COVID-19 has been hard on people, businesses, the economy, and our spirits. I write this on June 11th, and although our state, South Carolina, has “opened back up for business”, we hit a record number of positive cases yesterday. I wanted to follow up on my last blog post, “COVID-19 and my Small Business”, a rather bleak post that I wrote in late April when everything was shut down, cash flow was slow, and there seemed to be little relief on the way.
In terms of my business, FGM Internet Marketing, I’m happy to report that my PPP application was approved and I received funds to continue to operate on May 1st. These funds couldn’t have come at a better time. This secured my paycheck for the next 8 weeks, and kept the wolf from the door. My husband was successful with his SBA EIDL loan application, and he received his loan at the end of May. We’re both grateful to still be in business, and our businesses have actually grown since the beginning of May. Having that extra cash really took a weight off our shoulders, and allowed us to make smart, rational decisions when it came to signing new clients and helping our existing customers the past few weeks. This is a level of security that I realize neither of us have felt before. Here’s hoping we can keep this going, and continue to build the businesses and lives that we want for ourselves.
Client Successes During COVID-19
All of my clients were affected differently during the shutdown. Some were face-to-face businesses that had to close their doors for 6 weeks, others were able to reduce their staff numbers or move to a “work from home” situation. Certainly all of them moved with trepidation during these uncertain times, but I’m happy to report that most of FGM’s clients came out the other side better off (so far). My clients that did the best had one thing in common: we utilized all their digital marketing communication channels to stay in touch with their customers.
Email: for my clients that had an established database of customer and prospect emails, we leaned in hard with email marketing. This took the form of monthly eNewsletters with relevant information to keep customers in the loop during the “new normal”. For my acupuncture client, his patients look to the doctor for pain relief, help with stress, anxiety, depression, and more ailments. An interruption to their treatments was very stressful, but a kind email from the doctor letting them know how and when they planned to open went a long way in comforting his patients. Once he was able to see patients again, he was fully booked with appointments.
For my auto parts manufacturing client, our monthly eNewsletters included a paragraph or two about COVID-19 protocol in their facilities, from reduced staff numbers to delays in shipping due to the pandemic. Communicating changes in operations to customers and distributors BEFORE people started asking questions prevented complaints and heightened anxiety.
For FGM, I made sure to reach out to all of my clients via email the minute the shutdown began, and then every 2-3 weeks after that. Some clients needed extra support, which we were happy to do, and we were able to pivot to the need for communications like email marketing, and pausing digital ads to save money while revenues were affected. For my clients that didn’t’ have a list of customers’ emails, this highlighted the need to start developing that database for future use. We were able to send SMS to a client list for one business owner, but this is not my preferred method for these types of communications.
Websites: for all clients who had a website managed by FGM, we were able to add an announcement to the homepage of their website to alert visitors to new opening hours, support request protocols, or delays in product shipping. With businesses reopening, we’ve added notices about new COVID-19 protocols to ease the worries for those who are interacting with their customers in person.
Businesses with websites that allow visitors to explore their products or services online did well during the lockdown. For one FGM client, we launched an online, e-commerce store that allowed us to sell directly to consumers. For another client, we built an online photo gallery so people could see the products in store while sitting at home. The shutdown drove home the fact that a business website should no longer be an afterthought. It is ESSENTIAL for a business to have a professional, easy-to-navigate website in 2020.
Social Media: social media was another tool for us to communicate with customers about the ever-changing landscape during COVID-19. We kept our followers up to date with new opening hours, took people on virtual tours with video and “go live” options, and answered more questions through social media messaging than usual. We entertained our followers with videos to keep the brand front-of-mind, and connected with people via live Zoom calls. With more people at home and online, we saw interactions with our posts go up significantly. For those that hung in there and kept their social media ad budget at pre-COVID levels, this paid off with more eyes and engagement on their ads.
Online Support: for one client in particular, their phone support line was shut down due to reduced staffing numbers. We pivoted to customer support questions all coming through their website’s support form. This freed up hours of time in the office, and resolved customers’ questions faster because they had all the information they needed to respond with helpful answers. This is a change that will become standard post-pandemic.