Time for a new normal?

Getting your business back on track after Covid 19

Since the Covid 19 pandemic, many small businesses have been in lockdown. Some will still have managed to keep afloat with help from the government or savings; some will have been able to carry on their work from home; some online businesses may not have been affected at all. But the truth is, no matter how big or small our businesses are, just the fact that we’ve been in lockdown and subjected to a constant bombardment of negative news, is bound to have had affected us all one way or another.

It’s looking like over the coming weeks and months, things will very slowly start to return to some kind of normal…but will it be the normal we know? The normal we’re used to? How are we going to get ourselves and our businesses back on track?

One thing that I think this pandemic has taught all of us in business is that we need to be flexible and ready for change, so it might be worth recording everything you’ve learned, and continue to learn during this crisis, so you can have a contingency plan in place to help you through the next few months. I hear you… how do you do that? Where do you even start?

It might be that your business has to take a different direction, maybe look at new services or products that are relevant to your customers now… and beyond the pandemic. It’s really important to keep in touch with your existing customers…have you thought about giving them a ring to see how they are? Or sending them an email or online message? As well as asking if they and their families are OK, you can ask for their input…ask them how you can help them in the near future. Their needs and wants may have changed and they might want something different from you.

Communication with customers is going to be crucial as you move your business forward, so having their input and opinions will help…and to a certain extent, the experiences they have encountered with the pandemic. There may be new problems that your products or services can solve that you hadn’t thought of before. Or there may be something new that you can develop as a result of your customer feedback.

Can creativity emerge out of lockdown and through all the chaos we’ve witnessed, will you see growth? Some businesses have changed tack, for example, restaurants and cafes have had to adapt or close; some of them have chosen to offer a takeaway service, so they’re still earning something; some are offering a home delivery service; they’re still serving their customers and keeping themselves out there. Is there anything you can do with your business to keep yourselves in the forefront of your customer’s minds?

My customers don’t have money to spend

For many small businesses, lockdown has meant a steep decline in sales of products and less use of services, so income and profits are taking a massive hit. Is it possible during this time to start looking at new sales channels?

If you sell products, could you expand to creating an e-store, such as Etsy or Ebay? People are bored and online all the time and figures have shown that they are still choosing to buy online. If you’re not online, they can’t find you…it’s that age old, you’ve got to be in it to win it situation.

Do you have a website? It’s fairly easy to set up a straight forward website to show your products and you can just add a PayPal button if you don’t want to set up a full online website store.

If you have a website already, have you thought about starting a blog to talk to your customers about your products and the problems they solve? This isn’t about making a hard sell, but more about giving your customers and potential customers information about what you sell. You could also add an opt-in on your website so people can sign up for a monthly newsletter, where once again, you can show how your products or services can benefit them.

And of course, social media has billions of subscribers every hour of every day, from all over the world. Post regularly to get your business name known and help you stand out from the crowd. Go ‘live’ and talk to your customers, even if only for 30 seconds, or make a short one minute video about your products or services. Video gives customers the chance to see you in the flesh; they feel like they are interacting with you and you are being invited into their homes. Just be you, let your personality shine through and just talk. I know this is hard and something I know I need to do myself, but I hate myself on camera! I’m sure there are many people who feel the same, but I know we’ve got to get ourselves out there and video is the way to go! If you get to like it, you could set up your own YouTube channel.

If you hate being in front of the camera, how about a podcast? This is a fast growing market and you just have to talk, not be on camera. It’s just an audio recording to keep in touch with your customers and find new ones.   

Once you have created new sales channels, don’t forget to shout about it on your social media sites, email your customers and make sure you are marketing what you’ve done.  

It’s never too late

It’s never too late to prepare, never too late to do something about your business. Governments have generally been quite good in offering aid to small businesses, so take advantage of that.

If you belong to social media groups for your type of business, ask questions about what others are doing – don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

You might be able to start up a conversation or thread to brainstorm positive or strategic ideas. Or, if you have employees, why not ask them for ideas for the business that are different to what you currently offer. Draft in family members on Facetime or video chat – ask them for advice and ideas – family like to feel involved and they might come up with some really creative ideas.  

Whatever it is that you decide to do and whichever direction you decide to take, it’s important to keep moving and keep on, keeping on! Doing something…anything, is better than doing nothing at all.    

How you react to this crisis and how others see you react will define you and your business in future. They will see that you are resilient, even if you aren’t able to run your business as normal.

Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments below – I’d love to see what innovative ideas you’ve come up with!

The Coronavirus Lockdown and your mental health

With the Coronavirus came the inevitable…lockdown and self-isolation. For many, it’s a chance to catch up on all those jobs we’ve been meaning to do, (and an ideal time to get your OH to do everything he says he’s going to do ‘when he has time!’). You might be literally self-isolating completely by yourself, or you may have a husband, wife or partner – your children or parents may be with you.

