Yet, SMBs must balance health and safety concerns with making a living, as safely as possible. There are three ways SMB owners can ensure the safety of customers and staff: understand, act and communicate:

Understand:

Small businesses have been impacted the most severely by restrictions and business closures. They have had the most to contend with. And though it is confusing and tiring, SMBs must keep on top of the official advice that applies to them. Empathise with your SMB customers. It’s tough!
The other element SMBs must ‘understand’ is the help available to them. There is help out there for small businesses. Governments around the world have provided financial help, tax breaks and more to aid businesses. Encourage SMB owners to keep in contact with their local business authorities, and reach out for advice when needed.

As a supplier to small businesses, keep lines of communication open. When you provide clear information and support to your SMB customers, there’s one less thing for them to worry about. And in today’s world, that’s a very welcome gift for small business owners!

Act:

SMBs need to update their own policies so that things are clear to staff and customers. This might include updating HR policies, rewriting staff contracts or retraining staff to comply with new regulations. If creating new revenue streams, SMBs will need to document their process and ensure everyone is clear. In terms of customers, it might mean updating opening hours, terms of business, or something as simple as putting up signage to direct the flow of traffic. These actions are vital, because without communication, none of this is possible…

Communicate, communicate, communicate:

If staff are working from home, business owners must communicate regularly. Even if there is no ‘news’, encourage SMB customers to check in with staff daily. A short video call keeps everyone connected and on the same page.

It’s important too that businesses keep customers up to date. SMB owners can offer reassurance wherever possible that their orders or bookings are in good hands. If forced to close, or pause trading for a while, communicate with customers and let them know what will happen. Treat customers fairly and they’ll be understanding. As discussed, without loyal customers, an SMB can’t survive!

Part 2) Looking outward: how an online presence can help small businesses survive new COVID-19 spikes

Once SMBs have made internal preparations for their business, the next step is to look outward. At this stage, all of the internal plans are put into play. The intention is for SMBs to attract customers, giving them a better chance of survival.

Here are a few things you can remind your SMB customers of, to help them succeed even in the face of a second, or third wave.

Embrace technology:

Technology can be daunting for small business owners who are used to doing business face-to-face. They may lack confidence, or worry that the customer experience will be impacted negatively.

Remind customers that there’s nothing to be afraid of! Zoom and Skype are helpful alternatives for face-to-face contact. For any businesses, and especially those that sell products, a website builder is essential. Small businesses can set up a custom domain, a beautiful-looking website and an eCommerce store in minutes and start selling direct to customers.

Our blog explains why small businesses should sell via their own site, not an online marketplace.

With BaseKit’s mobile Sitebuilder, a smartphone is the SMB owners’ best friend. They can amend their site, snap great product photos and write helpful product descriptions on the go. And when they’ve finished editing their site, they can share those product photos on social media too.

It’s important that small businesses keep marketing. Encourage your SMB customers to use existing channels and consider new ones that will help bring their work to a different audience. But remember, small business owners must monitor what works. If a channel is draining time, energy and resources without delivering a return, it’s best to cut it.   

Communicate:

For today’s small business owner, there have never been so many communication channels at their fingertips. If your small business customers are still open and permitted to trade, it’s vital they let people know! If forced to close, it’s just as important for businesses to keep communicating.

Content is incredibly useful to keep in touch with customers. There are three key ways small businesses can keep creating content:

  • Blog – if your small business customers don’t have a website, now is the time to create one. There are many benefits to having a website and blogging is one of them. Keep customers updated, share tips and tricks and product information. A regularly-updated blog also helps with SEO.
  • Videos – video updates are great for communicating key information in a short, digestible format. They can be added to websites, shared on social media and sent to customers who enquire.
  • Social media posts – encourage SMBs to maintain their current rhythm of posting on social media. If closed, business owners can share what they are working on behind the scenes. If open, social posts can communicate key information quickly.

Aside from creating content, remind SMB owners to keep on top of communication, even if forced to close. There’s nothing worse than landing on a site that says ‘We’ll be back soon!’ with no other information. Or even worse, a website which leaves the customer guessing about whether the business is trading or not.

Make the most of online: SMBs can thrive with a website

Small businesses need a website. In the days of Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and so on, SMB owners might think that a website is the last thing they should consider. Research published in 2018 suggested that up to 21% of small business owners believed that they didn’t need a website, because they had a social media presence. In reality, a website is the basis of their digital footprint.

Customers will check a business out online before they even enquire, and especially before they buy. It’s estimated that 70-80% of all consumers will look up a business, even before visiting them in-person. In a lockdown, when the only option might be visiting a ‘digital store’, it’s so important to have a website because it shows credibility, legitimacy and professionalism.

If your SMB customers do have a website languishing somewhere, encourage them to dust it off. If they have no digital shop front, now’s the time for them to create their site. BaseKit’s website builder makes it incredibly easy for anyone to create a professional-looking website or online store. 

The other key thing that SMB owners need to bear in mind, is their website domain. Owning a domain is great for branding and also gives a much more credible appearance. Domains can be shared online to help direct traffic to the small business website. SMB owners can add their domain to social media profiles, email footers, and any other online platforms they use. Investing in a domain is an investment in the business. A custom domain can help with SEO, and remember! Social media algorithms exist to serve the needs of the social media platform, not the small business. A website and domain, on the other hand, are within the control of the business owner.

Help your SMB customers prepare for new waves of Coronavirus

Preparation and execution are key to SMBs surviving the COVID-19 disruption. A strong online presence is vital. The pandemic has altered how we shop, work and live, possibly forever. A website enables small businesses to keep trading in the here and now. In the long term, a website is an asset that can grow and adapt with the small business – it can be leveraged to help the business thrive. To prepare your customers for success, during the pandemic and beyond, talk to us today.

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