By Julie Glover, Buxton Professional in Residence
And now we wait. Waiting patiently does not come naturally, so this is hard. We want to find the problem and fix it, fight it, remove it, but that’s not possible right now. So, what can you, as a community leader, do to help your small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic?
One of the best things you can do is provide a listening ear and some practical advice. Your local business owners are probably stressed about the toll this will take on their businesses. Showing them the small steps they can take during this time is both encouraging and supportive.
Not sure what advice to offer? Consider these suggestions.
10 Tips Local Governments Can Offer Small Businesses During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Create Social Media Accounts. If your local businesses do not have a presence on social media, encourage them to use this time to get up to speed and create accounts. If they can sell online and ship products to customers, they should. There are many great tips and tools on the web to help them get set up for online sales, such as this one.
- Use Technology to Demo Products. Businesses can offer to Facetime or Skype with customers to view products. A good option is Zoom for conferencing. Their free accounts allow for unlimited one-on-one video conferencing and up to 40 minutes of group meetings with up to 100 participants.
- Gather Customer Insights. Local businesses can use this time to poll their customers and learn what their needs are, determine if those needs have changed recently, and then decide how those needs can be met. Encourage them to create a free MailChimp account (mailchimp.com) and use Survey Monkey for polls (surveymonkey.com).
- Rethink Distribution and Communicate It. Many businesses are successfully offering delivery or curbside pickup, and keeping their employees working. Encourage local businesses to push info out about new services, or changes to hours of operation, through email alerts and social media.
- Use Local Store Marketing Apps. If you are a Buxton local government customer, check to see if you have access to LSMx licenses. This is an amazing tool that can help your local businesses find their target customers and market directly to them. Check your licenses, see who is using them, and redistribute the ones that are not being used to those who need them. Resend the training video link to those businesses and remind them that they now have the time to learn how to use this tool effectively.
- Adapt Services. Help your local businesses find way to adapt their services. The Chestnut Tree in Denton, Texas, is offering curbside pickup and has added typical market items for sale, such as sliced meats and cheeses, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, and beer and wine. The Bearded Monk, also located in downtown Denton, has quickly altered their parking lot to accommodate drive-thru customers who can pick up products from their cars. Some gyms are now offering online classes, too, for their members. Weight Watchers has created online meetings and closed their in-person studios, for now.
- Offer Promos and Sell Gift Cards. Encourage businesses to keep up with their customers on social media by offering discounts and sales. Remind them to keep it upbeat and light—there’s enough gloom and doom out there right now. Small businesses can also promote the sale of gift cards, which will get some cash flowing now, and customers will be able to use the cards in the future to enjoy their favorite stores, restaurants and movie theaters.
- Refine a Long-term Business Plan. Help them update or work on their long-term business plans. We will eventually come out of this emergency and if they can use this time wisely, they can come out ahead of the curve on the other side. A business plan does not have to be lengthy; they can just review the categories and strategize, rather than writing them down. Check out this helpful article on the parts of a business plan.
- Apply for a Line of Credit. If possible, have them apply for a line of credit now. If their credit is good, now is the time to apply for a line of credit; if their credit score falls, they will not be able to get what they need when they need it. Share information on COVID-19 small business loan resources. Additionally, in response to COVID-19, the Small Business Administration just set up a program that can loan businesses up to $2 million dollars.
- Buy Insurance. Urge new businesses to consider buying business interruption insurance, which covers lost income due to a forced shut down following a disaster. That can be critical to the survival of the business and ensure that they will be able to reopen after the disaster.
After the 2008 recession, businesses had to adapt and change to a “new normal.” We will need to do this again when the pandemic passes.
Encourage your local business owners to stay safe, stay healthy, and try not to look at the news more than usual. Remind them that we will emerge from this eventually, and we want all our businesses to not only survive, but thrive, after our normal activities resume.
Learn more about tracking the impact of COVID-19 on your local businesses by watching Buxton's webinar recording: Real Time Measures - The Impact of COVID-19 on Businesses and Consumers.