No matter what your own situation, for those who suffer from anxiety or have mental health issues, it might be a time of consternation and worry, exacerbating symptoms and a feeling of helplessness, although for some their anxiety may be the thought of having to go out and what might be out there.  

For those who run their own businesses, it might be that you’ve had to close your business and you’re worrying about money, which is a big stress factor. So are there any coping mechanisms that can help during this tough time?

Psychologists are saying that it’s normal to feel worried and anxious in a crisis like this…the virus is new; so far there is no vaccination and it is stumping even the experts. But the stress you feel around this can be managed.

How to cope

There are many ways to keep yourself occupied, so you don’t have time to think about the virus and to help relieve stress and anxiety…

  • The first step is to recognise your symptoms – to know that you are suffering from a mental health issue
  • Try to eliminate any toxic thoughts that might contribute to your negativity
  • Don’t watch every news story or read every post on social media about the crisis – it just adds to your stress levels, especially when you see nasty comments and unnecessary hype.
  • Try to focus on what you are grateful for – this could be something as simple as sitting in the garden, watching a sunrise or sunset, or just listening to the birds with your eyes closed
  • Meditation
  • Attempt to maintain a healthy regime – eat meals regularly, go for a daily walk or have some kind of exercise
  • Eat a healthy and nutritious diet which will help your immune system and limit the amount of sugar and alcohol intake. Avoid smoking if you can.
  • Use phone or video apps to connect with your family and friends – a good old chinwag helps alleviate stress
  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Sleep is a priority for physical and emotional well-being, as well as for your mental health. This is something that, for me, is a sign I’m stressed – I don’t sleep well.
  • If you are working from home, have regular breaks – drink warm drinks and get away from your work for a while. If it’s nice and you can, get outside and walk around for a few minutes
  • Do you have a hobby? No matter what your hobby is, or used to be, now is the time to get back to it, be it painting, photography, sewing, crochet, yoga etc. If you’d like to learn a new skill, just google search ‘beginners course in XXXX’ – often you’ll find YouTube tutorials or free courses for you to focus on
  • If things are really getting on top of you, seek professional help – there is no shame in asking someone to help you and you might find it’s the best thing you’ve ever done

There are often local support groups you can join…and during this crisis, there are several groups online, such as on Facebook, where like-minded members support each other and help each other out, have a laugh, discuss all sorts of things not related to the virus, share funny stories and jokes – a community you can rely on.  

Take time to look after yourself

Above all, according to Stephen Fry in his recent interview on the Andrew Marr show, we should all just take time. And by this, he means take your sweet old time to do things, for example, clean your teeth, lay out your clothes etc. A routine where you don’t have to rush helps you feel more in control. Stephen Fry has openly admitted in the past that he suffers from mental health issues.

If you’d like to hear the interview, click here.

Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your body or keeping your mind active. Letting go of an anxious mind-set is OK. Just try to be…to be you.

More help if you need it

If you want to read more or need to seek professional help, there is a good website in the UK – https://www.mind.org.uk/

And if you’re in France, the French news and views site, The Connexion, has a great article on getting psychiatric help in France, with advice on who to contact – https://www.connexionfrance.com/Archive/Get-psychiatric-help-in-France

We will get through this crisis and some countries are already showing signs of some kind of normality starting to return and daily figures going down. We know that this won’t go on forever. We just have to help each other get through the next few weeks and months and be kind to each other.   

Coronavirus Covid 19 and your small business

No matter where you are in the world, if you run your own small business, be it from home or from small premises, like me you’ll be wondering how you are going to cope if or when you have to close or scale down your business due to the coronavirus pandemic, Covid 19. This is a worldwide crisis like nothing else we’ve ever encountered before, so no wonder everyone is a bit bewildered. 

  • Will I go out of business for good?
  • What if my customers don’t want to come back when it’s all over?
  • How can I keep my business in the spotlight if I want my business to carry on being a success after all this?

The answers all boil down to what you can do right now…NOT what will happen afterwards and that’s what a lot of small businesses are focusing on. However, there are things you can do with your marketing to keep your business in the hearts and minds of your current and prospective future customers. I think that a lot of us have been told that our businesses are ‘non-essential’, but this doesn’t mean not important, just not essential to the running of the country! Of course your business is essential to you, to your family and friends, your customers and your purse! It’s not going to be ‘business as usual’, even if you normally work from home, but now is not the time to be pushing ahead in an aggressive way. You need to be highly sensitive to your customers and the situation that they’re in too. 

How does the Coronavirus affect your customers?  

