We outline seven practical measures to help small businesses survive the current COVID recession and other business challenges. Take advantage of these marketing tips to keep your brand in front of existing and potential customers to come out of these difficult times in a far better position than many of your competitors.
Many companies, in particular small businesses, are trying to figure out how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the recession stemming from it. If you are one of these business owners or managers, your first instinct will probably be to cut costs. Budget cutting is not surprising and is also not necessarily wrong.
With less money coming in, cutting costs might not be optional for your company. That said, you should think twice about cutting your marketing budget. Again, you may have to cut it somewhat since not as much money is coming in. You should focus on smarter marketing by seeing how you can adopt and implement the following tips into your business to help you stay afloat during a recession.
Go Local!Depending on your type of business, advertising locally may be a necessity for you. If you own a small retail shop or a local service business, you depend on people in your locality hiring your services or buying your products. High reliance on local consumers is why you need to step up your local advertising game in response to a recession.
Take Advantage of Local Business DirectoriesIf you own a local service business, you should already have listings in any relevant local directories. That said, these are challenging times, so you need to make sure you are squeezing every possible sale out of these listings. When was the last time you updated your listing in each local business directory? Does it reflect your latest offerings? Does it let people know you are still around and ready to provide the solutions they need? Because times were more comfortable before the coronavirus pandemic, you may have previously been doing well by only having local listings in one or two places online. Now that times are tough, you need to make sure you have a compelling listing that clarifies what you sell in numerous online directories in your area. The following places should cover the basics of where many potential customers can find you.
- Google My Business
You can't go wrong by being on the local search directory of the largest search engine in the world. Google My Business listings also show your company's location on Google Maps. To provide information to prospective shoppers, Google will automatically generate a business profile for many companies in each locality. So, you may find you already have a Google My Business listing even if you didn't create one. If this is the case, the listing should have an "Own this business?" link you can click on to claim the listing and personalize it with information and offers that bring customers to your door.
- Bing Places
While it's true that Bing only has about six percent of the total search market nowadays, this could still amount to thousands of potential customers in a decent-sized city. During a recession, you can't afford to lose any sales by ignoring Bing's equivalent to Google My Business.
- Yahoo Local
What applies to Bing also applies to Yahoo, except that it's the third-largest search engine. Yahoo Local also has several smaller directories connected to it, and it is an affordable directory.
Yelp is the ultimate place for online reviews in pretty much any locality around the country. You'd have difficulty finding anyone who hasn't checked out some Yelp reviews about a restaurant, dry cleaner, baker, or another local company before doing business with them. Beyond customer reviews, your business can create an impressive listing with compelling information and eye-catching photos. Also, be sure to have a rapid-response strategy for dealing with negative consumer reviews.
- Yellow Pages
Yes, those folks who used to drop off that colossal book full of business listings, ads, and phone numbers at everyone's doorstep each year are still around. They moved online. Almost 60 million people visit their site each year, and with 91 percent of them contacting a business after doing so, this directory is excellent in terms of results.
- Google My Business
Use Direct MailDirect mail is a method of marketing that is tailor-made for local outreach. While direct mail has a reputation for being expensive, you have to remember that results are what count. People are inundated by email daily but receive comparatively far fewer marketing pieces in the mail. Up to 90 percent of direct mail gets opened, which compares to about 20 to 30 percent of email. Additionally, you can only send emails to people who have opted in to receive your emails, or else you'll, rightly, face accusations of sending spam. If you are having a grand opening for a new location, for example, you will want to inundate your local market with the news, and email can't accomplish this. The post office even has a program called Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM). You can send your postcards, menus, or other mailers right to customers in your locality and filter the recipients by age, income, or household size.
Increase Customer Engagement
Blog Posts and Social Media
The first key to building engagement with your customers is letting them know there is still a company out there available for patronage. You need to stay active on social media, and you'll want to have a blog page on your small business website that you are continuously updating with new and exciting content. Make it easier for people who visit your website to stay engaged with you online. You accomplish this by having buttons with links to your social media accounts in a prominent spot on your site's webpages.
Personalize Your OutreachMake each customer feel like the real person that they are rather than just a customer number. Respecting customers' individuality means personalizing every communication with them. Personalization efforts apply to emails you send to your list, replies to reviews, and direct mail pieces. Using a person's name is appreciated yet often overlooked.
Did a customer leave a rave review about your product or service on Yelp or another platform? Send them a small token of your appreciation. It might be a coupon for their next meal at your restaurant or the following few clothing items they drop off at your dry-cleaning business. You might even show your appreciation by using their review in an ad, social media post, or an email you send out to leads and customers. Either way, you'll be giving them another reason to talk up your company on social media!
