A COVID-19 Survival Guide for Small Businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has flung the entire world into unprecedented territory. If you’re a small business owner, you’ve suddenly found yourself cut off from your community, depriving you of customers and desperately needed financial resources. 

Without any certainty about the future, It’s difficult to know the right next moves to make, but one thing is for sure: The COVID-19 crisis is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Your focus should be coming up with a gameplan to stay connected to your patrons over the coming months. By doing so, you can help ensure that you’ll be able to open your doors again. 

If this pandemic had happened 20 years ago, local businesses would have had very few options for staying up and running. But when we already live so much of our lives online, small businesses have more options for surviving the pandemic. Here are some ideas for doing exactly that.

Take care of yourself and your employees

Now is not the time to put the health of yourself or your employees over the health of your business. Obey local mandates, implement work from home policies if possible, and treat staff with dignity and respect. If you can find a way to pay staff and provide healthcare, please do so. Your staff is just as important to your community as your business.

Create compassionate and transparent messaging

Businesses big and small have released statements about how they’re handling COVID-19. If you haven’t already crafted messaging around the pandemic, you should prioritize doing so as soon as possible. Your patrons know that you and your business are operating under forces you can’t control, but you should still have a clear and cohesive plan in place. Be transparent, compassionate, and apologetic, and keep your messaging updated as the situation and your strategies evolve.

Remind your audience that you’re there for them

Your patrons miss you as much as you miss them. Your patrons are all stuck at home, fantasizing about browsing your shelves, eating at your restaurant, patronizing your bar, or attending your venue. Use social media to engage with your customers and don’t be afraid to get creative. Keep in mind that everyone is anxious as heck right now, so try to strike a playful tone where possible. Your customers are likely looking to you for something fun and hopeful. Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco made a video in which they ask local comedians what they’re doing in quarantine, and started posting snippets of Netflix comedy specials people can watch at home. 

Use this as an opportunity to compete with Amazon

Amazon has been deluged with orders and the company is struggling to keep up with demand. This can be a time to shine for certain local retailers. For example, Amazon has deprioritized book orders, meaning that many quarantined readers are stuck indoors with limited ways to get new physical books. San Francisco’s Booksmith has risen to the occasion to offer free delivery to anyone who lives within the city limits. And the demand for grocery delivery has skyrocketed, which could be an opportunity for artisanal food producers to offer essential staples and morale-boosting treats. For example, many of Sonoma’s wineries are offering wine delivery at steep discounts. 

Develop no-contact pickup options for patrons

Do you feel confident that you can implement strict sanitary and safety precautions for your staff? If so, consider implementing no-contact pickup options. Many restaurants have chosen to keep business open for pickup and delivery orders, allowing them to provide hot meals to customers stuck at home. But restaurants aren’t the only businesses using no-contact pickup. For example, San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate, which already ships for free within the US, is exploring no-contact pickup as a way to keep customers full of much-needed chocolate.

Sell gift cards at a discounted price

Your customers might not be able to patronize your business now, but they will be able to eventually. Consider offering a sale on gift cards to incentivize customers to buy now, redeem later. Bay Area restaurants like NoPa and Liholiho Yacht Club are closed during the area’s shelter-in-place mandates, but customers can buy gift cards for 25% off to redeem for a night out when things return to normal.

Host events online

Local businesses bring people together, and boy, we have never needed each other more — from a safe distance, of course. Businesses around the world have developed creative ways to host virtual events. Exercise studios are offering virtual classes. Bookstores have turned in-store readings into online AMAs. Museums and theaters are streaming performances and virtual tours. Consider hosting an event online to foster community while your patrons stay home. Manny’s, a civic gathering space in San Francisco, responded quickly to changing circumstances and moved their full calendar of events online

Use crowdfunding to sell online or raise funds

Now is the time to develop an ecommerce presence if you’ve never done so before, and crowdfunding is an ideal way to get started. Many businesses already use Indiegogo in lieu of a traditional ecommerce site to offer direct-to-consumer goods and services. You can also use crowdfunding to fundraise, which builds a sense of urgency and opens up your campaign to Indiegogo’s robust community, while also allowing you to offer perks like gift cards and physical products to your customers. Third Coast Comedy Club in Nashville, TN is offering naming rights for different parts of the theater in exchange for donations. Chicago’s Gemini clothing store is crowdfunding for a staff relief fund, and backers can get items like jewelry and tote bags. Southbound, a restaurant in Chamblee, Georgia, is offering backers discounted meals when the eatery reopens. 

COVID-19 has created uncertain times for all of us, and we’re only as strong as the communities we build and support. For a limited time, Indiegogo is waiving platform fees for all local businesses affected by the shutdowns. To learn more, check out our Local Business Relief Program

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