Obviously how the virus affects your customers and in turn, how that affects you will depend on what you do for a living. If you’re in the beauty industry, (therapist, masseuse, hairdresser etc.), then your business will have to close, as what you do means you can’t possibly remain 2 metres away from your clients. If you sell a product or service, there may be things you’ll need to change – you can no longer do this face to face, so it’s time to get a bit more creative. But before you do, have a think – get out that pen and paper and think about how the virus is affecting your customers. What is keeping them awake at night? How can you help? They may have a specific challenge or worry that you can solve that has nothing to do with the virus.

You may be able to position your business, products or services to be helpful and maybe address some of the problems your customers are facing right now.

So, get out that pen and paper right now (!) and take 15 minutes to think about your customers. Try and answer these three questions…

  1. How can you provide value to your customers – real value to help them and to build up trust between you?
  2. What can you offer your customers right now that they need? Try and be creative here…maybe even a little ‘off the wall’.
  3. How can technology help you to still offer your products and services in a way that you didn’t before?

I definitely don’t in any way mean for you to exploit your customers – definitely not! Remember, people (including us) are all a little bit scared at the moment; we’re all out of our comfort zone and over the coming weeks, maybe longer, we are going to have to adapt to our new ‘normal’.

People who are in business themselves, small businesses as well as bigger corporations, will be spending a lot of time looking for answers to their problems. This could be in the form of solid help, albeit virtual, for their business, advice to help them move their business forward despite the virus. But not only that, there will be hundreds or thousands of people out there looking for products that can be delivered to their homes; if they are ‘locked-in’ without being able to go out for longer than an hour a day, they will be looking for entertainment, things to do, looking for things to read…and yes, turning almost certainly more and more to the internet for inspiration.    

Embrace the change

Time to get out that pen and paper again, can you answer these questions about your business?

  1. People still need and want to buy things. Can you create a space online where people can look at and buy your products or services? If you already have that place online, look at advertising it or, if online on social media, post about your products – without the hard sell or you will get loads of negative comments!
  2. If you run a restaurant or café, can you do takeaway meals or meals that can be delivered?
  3. How can you up your game with your online marketing? As well as just advertising you products on social media, start conversations about your products – ask for opinions and post a photo of the item you’re talking about.
  4. Think about starting up a new social media channel – are you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest? If not, now is the perfect time to learn how to use these channels. There are lots of free resources online and lots of FB groups where you might be able to get an expert to speak to you one to one.
  5. If you normally have meetings with clients face to face, can you use  Facetime, Skype or Messenger Video?
  6. If you’re in a profession, such as the beauty business where you can’t physically work, can you give people hints and tips on social media about their hair or beauty regimes? Take this time to set yourself up as an expert…it might bring you new customers when you can get back to business. And it keeps your business out there and not forgotten. Focus on your visibility.
  7. Do you have a website? If you do, now is the time to update it; change wording, add new products/services, look at your SEO (search engine keywords and phrases)…in fact, why not go the whole hog and give it a new look and freshen up your brand? Hell, yeah!
  8. You don’t have a website? Well, now you have the time to sit down and think about planning one for when you can afford it. Look at other websites who do the same as you and make a plan as to what you want yours to look like. Think about your brand, how you speak to your customers – what do you want them to come away with after visiting your website? What would a website do for your business?  
  9. Can you pull together some online resources for your customers that you give for free? You can do this no matter what you do for a living. Information sheets in pdf format – ‘how to’ information, ‘what to do if…’ information – the list is endless. If you have an email list, ask people for their email address in exchange for your information sheets, and ask them to confirm that they’d be happy for you to send them a regular email giving details of your products and services.
  10. Start a monthly newsletter with the email addresses you collect. Mail Chimp is a good place to set this up and it’s free until you hit around 2000 subscribers.

Be accessible  

Focus on your accessibility – are you easy to contact? If you are online on social media, or have a website, is your contact details immediately visible? If you email your customers, make sure you give contact details…an email address or telephone number where they can contact you.    

And finally…

Enjoy working on new things – make this time away from the stresses of work, a time that you sit back and take a long, hard look at your business. When you’re back up and running, can you change anything to make it better, more efficient? You have time now to research new products. You have time to learn new things, so you can offer a new service.

If you work from home, clean your desk, clear away the clutter.

If you do decide to put some new practices in place now, make sure you have a measurement in place, so you know if it’s working or not. This saves you wasting your time if it’s not working and then you can look at other ideas. On the other hand, it gives you a boost and the impetus to do more if it is working. 

Above all, during this dreadful virus and the fall-out afterwards, we are all in this together. My message to all the small businesses out there, keep strong, keep safe and keep thinking of new ways to do business.

As a small business myself, I would just love to hear from other small businesses out there – no matter where you are in the world. How are you coping with the virus and the impact on your business? What are you putting in place to help you through the crisis? Do you have any other ideas that people might be able to implement? Feel free to leave a comment here or pop over to email and send me a message cindymobey@outlook.com