The Five-Step Guide to Reopening Your Local Business During Covid-19
As lockdown measures begin to ease, many businesses across the US and globally are being allowed to reopen. While this is welcome news for business owners, the world has changed. Companies will be reopening to a climate where strict health measures are in place, and most transactions are taking place online.
The upcoming reopening period will be unlike anything we’ve seen since the Spanish Flu. According to a report by PwC, 54% of business owners reported that the pandemic has negatively impacted their business:
Source: Facility Executive
Similarly, BrightLocal’s study on how local marketers are dealing with the business consequences of Covid-19 showed that 35% of marketers were losing customers and 27% were temporarily closing.
This is hardly surprising when you consider the sharp rise in unemployment rates, meaning services are less in demand than ever.
Luck and hard work alone will not be enough to keep your business afloat in the new normal. You’ll need to be smart and strategic about reopening. Here are five steps to consider as you set about reopening your company for business.
1. Track your position vs search volume
While businesses are beginning to reopen, people are still encouraged to stay at home as much as possible. Therefore, your online presence will be more critical than ever.
Since the start of the global outbreak, search results have seen huge fluctuations. Some industries have seen a huge dip in traffic. Travel is an obvious example, but it’s not the only industry by any means. This decrease in search traffic most often correlates with a significant loss of revenue.
For businesses impacted by this sudden loss of revenue, it’s clearly been a challenge.
However, from an SEO perspective, a drop in traffic isn’t always caused by a drop in demand from consumers. For example, a Google update, like we saw in May, can have a massive impact on how SERPs are decided.
To determine whether you have an SEO issue or a demand issue, you need to compare your traffic figures with search volume trends. If the trends are similar, the problem is a lack of demand for your product or service. If not, the problem is with your SEO strategy.
As you prepare your business for the “new normal,” it’s important to track any upswing in traffic against search rankings. An uplift will be indicative of interest in your field from potential customers increasing.
A careful analysis of these search trends is one of two things you need to be tracking. However, this is only the beginning of the story.
2. Plan your marketing budget according to conversion rates
If you’re one of the millions of business owners who have lost money due to the pandemic, you’ll need to budget strategically to survive. Marketing is critical, but you must be wise about how you spend your marketing budget.
When assessing your marketing budget, it’s important to review your organic conversion rates. You need to understand to what extent Covid-19 has impacted your conversion rates from organic and local search. The easiest way to do this is by setting up conversion tracking on Google Analytics.
With this data, you can see if your conversion rates have dropped since the Covid-19 outbreak. Equally, you can see when conversion rates start to improve and return to normal. If this aligns with an increase in traffic, you can then start to allocate a marketing budget that is in line with your expected revenue.
You have historical data that infers what “normal” looks like for your business based on search volumes from the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, or this year against the same time last year. Use this data to make informed business decisions.
This approach of aligning your marketing budget with revenue will put you in the best position to grow as a business. From an agency standpoint, this approach aligns with your client goals, ensuring you have a marketing strategy in place that can help them succeed.
3. Find new customers to make up for demand shocks
The reality is that you may have experienced huge losses this year, and possibly will next year, too. Most people have less disposable income, so chances are you’re going to find the demand for your product or service isn’t what it was a few months ago.
The earlier you acknowledge this reality and incorporate the lost revenue into your business plans, the higher your chances of emerging from the crisis in one piece.
You can’t control the situation or many of its implications, but you can act to mitigate damage. This starts by undertaking a considered business development strategy. Below are some concrete steps you can take to mitigate the impact of a drop in demand.
The first thing you can do is find new customers for your existing business model. One easy way to do this is to boost your visibility on local SEO. Luckily, in many cases, there are some quick wins available.
One strategy you can implement quickly is leveraging common customer questions and queries.
This will allow you to feature in Google’s Featured Snippets, which is crucial for finding new local customers via inbound search. On top of this, this is a really good strategy for getting new business from voice searches on smart speakers and voice assistants.
To leverage these, simply identify common local-based questions, and create content that provides valuable answers to these.
Secondly, you can begin to request reviews from your customers. Reviews are a key ranking factor and are vital to build consumer trust, so having a good quantity and quality of reviews will likely increase your local search visibility.
