I don’t know about you, but right now my Facebook and Instagram feeds are filled with lamenting businesses who are really feeling the brunt of the pandemic.
Sure, at the time of writing this article, we’re not under restrictions like those we faced last year. In Wales we’re dealing with the return of the rule of 6, and across the country we’re being advised to work from home.
But the problem this time is not just restrictions; it’s fear and uncertainty.
Omicron is spreading rapidly. The last time COVID-19 case numbers were this high, we were confined to our homes. We know it’s not as deadly as the first strain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t making us unwell. Unwell enough to stay off work, and subsequently lose income.
When you couple that fear with post-Christmas dried up bank accounts, rising energy bills and one of the most miserable months of the year (it’s Blue Monday soon), it’s a deadly concoction. We’re staying in and burying our heads under the duvet.
Business Owners Are Losing Footfall
The problem for businesses comes in two waves, lower footfall and staff sickness.
If staff are too unwell to work, or need to isolate, then business owners are likely left with difficult decisions at the final minute. When your staff member is the only one who has the skills you need, then the situation becomes truly dire.
So what’s a business owner to do? We’ve riled the noggins of our experts to see what useful advice we can share:
Cross-Train Your Staff – Right Now.
Before we even begin to talk about marketing during a pandemic, let’s set the stage. What happens if you have lots of booking in your restaurant, but your team comes down with a wave of Omicron? What happens if you’re about to launch a fantastic new campaign, but your marketing manager can’t make it in?
Can you honestly say that someone else in your team can fill in?
There are plenty of roles that can benefit with upskilling and training, in order to confidently fill the gaps created by staff sickness.
For example, a receptionist has all of the equipment and ability to take on some digital marketing skills. They may not wish to move into that career, but being able to manage social media, send email campaigns and make minor changes to a website would make them a fantastic understudy to your marketing expert within a small business.
If you’re in Wales, you can even enrol staff on to this kind of training for free. The course is fully funded by the Welsh government. In England, it’s 95% funded.
Another great example is training your administration or warehouse staff in front-of-house skills, and vice versa! This is great for retail businesses, and business who need to make a transition to an online or delivery-based model during lockdowns and times of lower footfall.
Staff will appreciate the opportunity to use their skills temporarily in an alternative role, rather than being temporarily laid off or without the hours they need.
Just make sure that you discuss these training opportunities with your staff to ensure it’s something they’d like to develop, not just a forced increase of responsibility, without a pay rise.
Sort Out Your Website – I Mean It.
Ok, this isn’t a threat, but when businesses move to a digital model in order to stay active during restrictions, it’s very quickly apparent who understands the digital landscape.
If you have a pub, restaurant or shop, you’ve probably thought about the customer experience – right?
You don’t want a visitor to experience:
- Long Queues
- Long Waits on Service
- A Lack of Communication About Their Order
- Staff Without Good Communication Skills
- Products That Aren’t Easy to See, Find or Learn About
- Difficult Checkout Processes
- A Messy Layout, Filled With Clutter!
So why would you let this happen on your website?
Do yourself a favour, go on your website now and pretend you’re a customer – or better still, ask some friends to test it for you.
Is it easy to understand? Does it offer a similar experience to visiting your business in real life?
And at this point, you might be saying “but I’m not a web developer, and I can’t afford one.”.
Well, apart from in the above section, where we mention training someone in your business in Digital Marketing (any employee can do it, even the owner…), there’s so much you can teach yourself easily online.
A digital marketing apprentice can set up a simple website or ecommerce store for an extremely low investment, and I’m talking less than £200 for a nice quality site. With their skills they can make a Shopify or WordPress offering look almost as jazzy as a professionally built offering – and to be honest, that’s all the web developers who are charging you around the £1000 mark are doing anyway.
It’s very affordable to hire an apprentice, and they’ll be able to cover social media, email marketing and ppc, among many other things.
There’s power in numbers. Get in touch with other businesses in your area that are struggling and combine your superhero-like business powers for the greater good.
You can utilise each other’s knowledge and skills, collaborate on pop-ups, virtual markets and online advertising. You can even split the cost of digital marketing campaigns.
Promote your business to each other’s customers through mailing lists or special offers.
If you’re selling cakes, get in touch with a food establishment that’s doing deliveries and see if you can make the ultimate lockdown snackbox together.
If you’re selling flowers, contact a local card maker to run an online craft workshop for valentines gifts.
If you’re a brewery, see if your local chippie would allow you to have a pop-up stall.
The possibilities are endless!
Find The Next Big Thing
What happened the first time we were locked down? We went absolutely bananas about Tiger King, crashed entire servers doing online meet ups and quizzes, and we ordered so much food to our door and baked so many cakes that we ended up emerging from our caves a little plumper around the middle.
If we face further restrictions, keep an eye out for new emerging trends. Then jump on that bandwagon with reckless abandon.
Use Google Trends, Twitter’s Trends, and viral TikToks – and maybe keep a close eye on those innovative little businesses that thrived in the last lockdown.
This may mean diversifying your product or service offering, but when your business’ survival is on the line, it could be an essential move.
Nurture Your Staff
Have you heard of the anti-work movement? No, it’s not people who don’t want to work – not exactly.
It’s a movement of people who are challenging the current working conditions of many. Common topics that come up within the community include low wages, unreasonable working demands, poor mangers and worker exploitation.
Realistically, not everyone can afford to pay their workers more, but employers should be mindful of the rising unrest within the general workforce.
Some businesses are nothing without their staff, so take this time to ensure you’re putting your team’s welfare as a high priority.
Offer what you can, whether that’s training, additional benefits or pay for being on call for absence or a zero tolerance policy towards mistreatment from customers.
If you look after your workers, your workers will look after your business.
Take a Chance
When your business is in crisis mode, taking a new risk can be, well, risky.
But fortune favours the brave, so go ahead and innovate.
Here’s the inevitable – retail will be irrevocably changed over the next few years. There’s no going back from that. So instead of trying to revive a dying way of life, why not look to the future?
Recently, Asda has started opening renovated stores with a focus on housing multiple brands and even eco-friendly refill stations for common groceries.
They’ve recognised two things here. One, that retail space needs to become an experience – people need an actual reason to go out rather than just ordering online. The retail experience needs to be fun, because it isn’t essential anymore.
And two, there’s a strong consumer push towards eco-friendly and environmentally conscious consumption. There’s active backlash against plastic packaging and social media boycotts against the brands that do it.
You can’t stem that kind of tide, you should embrace it.
Build a Community Around Your Business
If you’re a small business, you need to focus on your community.
After all, it’s those who are fiercely loyal to you who will sustain you through the tough times.
It’s really easy for someone to say, ‘my budget can’t stretch right now, so I’m going to start buying X/Y/Z from the supermarket instead.’
You need to establish an emotional loyalty to your brand to prevent that from happening, and give customers a strong reason to put you at the top of their list.
This isn’t about guilt tripping someone into buying something they don’t need – it’s about proving your reasoning.
Maybe it’s about shopping local so that you put money back into your small, local economy.
Maybe it’s about shopping sustainably, so that you can add less environmental impact to your purchases.
Or maybe, it’s about supporting a business that gives back, investing some of its profits in causes that are important to them.
Whatever the reason, starting a Facebook group or other social media community can help your customers feel a part of the greater picture. You can even create communities in collaboration with other businesses that work well with your message. For example, a village butcher, greengrocer and refill store could team up to reward those who shop local.
We hope these tips help you to form a strategy as we move into 2022, if you’re thinking of how digital marketing might support your plans, don’t forget to download our free content calendar too! It will help you plan your social media and blog for the year ahead.