The pandemic is injuring global commerce, and badly.
Small businesses are hurting the most, because they already operate under tight margins. With winter setting in and cases on the rise, business owners are seeing their revenue shrink to dangerously low levels.
Tourism, restaurants, and the travel industry are the most severely affected. But unless you’re Amazon, your business is probably suffering, too.
The old ways aren’t working anymore. You can’t rely on foot traffic and in-person sales as much as you used to, and customers have changed their buying habits.
It's time to adapt to our circumstances, and we've compiled a short list of tactics you can use to help your small business turn your luck around. Many industries have not only found a way to survive the pandemic, but thrive when a new opportunity comes their way.
1. Pivot your services
If your business has been impacted directly by COVID, or supports (or is supported by) businesses that are, you can try to look for new ways to apply your resources.
In 2020, businesses who pivoted to e-commerce models saw record sales during Black Friday.
Distilleries have transformed their production facilities into hand sanitizer factories.
Restaurants that can’t accept dine-in customers have turned into “ghost kitchens.” A ghost kitchen is a restaurant with no physical dining location. Some ghost kitchens operate under their own brands, while others act as a supplier for other businesses.
Hotel and inn operators have turned their facilities into shared office space. Employees working remotely can book rooms and have a private hotel room turned into a private office, complete with room service and high-speed internet.
Of course, you can’t just pivot to any old alternate business blindly. You need to conduct some market research before committing to a new path.
Market research can be done a number of ways: hiring research agencies, purchasing reports, online survey tools, or calling lists of people who fit your target market. The research will require an up-front investment, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be expensive or time-consuming.
For example, hiring outbound callers in lower-cost areas to lead your research efforts can be a short-term, low-cost investment that can yield incredible ROI if you can uncover a new need that your business can fulfill.
2. Rethink your marketing strategy
People have turned to their devices for entertainment and connection during quarantine. This provides more opportunities for you to do more with your marketing in order to build brand awareness or drive inbound leads.
You may be working on a limited budget, but there are still plenty of things you can do for a relatively low cost.
Social media is the go-to channel for businesses with a small marketing budget. The only cost is your creativity and your time. And while time is precious for an entrepreneur, there are ways of managing social media marketing so that it doesn’t use too much of your day (ex. Content calendars).
Another potential marketing option is building a video or audio podcast. Bite-size “snackable” content can be easily shared by people online and can quickly develop a life of its own if you hit on the right topic.
If you have the spare budget, you can pay for a small ad campaign to help amplify your content and generate inbound leads.
3. Hire contract sales reps
When your pipeline starts to slow down—or disappear completely—the sales team is often the first to get cut. Or, if not cut, then see a change in team structure. But you need sales people to keep the ball rolling. If you don’t have sales people, you can’t recover.
What is a business owner supposed to do?
Hiring a full-time sales team during a time of uncertainty can be a costly risk. Contract sales reps are a great alternative to scale your team when you’re not sure what your sales needs will be or if you don’t have additional funds to spend on overhead.
Platforms like Overpass specialize in sales talent, so that you can quickly hire qualified sales reps to do remote sales for short- or long-term contracts. When you work with contract sales reps, you have the flexibility to work on different contracts with different people to see who is the greatest asset for your business, and the option to retain them when your business starts to bounce back.
4. Increase value for your existing customers
Acquiring new customers is a costly process. Experts say that it’s 5x more expensive to win a new customer than it is to retain an old one. So you should do whatever it takes to keep your existing customers.
One of the best ways to retain your best customers is to give them more value so they have reasons to stick around.
Promotional marketing, such as coupons or discount codes, can encourage customers to increase the size of their order or upgrade to a premium package. Use these promotions sparingly, though. They are useful for a quick win, but can hurt your bottom line if it runs too long, and can devalue your service in the eyes of the customer.
Other brands increase value based on the service itself. Retailers especially have increased their click-and-collect purchase offerings, which allow them to shop safely.
Vary your offers and make sure they align with your customers’ current needs.
5. Revisit old leads
If your sales process allows it, you may want to consider revisiting old leads. Review the notes on each prospect. How far in the pipeline did they get? Why did they say no? Was their objection something you can overcome now?
If they were concerned about COVID’s impact back in March, check in with them and see if they’ve managed to address that concern.
If your sales team is focused on new leads, supplementing their efforts with a contract sales team to exhaust an old list can make your outreach efforts more effective. Just make sure you do your homework on the current status of your prospect’s business and any notes you had from a previous conversation.
Navigating your sales needs during a pandemic is almost as challenging as starting your business over from scratch. You need to invest in research, new marketing efforts, and in some cases even build an entirely new team altogether. You need to learn who your best customers are in this new normal, and who can benefit from your business’ products and services.
Fortunately, you now have more resources available to grow your business—from your existing business assets to your deeper understanding of customers and products, and access to lower risk options for generating sales.