Let’s be honest. Most of us don’t know how the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic will affect our business.
Just like Brexit, the biggest feature of the current crisis is uncertainty. What we can be certain of however is that the current situation concerns everyone, and small and medium-sized businesses could bear the brunt of any economic impact.
Now is the time to take control. Using tech and your online presence to protect you and your business from the coronavirus crisis, there are ways to mitigate some of the more immediate effects and keep your business operating, whichever sector you’re in. You may even discover more effective ways of working, or additional markets that you hadn’t considered before.
For office-based businesses the logical step to take is to encourage home working. You may already do this but take this chance to look at the systems and processes you use and see if you can improve them:
- Set up a VoIP system – VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone systems let you and your employees make and take phone calls over the internet. You can divert calls to mobiles or landlines so customers can still call your ‘office’ number but get through to you wherever they are. The time taken to set this up can be relatively quick – anything from a couple of hours – depending on your current phone systems
- Use virtual meeting platforms – The simplest, and the one most people are familiar with, is probably Google Hangouts, but there are a number of other platforms, such as Zoom. If you are going to move to virtual meetings, always encourage users to have a practice run before the real meeting to avoid technical problems, which will eat into your time.
- Set up conference calling – Again this can be done for free online, or if you’re thinking of setting up a VoIP system pick a product that provides you with conference calls as standard.
- Remind everyone of your cyber security policy – Of course you have one! Some of the biggest breaches of security arise from human error, so remind everyone about the importance of not sharing passwords or leaving laptops logged in, as well as ensuring they understand the importance of not using unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
Fitness instructors, yoga teachers etc
If you normally deliver classes to groups of people then you may be worried about how the call to observe social distancing will affect you. Even if you are happy to run classes in the short-term you may find that participants start to dwindle. There are ways to still deliver classes though.
- Live streaming – You can live stream your classes at their normal times using some of the platforms that we’ve already mentioned for virtual meetings. This way you can only ‘invite’ people to join the class who have already enrolled. If you’re still running physical classes why not video one as a trial run?
- Video classes – Alternatively you could give class participants access to specially recorded videos. The advantage of these over live streaming is that you can edit out any mistakes, although some people prefer the immediacy of ‘live’. If you upload your video to YouTube and set it to ‘Private’ only people you invite will be able to see it.
Whether you are a mortgage advisor, a counsellor or a private tutor, if you normally deliver services face-to-face and one-to-one it’s relatively easy to keep working:
- Skype – Skype is the simplest platform to use for these types of services. Most people are already familiar with it, and it can be accessed usefully on different devices. You can also share screens or other documents – useful for tutors.
- A wide variety of other options are available via VoIP and Live Chat services, many are free or pay as you go.
Cafes & Restaurants
Cafes and restaurants have been among the first to be hit by government advice regarding social distancing. If you are able to keep your kitchen open there are ways to keep trading, even if the rest of your premises is shut:
- Look at a delivery partner – If you’re not already signed up with Just Eat or Deliveroo, check whether this would be feasible for your business. They’re brands that people know, and there’s no indication yet that they will suspend business.
- Set up your own online deliveries – Alternatively why not manage your own deliveries using your existing website. Talk to a web developer about adding order functionality or just make sure that you have an up-to-date menu online and let people order by phone.
We don’t yet know whether the UK government will follow other countries and compel all but food and chemist shops to close, but even if that doesn’t happen footfall will undoubtedly decrease. You don’t have to stop selling though.
- Set up an eCommerce platform on your website – Make the move into online selling with the addition of eCommerce functionality. It needn’t be arduous, and with professional help can be achieved relatively quickly.
- Use a third party sales platform – If you sell goods that you make yourself, investigate Etsy, Depop or Amazon Marketplace as an option to keep sales moving during any shop closure.
Whatever your business
There are some steps you can take regardless of which sector you are in:
- Online vouchers – Cashflow can be a big issue. If you have to temporarily close, issuing online vouchers, which customers redeem once you re-open is a great way to get money into the business upfront. Don’t forget to track them to monitor usage.
- Let people know you are open – If you are able to keep trading don’t forget to tell people. They may assume you’ve had to close. Make sure you let them know what you are doing to mitigate any risks from the virus. It will reassure them.
- Don’t stop talking – Even if you have to close or restrict your business activity, keep using your website and social channels to engage with your customers. Social media is great for maintaining customer relationships.
- Make sure your website is up to scratch – Now more than ever it’s vital to ensure that your website is working for you. If you’re losing walk-in or other physical trade, maximise your online lead generation.
Is there an opportunity for your business?
Finally, while most businesses will be adversely affected by coronavirus could yours seize an opportunity?
We’re not talking about profiteering by charging £10 for a toilet roll, rather do you offer products or services that may be particularly useful at this difficult time? For example are you a security firm who could advise companies about how to protect their business premises during a prolonged closure, or are you a painter and decorator who may be able to bring a redecoration project forward to a period when offices will be closed anyway.
Whatever happens over the next few months, and whatever package of financial help the government offers small and medium-sized, it will be a challenge. But some relatively simple measures could help you weather this particular storm.