Covid 19: Strategies for Survival – Part 1 The Basics
This is the first part of a series of posts which we are publishing to help SME’s during the current Covid-19 crisis. We will be looking at addressing a number of key areas over these posts with a focus on the SME sector and practical advice.
Fundamentally, these aren’t survival guides for during the crisis itself, but more guides as to what businesses can do during the enforced downtime to improve their prospects post-crisis.
First things first – the hard question
Before we progress, businesses need to ask themselves a hard question. Answering this question should alleviate some of the doubt and concern that they have – especially when it comes to making decisions on investment both in terms of time, effort and money.
That question is simple - “Does my business have a future?”
For some, hopefully the vast majority, this will be a very clear-cut answer – yes it does. In which case we would suggest you need to be doing everything possible to get your business in as good a position as possible for the “return to normality”.
For others, it may be less clear-cut. And if this is the case, then this period represents an opportunity to critically review that business, to identify threats and mitigate them and critically to identify opportunities and move the business towards a more robust operating model.
Either way, the downtime that this crisis has enforced on many businesses will give them an opportunity to focus resources on the business itself rather than on the day to day. An opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted.
No 1. Know where we are - review
A good place to start is to review the business and the market it operates in.
Whilst this might seem an obvious starting point, many businesses especially in the SME sector, operate on an intuitive basis, seat of the pants, if you like. And those businesses that do regular reviews probably don’t do them in sufficient depth nor challenge the fundamental business model.
Things to review, for example, would include:
- The financials
- Yes, you probably do this with the accountant on a yearly basis, but do you do so in sufficient depth?
- Do you have an understanding of which activities of your businesses are the most profitable / least profitable (remembering to accurately account for costs – big ticket items may seem profitable, but once the costs are properly allocated, they might not be)
- The customers
- Who, what, where. Are they consumers / businesses?
- Can you profile them in any way (by age, sex, occupation etc.). Do you know which ones are the most profitable for your business (again accounting for costs)?
- The competition
- What are they doing?
- Are they successful / not successful?
- What are they doing differently to your business?
- Can you learn from them – both in a good way (things you should be doing) and in a bad way (things not do do)?
- The market
- What has changed / is changing in your market?
- If your geographically focused (most of us are) what are the local trends and how do these compare with national / international trends?
- The process
- How do you do things, and can they be improved?
- This could encompass everything from how you do the bookkeeping, taking and tracking orders, allocate and manage work to the actual nitty gritty of the business itself. Is there a way to streamline the process, to simplify?
- If you do something because its always been done that way – challenge it.
- The communication
- How do you keep in touch with your customers?
- Do you maintain customer relationships or not bother?
- What marketing and advertising do you do?
- How does this compare with the competition?
- What would be the benefit of developing a closer relationship with customers?
For most businesses, if not all (unless exceptionally well run), this process alone will identify a range of issues that should be addressed. Some of which may well be easily undertaken during the lockdown period.
Which lead us on to…
No 2 – The quick wins
In corporate bs speak – the “low hanging fruit”.
From the review process above, some of the issues discovered may well be easy to address and getting these done and dusted can deliver a sense of achievement (especially important if you feel that there’s nothing you can do during the crisis) and build confidence for some of the bigger issues.
For example, quick wins may include:
- Talking to your customers – tell them what’s happening. If you’ve got contact details use them –email, messaging, social media, the website even the telephone – consider it a courtesy. See below…
- Reviewing and updating the website (be honest, when was the last time? Some businesses are very good – others not so). Is it all up to date, have you put a notice up about how your business is dealing with the crisis?
- Updating social media – if you are currently using it for business – have you updated it? Again, use it to tell your customers what’s happening with the business at the very least.
- Cleaning and decorating – do you have customer facing areas as part of your business? If so – do they need a deep clean, a lick of paint, a plant in the corner?
- Paperwork – what better time?
There will be a whole host of other issues which could deliver quick wins and give you more confidence to address other issues.