You can also work to gain exposure locally by reaching out to local publications about your upcoming reopening. Not only will this provide your business with some relevant exposure, but you could also build local links in the process – again, helping you to rank in local searches.
Seek out new opportunities
Sometimes simply finding new customers for your existing offering won’t cut it. If this is the case, you’ll need to make up for lower demand by moving into other products or services. In the post-Covid era, successful businesses will be the ones who were quick on their feet.
This starts by identifying your main business assets, and considering how you can put them to different uses.
For example, people will be less likely to attend crowded spaces for years to come. If you run a nightclub, you’re in real trouble. However, you have a Covid-friendly asset in the form of a big empty room.
This means that it would be easy for you to move into a different events business model, like movie screenings or small concerts, while still maintaining social distance among your customers.
4. Create a communications plan
Covid-19 has impacted businesses, and your communication plan should reflect this reality. If you had a business communications plan before the pandemic, it’s time to revisit your approach. If your business doesn’t have a communications plan, start creating one right away.
Here are the three characteristics your communications plan should have:
Your customers, employees, stakeholders, and partners are all understandably on edge as a result of the pandemic. The worst thing you can do is give them unclear messages that are open to misinterpretation.
The CEO of Airbnb provides a nice illustration of a struggling company that has put transparency into the heart of their communication strategy. The CEO has received a lot of praise for this approach, and rightly so.
I’ve taken a screenshot of the opening paragraph of his message to the staff. I recommend you take a minute to read the full letter.
Ensure that your internal and external communications are clear, transparent, and accurately reflect the current reality. If you try to act as though nothing has changed, your stakeholders will wonder what you’re trying to hide.
Painful decisions like laying off staff or reducing the scope of your operations might still need to happen. A lack of transparency regarding your approach could backfire. Moreover, you can create lasting reputational damage to your company through such missteps.
At the start of the pandemic, many businesses made the mistake of issuing statements that promised too much. They are now being forced to take back their words in the wake of layoffs, plummeting sales, or disruptions to their supply chains.
While it is good to be optimistic, you should also be cautious, and acknowledge the difficulties people and businesses face. If you expect order fulfilment to slow down, you need to communicate this to your customers. If layoffs are on the table, your staff need to know as soon as possible so that they can plan accordingly.
As your business reopens, your customers, employees, and suppliers will expect regular updates. A “we’re back in business” email is a great start, but don’t stop there.
Regular communications will reestablish a sense of normalcy and help your customers and stakeholders navigate this new business landscape with you. They will also help maintain brand loyalty. Remember that your customers and employees stuck with you through these tough times and so you should do the same for them.
Therefore, your communications must do more than announce that you’re reopening. It should keep everyone informed about what’s going on with your business and what to expect from you.
5. Announce a sale or promotion
One logical way to connect with consumers as you reopen your business is through the launch of a sale or promotion. You could create bundles that combine older items with new products, or offer old stock at significant markdowns, free shipping, a percentage discount, or a buy-one-get-one-half-price deal.
Be strategic about what you offer. Studies have shown that percentage discounts generate more conversions than flat-rate discounts. A 5% discount on a $100 product will result in more sales than reducing the price by $5 – even though the actual reduction is the same.
The best place to announce your promotion is through your email list. Clean up your mailing list using an email verification service, then use your email list and social media accounts, combined with custom landing pages, to announce a reopening sale or promotion.
If you have a lot of surplus stock, you can also consider donating products to people in need (such as by giving one unit for each customer purchase). This not only encourages sales but also builds your reputation as a caring, community-minded business.
After the lockdown, you urgently need to shift products and get cash flow moving again. Holding a special promotion will help solve both problems. Don’t be afraid to test different promotions and see what works best.
Weathering the Covid-19 storm
Experts believe we are not through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many predicting a major recession lasting well into next year. How you respond now will determine the survival of your business.
The way you do business will need to change. Your customer acquisition, communications, and marketing strategies will need to adapt and continue to respond to changing circumstances. If you stay adaptable, you will make it through this crisis and come out stronger on the other side. Until then, stay afloat!