Expand Across E-Commerce ChannelsSome businesses find success at using a particular e-commerce channel, and for this reason, they stick with it. There's nothing wrong with this unless it means you aren't exploring other e-commerce avenues. If you've been relying heavily on search engine optimization to bring customers to you, you might want to complement this with email marketing or content marketing. Do you have a business that sells retail products? Are many or all of these products small enough to ship to customers? If you already have an e-commerce website, you might try complementing this with an eBay store or an Amazon store, or both. These additional marketplaces can be a goldmine for bringing in new customers that you can then direct to your website for reorders to save on marketplace fees for future purchases.
Expand Your Product LineAdding more goods or services to your offerings has dual benefits. It gives you more opportunities to sell to a new person coming to your website. It also gives you more chances for additional sales from existing customers. For example, if you sell cigarette cases, you might consider adding lighters to your selection of offerings.
While adding products or services, keep in mind how essential they are to consumers. Consider the example above. Cigarettes already come in a box, so people don't need a case for them. That said, they do have to light them up, so a lighter is more of an essential product. During a recession, consumers will be cutting out as many non-essentials as they can from their budget.
For this reason, add goods and services that they will need. For example, if you run a tree removal service, consider adding lawnmowing to your list of services. Everyone needs their lawn cut periodically, but they might be willing to tolerate that unsightly tree when money is tight.
Leverage Technology to Manage Customers and PaymentsEfficiency is always important in business, but it's critical during tough economic times. Suppose you are a growing company but are still reasonably small in sales and employees. In that case, it may be time to modernize your lead and customer management system with additional considerations for your payment system.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software enables you to track all the interactions between your company and a given prospect or customer. Maintaining a record of customer interactions is invaluable to your understanding of your customers' preferences and needs. This type of information also helps you craft more effective marketing campaigns by targeting the right product or service to the right prospect at the right time.
Many CRM software solutions will also enable you to integrate payment gateways. Popular ones include PayPal, Authorize.net, and Stripe. This combination gives you an advantage over competitors since you see all interactions, sales, and payments at a glance. If you are starting to grow, you can't risk sticking with a simple spreadsheet or, worse yet, a paper system for tracking customers, leads, and sales. Getting and staying organized is half the battle, so don't waste time and lose sales by being behind the technology curve.
Show Your Customers You CareTrying to make a living during a pandemic and a recession is especially difficult for local service businesses. If you are in the home services industry, you face the challenge of not wanting strangers in their home. Unless it's a dire emergency, such as a broken toilet, people will put off optional plumbing, heating, landscaping, or other work in or around their home until a vaccine is available. That said, you still need to make a living right now.
It would be best if you stressed all the marketing materials you put your customers' safety first. Any home service employees should be wearing masks, at a minimum, whenever they are in a customer's home. You may even add the precaution of gloves as well. The big mistake many businesses make is taking such precautions but failing to let their customers know that they are doing so clearly.
Perhaps you own a retail store or another type of business where people come to you. Many states currently require people to wear masks before entering any enclosed structure open to the public, and most companies post notices about this on their door. It would help if you also let your customers know about any extra precautions you may be taking, such as frequent cleaning and sanitizing your establishment. Additionally, have hand sanitizer and wet wipes available just inside the doorway so that customers can ensure their hands are cleaned and sanitized upon entry and exit.
Make the Most of Your Marketing BudgetUnless you enjoy wasting money, you probably already pay some attention to being as efficient as possible in your marketing efforts. The tighter budgets most companies face during a recession will require you to double down on this. Be creative and think of low-cost ways you can get and keep your name out there in the community and around the country if your business caters to a national audience.
How long has it been since your website has had a makeover? If it has been more than a few years, you should consider giving it a makeover or hiring a digital marketing agency to do it for you. Website redesigns shouldn't cost too much compared to the cost of brand-new development and will yield greater marketing efficiency with higher conversions from a more modern, useful website.
When you depend on local customers for your survival, see what opportunities there are in your community to get your name out there while also showing potential customers that you care. If you are in or near a city of any size, there must be local chapters of known, reputable national charities in your area. Offer to sponsor an event for them and even volunteer to help it be a success. Remember to have your employees hand out branded merchandise, such as pens, bags, caps, and other paraphernalia, to make sure your name is out there long after the event is over.
The above steps should help your company survive the current COVID recession and then some. Leveraging ways to keep your brand in front of existing and potential customers, you will be coming out of these difficult times in a far better position than many of your competitors.
About The Author
Howard White is a marketing leader with nearly 20 years of digital experience. He’s led digital marketing efforts for organizations in multiple verticals and various sizes, from startups to leading digital marketing operations for multi-national enterprises in both B2B and B2B. In his spare time, he is an avid musician, music fanatic, and mentor.