No 3 – The website
Whilst the majority of SME’s do have websites, those sites don’t necessarily have the love, care and attention they deserve and need to be successful. Indeed, many businesses consider once they get a website sorted, it’s done.
In simple terms – no it isn’t.
Firstly, if your website is more than four years old (depends on the site) in terms of its design, structure and functionality – it probably needs a full refresh (read redevelopment). There’s nothing that puts potential customers off than an old website.
Secondly, content – is it up to date? Does it have the latest information about the business on it? Does it even comply with the latest data protection and privacy laws (GDPR).
Think about how you interact with websites, if the site looks old and has old content on it you immediately think that the business is defunct – you do not want potential customers thinking that in this climate.
With much of the digital sector still working normally (as it is all computerised) there is opportunity to do this now.
No 4 – Social media
If you have a social media presence – are you using it? Have you put the effort in to grow your audience?
Do you have a social media strategy? Do you know what a social media strategy is (don’t worry, in most instances calling it a strategy is overkill)?
If you don’t have a social media presence – knows the time to think about it. It’s an opportunity for your business to talk directly to consumers, to build relationships and to market itself. Especially important during the crisis in order to maintain relationships and keep mindshare.
Some may think that their business is unsuitable for social media, that there’s little benefit to be gained from it. In some cases – probably yes, in others – the majority, no. But if you do decide to forego social media – at least make an informed decision. At the very least see what your competition is doing on social media.
One thing to note is that during the crisis – more and more people are going to be relying on social media as a key source of news and updates – especially in their local communities.
No 5 – The database
Do you have a customer database? Is it complete, accurate, compliant and up to date?
Having a comprehensive database of your existing clients and contacts, together with prospects, can be invaluable. It opens up the opportunity of direct marketing which still is one of the most powerful forms of marketing there is (i.e. direct mail / email marketing etc.).
If you do have a database take the time to review it for accuracy, compliance against data protection and the like, and assess what parts of it you can use marketing purposes. If you don’t – build one. Start simple with direct contacts, key customers and build up from there. Nothing more than an Excel spreadsheet is needed – and get into the habit of recording data (and, so we don’t jumped on, understand the basics of GDPR – it’s not as limiting as many would make out).
Don’t underestimate the long-term value of an effective marketing database.
No 6 – Direct marketing
Direct marketing comes in a number of guises – specifically direct mail (the personalised stuff) and email marketing.
What direct marketing allows you to do is to talk to the individual on a one to one basis. This can be used to develop meaningful relationships between your business and its customers as well as potentially offering personalised offers and incentives to specific customers.
Perhaps the most common use of direct marketing is email marketing - one of the most effective and cost-effective forms of marketing there is.
We’ve already done several email marketing campaigns for businesses affected by the crisis to keep their customers up to date with what’s happening.
No 7 – Marketing collateral
Just a fancy name to describe things like leaflets, flyers, brochures, catalogs, business cards etc.
These can be in either printed or electronic format (for example PDF’s and the like).
Are yours up to date – do they need to be updated with new details / new products. Like the website many SME’s tend to do these things once then as the business develops they tend to be forgotten about.
No 8 – Planning the recovery
Perhaps this should be higher up in the list…
What ways are you going to relaunch the business after the restrictions are lifted?
Now is the time to be thinking about that. Are you going to trust in god that customers will just continue to walk through the door as if nothing had happened? To be sure, some will. Others may not – and that could be the difference between making a success of this enforced downtime (if there can be any notion of success about it) and suffering longer term consequences.
How are you going to tell your customers that you are open for business? How are you going to ensure, as much as you can, that your customers are going to come back to you.
The Covid-19 crisis is a nightmare scenario. Some businesses will do well out of it, the vast majority won’t, and for some it could be the death knell.
But for those businesses facing enforced downtime – don’t waste it. Prepare for the future, use it as constructively as you can.
And whilst it should go without saying, we will say it. If you need any help with any of the above, or the myriad of things we didn’t mention in this over-long post, get in touch. Advice is free and we will be happy to point you in the right direction of getting started and help you make a success of the recovery.