Getting Through COVID-19: 7 Actionable Tips for Small Businesses

Getting Through COVID-19: 7 Actionable Tips for Small Businesses

No matter where you are in the country (or world), it’s likely that your business is seeing a decline of in-person customers. Many businesses have had to close due to Coronavirus concerns, others have had to limit their workforce, or completely rethink the way they do business. 

To help you adapt to this weird, new world, we’ve put together 7 actionable tips to help you reach and engage your customers without needing to see them in person. 

1. Make sure your customers can find you online

This may seem like a no-brainer, but we want to emphasize how important it is to improve your website for search engine optimization (SEO). Many of your customers will be looking to your website to answer questions like, what are your hours? Are you still open? What are your current business operations? Placing this information front and center on your business’ home page will be the quickest way for your customers to find those answers. 

And, with a few SEO tweaks, you can make it easier for visitors to find your website and improve your visitor’s experience on your site.

Here are a few quick tips:
  • Reduce the size of your images to increase page speed
  • Create distinct collections of content and avoid duplicative material
  • Update your metatags so that they clearly inform the visitor of the web pages’ topics
This is just a snapshot of what SEO improvements you can make to your site. Check out our Definitive Checklist for SEO on Shopify for a comprehensive guide on ecommerce SEO (it has helpful tips even if you don’t use Shopify).

2. Send updates via email, but first, clean your list

Before you send out an update to your entire contact database, we recommend cleaning your list

You could see low delivery rates when you blast an email to all of your contacts, especially if you haven’t combed through your list in a while. When too many of your contacts bounce, are blocked or dropped, your email could be sent to the spam folder. Or, if you do end up in the inbox, you could see a high number of unsubscribes or even spam reports from those contacts who have not engaged with your email in a while. 
We recommend removing any recipients that have not engaged in the last 6 months.
You can fine-tune this window for your business, but 6 months of no engagement is likely a sign that your recipient no longer wants your email or that address is no longer active. 

But what if you want to send an update immediately? That’s totally fine, but send it to a smaller list of contacts you know want your email. Once you fully clean your list you can send an email to the remainder of your contacts. 

COVID-19 Email Content

Once you clean your list, you’ll need to decide what kind of update you want to send. If your business is affected, your customers will want to know. For COVID-19 updates, keep the content to:
  • Limited store hours or the closing of a business
  • Event cancellation or postponement
  • New business procedures, like delivery, pickup, or appointment only
  • How customers can access and support your business online or virtually
For these serious updates, the subject line should be direct, describing the exact content of the email (e.g. Updated store hours, New delivery options, “Name of event” has been postponed).

Here’s an example from ClassPass, providing suggestions on how to support local gyms, studios, and wellness businesses in the coming months. The email opens with the subject line, “How we can help our health and wellness partners.” The email is outlined in clear bullet points with linked call-to-actions for each section. 

COVID-19 email example

Not all emails need to be serious. In fact, we need some lighthearted goodness. After you get the initial update out on any changes in business operations, you could send emails on how your customers can stay entertained or comfortable while in quarantine. Highlight a few things you’ve been doing to pass the time and showcase your products. 

Below is an email from the shoe company, Birdies. The email features suggestions from 3 employees on what to do while quarantined. The recommendations range from podcasts to TV shows and recipes. This email isn’t serious (and doesn’t include Coronavirus/COVID-19 in the subject line) but is still helpful, providing useful suggestions while promoting their ultra-comfy shoes. 

quarantine email example

For more best practice information and examples on email communications in the time of COVID-19, read our blog post.

3. Develop a blog, newsletter, or other content

A blog, when executed correctly, can be an excellent traffic driver and really enhance your SEO efforts. Do some research on popular search terms in your industry to see if there’s an opportunity for you to create content around those search terms. 
Developing a blog has great long term benefits, but only if you plan to regularly work on it.
If you don’t have the time to manage a blog, consider creating an email newsletter. While the newsletter won't drive traffic, it's a great tool to engage your customers especially when they can't come into your store. You could send it weekly, biweekly, or monthly as long as it’s consistent.

For your newsletter (or blog) consider what questions your customers frequently ask you. Think about how you can adapt those conversations into informative content. 

To start your own email newsletter, read our how-to guide.

4. Add signup forms to your website 

You need a method of contacting your website visitors, so add signup forms to your website to collect visitors’ emails and/or phone numbers. Be sure visitors have the option to opt-out of communications.

To collect emails, consider:
  • Offering a 15% discount to visitors who provide their email address
  • Adding a newsletter form to your website
  • Creating a guide or resource that will then be sent to the user’s inbox
Check out these examples to see the number of ways you can set up your signup forms.

5. Send SMS messages

Provide the option for your customers to receive SMS notifications. Without being able to see your customers face to face, it’s helpful to have a variety of channels to reach them. 

SMS is excellent for communications like shipping and delivery notifications, (virtual) appointment reminders, and account verifications. We don’t recommend regularly sending promotions or sales over text (although every once in a while is okay). Regular promotional text messages can feel too invasive.

Learn more about SMS. 

6. Ramp up your social media

With so many of us at home, our screen time has increased making social media an excellent avenue to reach your customers. Here are a few reasons to increase your business’ social media presence:
  • Provide up to date information
Regularly update your hours, pickup, or delivery options on social media. Many customers are turning to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to get the latest news from their local businesses. Inform customers on how they can support you—your regulars will want to help! 
  • Collect contact information
If you’re looking to gather additional contact information, you could set up lead ads. These ads allow the user to provide their email address without leaving the social platform. This is generally more expensive than traffic-driving campaigns, but it’s a much safer way of collecting email addresses than purchasing lists. (Here’s why you shouldn’t purchase lists.)
  • Advertise products
You can also advertise your products via paid social. Paid social ads, particularly on Instagram, are some of the most native ads in the business. (Native ads have the look and feel of the rest of the platform, making the ad look natural next to other content.)  Tag your products in your Instagram ads to link to the specific product shown and make it easier for customers to purchase.

For additional social media strategies and to see how social media and email can work together, read our article, Email Marketing vs. Social Media: Pros, Cons & Opportunities.

7. Create an omnichannel experience

With so many different channels that you can use (social media, SMS, email, SEM/SEO), you want to make sure the channels align and connect to create a seamless (as opposed to a disjointed) experience.

To build a fluid experience:
  • Keep the colors, images, and messaging consistent across channels. This helps the viewer immediately recognize your brand no matter what channel they are on.
  • Make sure you’re using each channel appropriately. We generally like email for archival purposes and SMS for more time-sensitive information. Social media, while great for updates, does not have the same lasting power. So for important updates, it might be worth sending an email in addition to posting on social.
  • Create your ideal flow for how your channels would work together. (E.g. A customer finds your business in search results, subscribes to your newsletter, purchases a product, and receives a text message that it’s on the way.) It will be different for every business, so understanding how your ideal flow would work will help you build out your channels.
Curious how other brands craft omnichannel experiences? Check out our guide, How 5 Companies Craft Excellent Omnichannel Experiences.

A final note

We hope this gives you a number of actionable items that you can use to engage your customers. We know it isn’t the same as seeing your customers face-to-face, but leaning into these channels will help you connect with your customers in the meantime. Plus, all of these initiatives will benefit your business in the long term, engaging and reminding your customers of your business when they aren’t in the store.

Best of luck out there. Stay healthy and safe!

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