Due to recent announcements by the UK government, businesses are rightly concerned that the official advice will be a detriment to their businesses, putting them at serious risk.
Currently, advice states that people should avoid unnecessary contact and gatherings, meaning social businesses such as pubs are in trouble.
Small businesses are particularly concerned too as their customers are increasingly choosing to self isolate, after buying sprees at the larger supermarket chains. Now stocked up with enough supplies to weather the apocalypse, no one has any real need for many of the products offered by smaller businesses.
They’re not coming out to browse the high street, and they’re low on disposable income too, having purchased much more than their usual budgets would allow.
It seems like an impossible scenario – how exactly are the most at-risk businesses going to survive?
Luckily, we live in a digital world, and there are plenty of outside the box ideas that these businesses can utilise. We’ve been keeping a close eye on social media and learning from the clever tricks businesses have been using to adapt to the threat of COVID-19.
After all, business is all about adaptation – right?
Here’s our ultimate gathering of advice, we hope it helps. At the bottom of this article you’ll also find tips and tricks from small businesses who we have interviewed recently in the face of this pandemic.
Adapt your business to new needs and buying habits – be flexible
Ask yourself the question – how can I work with people’s needs, rather than suffering against them?
Take some of the key advice the government is giving out for example – isolation and contact limitation. Can your business work with that?
If you’re a food based business, can you do what Deliveroo recently did and launch a totally contactless service?
Deliveroo announced in an email this week that it is now allowing customers to tick a little box when ordering, that allows them to consent to contactless delivery – the driver will leave their food at a designated place and stand back to watch it, ensuring it is picked up.
Jack Ma’s companies over in China launched a very similar service a few months ago as the virus began to peak over there and it was highly successful – you don’t need to panic-buy if you can still get food and deliveries without any risk. It’s a great solution for everyone.
Another business we saw adapt to a similar way of thinking is The Plattery, a business in London that usually caters for events. Recognising that events were probably off the table for a while, they’ve shifted their business model to delivering platter meals to feed families, that can be delivered to their door.
It’s a great solution that many of their customers will likely try. Not only that, but the service will build their reputation and bring in new customers for the future.
If you’re a pub, you could even host a Facebook Live pub quiz, and possibly even deliver alcohol or takeaway dinners to participants. You’ll definitely stay in your customers’ minds!
A cashless society is something well within the realms of possibility with the technology we currently possess. Cash is well-known to be a big culprit when it comes to being unhygienic. Try asking your customers to temporarily switch to using a contactless card or phone-based payment system. This limits cross contamination.
Cashless thinking can also help your business become totally contactless. Many businesses can move to a temporary delivery model, where they bring their products to the customers, instead of asking them to put themselves in risk of contact. Setting up solutions like mobile card readers, paypal and online payment systems will assist in facilitating this.
Adapt your marketing message
I enjoyed reading the recent marketing efforts of one of my favourite businesses, Patterns by Gertie, when they appeared in my social feed. Their business sells sewing patterns and kits, and offers online video content to help users learn how to use the products. They’ve recently launched a campaign called #StayHomeAndSew, which encourages their followers to buy a sewing pattern and make the most of their self isolation time by starting a project. To compliment this, a discount code hammers home the temptation to take the offer up.
It’s a really clever way of making the most of things. Consider this, does your business offer a product that would be fun or useful during self-isolation?
Patterns by Gertie have even gone one step further, acknowledging that shipping services are likely to be delayed at the moment, they have upsold their ‘Download and Print’ selection of patterns, which are much easier to obtain.
Perhaps your business could also adapt the format it sells its product in to make it more available? For example, if you run a tearoom, you might switch to offering vouchers valid for a delayed Mother’s Day event; ideal for those who can’t celebrate due to the risks of the virus.
Be flexible for those in need
Iceland capitalised on an opportunity for some great PR by opening their business to those most in need. In response to panic buying, they recognised vulnerable customers such as pensioners were potentially unable to shop or get hold of the items they need.
Iceland decided to open for an hour every morning exclusively to pensioners, where they could shop in peace without the chaos.
It’s likely going forward pensioners will be encouraged to totally stay at home – perhaps your business could offer its service mobile, directly to them? Cleaning, odd jobs, shopping services and gardening can all do well here.
Can your employees focus their efforts elsewhere temporarily?
Many businesses, such as Lush and Urban Outfitters, have taken the serious decision to close all their stores temporarily to safeguard their staff. This is not only conscientious, but also a great example of PR done right. Although these businesses will lose profitability in the short-term, they’ve made the most of the situation and built customer loyalty to the brand.
The current overriding conversation on social media is that companies should be putting their employees’ health first, and staying open unnecessarily in certain industries may actually lead to PR backlash later.
Just look at the problems Richard Branson is having as it was made public Virgin had asked their staff to take voluntary unpaid leave.
So if you haven’t got your employees on-premise, how can you make the most of that?
Many service based businesses can ask their employees to work remotely thanks to programs like Microsoft Teams, cloud file sharing and Skype, but other workers such as those in food service or retail workers don’t have that luxury.
If your workers can’t work their normal role remotely, why not try adapting their role to make the most of things? Try some of these tips:
Train your staff with some digital skills – they can manage online orders and pack deliveries, or maintain your social media with product videos from home.
Take the time to upskill your staff. Host some webinars to train them or give them courses they can take home and study.
Prepare for a sale, start some promo online and create hype.
Clean, reorganise or redecorate your premises, some staff will enjoy the opportunity to earn some extra money here. It’s definitely a good time to do a deep clean!
Help the community, create some great PR by helping those who are vulnerable.
Get some creative brainstorming going on Skype, Google Hangouts or Teams and develop some new product ideas, promotions and marketing ideas.
Ensure your business is prepared
Making a plan is essential, ensure your business is ready should the government’s advice change.
If you are an office based business, as a minimum you should:
Ensure workers are connected to a secure cloud-based service for files that they may need to access when working from home.
Ensure workers are well versed in following GDPR protocol at home and do not leave sensitive information open to malicious intent.
Make sure your workers are equipped, rent laptops for those who don’t have facilities at home, and ensure they will be recompensed for expenses they might incur working remotely, such as phone bills.
Install necessary software is installed on your worker’s remote machines, such as Skype, Teams, etc.
Communicate your plan with your customers and followers, ensure they know that the way to contact you may have changed, and of any potential service disruptions.
If you have these precautions set up ready, you’ll be totally prepared should the government ask businesses to tell their staff to stay home and you won’t lose productivity.
Do you have a great tip for facing COVID-19 head on as a business? Please share it with us! Tweet us at @AccountancyPart and we’ll share your recommendations.
About The Author
I'm an experienced and fully AAT and ACCA qualified accountant, who is enthusiastic about helping business owners succeed.