From Reactive to Proactive—Post-Pandemic Reopening Tips & Resources From and For Small Business Owners
Small business owners throughout the country are rebuilding, and many seek tips on the best ways to restore business to pre-pandemic levels. Whether reaching out to fellow business owners on how they navigated recovery or accessing government resources, small business owners are hungry for information.
The US Chamber of Commerce offers a set of reopening resources that compile state-specific data on vaccinated populations—a major driver in reopening decisions—and an industry-specific reopening guide. Elsewhere, the Centers for Disease Control offers insights into reopening best practices with suggestions on sanitation, telework, and employee hygiene. (For COVID-19 resources by state, visit here.)
While some of the initial advice is old news—like proper coughing etiquette—businesses are looking for new and proactive ways to drive success.
Make Return Inviting
When appealing to their humanity on social media or through email marketing isn’t enough, many small business owners consider offering exclusive incentives and rewards¾a surefire tactic for luring back customers. Another way to rebuild momentum with customers is to use social media to tease an upcoming event. Post a countdown to a Facebook event where people RSVP and use other features to boost interest. Celebrate a reopening. Create a special event to rally interest, like breaking a Guinness world record, a race for charity, or coordinating a flash mob. This is also the perfect opportunity to educate patrons about reopening hygiene practices or other updates.
Mika Altidor and Victor Munoz, owners of Victor & Mika’s Bakery, the only vegan bakery in Polk County, Florida, use social media and specialty mailing lists to promote their appearances at area farmers markets, vegan special events, pop up events, retail specialty shops, and book signings.
The Central Square Florist reopened in May, and to help make up for lost revenue, offered a fresh perspective on Father’s Day as a flower-giving holiday. They also suggested filling Zoom backgrounds with flowers. “Flowers definitely connect us to our loved ones—right now we need that connection more than ever, so I think flowers are the perfect gift to say ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you. Hey, I love you, but I can’t be with you right now,’” says owner Jackie Levine.
Elevate Social Media Presence
The adage build it and they will come did not apply during the shutdown, but online marketing gave small business owners a chance to bring the horse to water. Digital communication became dramatically more important with people homebound. Small business owners should maintain online communication avenues adopted during the pandemic to regularly update customers on company hours, staffing, mask policies, special offers, and more.
Small business owners must continue to adapt and leverage the digital marketing techniques they adopted during the pandemic. Steve Moriarty, owner of Moriarty’s Gem Art, posted a live stream as he cut and polished gems for sale. Customers loved the exclusive look of an artisan at work, and Moriarty plans to continue his live streams. Livestreaming offers a variety of opportunities to capture customer imagination, including showcasing a grand reopening, new product sneak-peeks, pop-up specials, workshops, and special occasions like business anniversaries, customer birthdays, and more.
Gyms and workout facilities were among the first to close and last to reopen during the pandemic, but that didn’t stop Jeff Arce and Web Eby, owners of CrossFit Arlington Heights, in suburban Chicago, from staying connected to members. Arce and Eby loaned members equipment and hosted daily online workouts during the pandemic, and regularly texted and emailed members. “We’re a community-driven business, and it was imperative that we stayed connected. In addition to daily workouts, we also hosted something we called a ‘Health and Wellness Social Hour’, to share pandemic training and nutrition tips, and serve as a forum for our members to spend time together.”
Puzzle Break, an escape room business built on people gathering in close quarters to problem-solve, survived by maximizing online communication with virtual video chat rooms. The owners plan to continue the digital format since virtual team puzzles are more profitable, noting the change contributed to significant growth. While the change incurred additional investment—an investment that’s paid off—Puzzle Break owners advise against taking on insurmountable debt and remain focused on return on investment.
Be Tech Savvy
The marketing budget for most small business owners is modest, so every email or social media post needs to stand apart and rise above the fray. Small business owners should carefully consider the words they use in emails and marketing materials now more than ever. One way to do that is by avoiding overused phrases that turn people off and make you sound like everyone else. According to Lake Superior State University, the 2021 Top 10 Overused Words include COVID-coded language like unprecedented times or the new normal. These phrases are stark reminders of both when things were better, and that things are not quite back to normal yet. Instead, choose words that connect with your customers, tell your story, humanize your experience, and build empathy. This personalization will help create customer loyalty. Remind your audience that you are a small business they can support instead of corporate giants like Amazon whose profits soared 220% during the pandemic.
Marketing emails crowd inboxes with offers and clickbait. Serial entrepreneur and blogger Anastasia Belyh writes that while various options and the ability to automate customer outreach presents marketers with “a great opportunity to nurture leads,” it also contributes to something called “marketing fatigue.” “Marketing fatigue refers to a situation where customers get tired and exhausted of being exposed to too much marketing communication from the same brand,” writes Belyh.
Online resources like SCORE offer remote mentoring to help introduce small businesses to unfamiliar online tools. SCORE is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground or recover following COVID-19 business stoppages and closures. Other resources include:
- DocuSign Collect online signatures from clients, customers, and merchants
- Microsoft Teams Secure online business meetings and cloud storage
- GoDaddy Access a collection of free tools for email marketing, social media design, Google Business, and Facebook, plus a free website
- MailChimp Leverage a customized web domain for up to five years
- SurePayroll Access payroll and HR support, in addition to strategies for retaining employees as the economy recovers
- Freshworks Check out customer engagement tools including Freshchat, a messaging platform to chat with customers directly
- Hootsuite Coordinate posting to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter on one dashboard
- Cisco Utilize a double authentication tool for internet safety
- 1Password Manage and generate passwords
- Workable Access virtual video interviewing software
The goal for small businesses as they move toward reopening is to get a little uncomfortable and try some of the innovations that have come out of the pandemic—the competition certainly will. Businesses reported that the pandemic pushed forward their adoption of new technology by several years, which makes the imperative even greater for more tech-hesitant small businesses to try something new. The game plan is to adapt early—and often—to digitally transform business operations and marketing outreach.
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