Let's be honest, there are way more than three things to consider in the current COVID business landscape. However, outside of keeping expenses lean and hanging on by a limb during this time, I do believe these 3 things are key for any business to consider.
1. Update SOPs in line with COVID-19 guidelines (including HR policies)
If you have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), these can always be updated, and improved upon during this time. Existing SOPs or not, what is quite pressing is ensuring that your daily business operations are aligned with COVID regulations and guidelines. Whether you are a hairdresser, a physiotherapist, an attorney, an events planner or an auditor; life and business practices as we know it are not going to be returning to normal any time soon.
Social Distancing is the buzz word right now. This refers to the “practice of purposefully reducing close contact with people” which relates to avoiding mass gatherings, maintaining 1.5 – 2m (distance depends on the resource) from others when possible to avoid the transfer of infection via droplets.
Therefore, as a business owner you are going to have to consider how you can go about adapting your offering to maintain this regulation. Do your employees work in an office? Are you able to allow some employees to work from home to free up space and increase the space between desks? Do you have a staff kitchen? How will it's cleanliness be managed? How many people can congregate in it at once? Are boardroom chairs going to be spaced further apart? Or are all meetings going to be adjusted to Zoom (if not already)? If you are an events planner, what SOPs can you implement for your clients events? Max amount of guests(state dependent obviously)? Event branded face masks? Hand sanitizer made available on the premises? A full description of how surfaces are to be sanitized with the appropriate solutions? Sufficient space between guests with venue size recommendations? Will waiters now also sanitize tables and surfaces? If you are a hairdresser, will you limit the number of people who can enter your facility at a time? Insist on patrons wearing face masks? Would you change your reception layout? Should the ladies at the wash bay perhaps wear face-shields along with face-masks? If you are a psychologist a concealing face mask may offer disruption in the flow of your sessions, perhaps a face-shield would be preferred? What would the procedures be after a patient has left the consulting room? Will coffee tables & door handles be sanitized? Will you put up signs to remind people not to tough their face, eyes & mouth?
HR policies are also going to need adaptation. It was initially thought that only signs of a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath are signs of COVID. But now, there is evidence that even only cold symptoms could be a possible COVID virus developing. This means, where before we may have allowed staff members to come to work (and expected it in many cases - depending on the industry), we now need to offer leniency and allow staff members showing ANY signs of a cold to stay home in order not to place others at risk as well as enforce possible self-quarantine for 14 days. How are you going to manage lower level staff members in these cases?
We not only have a responsibility towards our clients but our staff as well. As business owners we must keep a close eye on reputable sources such as the World Health Organization, Centre of Disease Control and official government gazettes. You can always contact a reputable medical professional to review your policies and get their advice to ensure your policies are in line with the latest findings with the COVID pandemic.
You need to train your staff on preventative hygiene practices.
We have two different grocery stores under the same franchise in our area. Upon visiting them, how their staff is treating the COVID pandemic is WORLDS apart..!! The one grocery store’s staff members all have face shields, hand sanitizer readily available and visible signage reminding them of basic measures to prevent the spread. The other grocery store is on an opposite pole. Staff members clearly has worn disposable masks over-and-over-and-over again by merely observing the cleanliness of the masks. Some were wearing the masks incorrectly (only covering the mouth). Very evidently, no one were told not to touch the masks or their faces as they were constantly fidgeting with the masks, they were coming on-and-off all the time, and the hand sanitizer wasn’t made readily available.It is sickening to me to think that there is not a top down approach to educating staff on how the virus is spread as well as basic personal hygiene measures. Our staff are our responsibility. And if there is any doubt about the understanding of what hygiene measures need to be put it place, some training is required and must be implemented! Not only for the safety of the staff but for the safety of your patrons, and your social responsibility to reduce the spread of this virus as well as curb further economic decline.
2. Client Retention is Key
A scary thought is how consumer behaviour is going to change. It seems people will be more inclined to remain spending on essential items (ie. food, medication etc.) and luxury items won't be of a high commodity.
With this new season, I believe conversions are going to be harder than ever before. I have seen this in ads which I had placed on social media for Baby Bubble during this time. These ads consisted of very competitive specials. When I had just launched Baby Bubble, I had no customer base and a similar ad did 10 times better... It's an extremely scary thought... Yes, everyone is on their phones right now, but it does not mean that everyone is converting... unless you service is seen as 'essential', you may have more luck in this regard.
Seth Godin had said somewhere that it is easier to get someone to spend money on you, if they have spend money on your product/service before. With this in mind, keep your current customers close. Now is the time where all the effort and heart that you have been placing in maintaining relationships with customers will count as these customers will see you through. Offering discounts right now can be challenging but what value-adds can you offer your customers? Perhaps consider discounts with converted referrals? Ask your customers to engage on social media and share your posts. Get your pre-existing customers who are already emotionally bound to your business, to help you see this through - if you have been investing in them authentically and treated them well, they care more about you than you think.
Keep in mind that your customers are very likely to be in a tough spot with the COVID pandemic as well. With one or two incomes in the household being impacted. It's not the right time to increase fees, no matter how emotionally connected the customer is to you, they will cut you off as they are also looking out for their own wickets. In an effort to retain our membership base, we requested that members pay for 1 month ahead (to allow us to buy some time) after which we stopped the membership fees until we re-open. Why did we do this? Well, our current membership base is not suitable to cover all running costs (the baby spa runs on a different model & this component is required for us to break-even), but if we lose no members, and we re-open, we already have momentum. Whereas if we enforce fees to be paid, well, we may lose a large percentage of members which could have seen us through this year. Financially it's a difficult decision, but I see retaining our customer base for the year to come as a priority, over receiving additional income over the next 2 months.
We are all not 100% sure of how consumer behaviour is going to change. But I strongly believe, people are going to be a lot more aware and will support businesses where they see proactive advances being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I also believe that consumers will shy away from businesses who do not take visible precautionary measures, hence this is also an important point to consider.
3, What Problem is your business solving? Does the problem change with COVID? Must your marketing efforts adjust accordingly?
All our businesses have been developed with solving a problem or problems in mind – else we won’t have a business right?
If you can adapt your businesses solution to the current needs in the COVID pandemic, without making significant changes in the capital you have already invested, your business has a better chance to see it through.
A common example is seamstresses now not only making and selling clothes, but also cloth masks. Or companies who previously brewed & bottled ciders are now making hand sanitizer. Or companies who managed to shift their business models online.
At Baby Bubble we had a challenging case as we can’t invest more into the business at this stage, and our model cannot be adjusted to an online service. However, we absolutely saw what we have been doing right, and highlighted the solution we are offering in our marketing.
Our swimming lessons are 1-on-1 and instinctively we had high standards of hygiene implemented prior to the COVID pandemic. So, our solution now during the pandemic is not only highlighting baby swimming and water safety, it is emphasizing that our service is in an 1-on-1 setting (social distancing) housed in a very controlled, safe, hygienic setting.
Moms still want to be able to do something with their kids during this time as with the lockdown and closure of schools, toddlers are missing out on opportunities for further stimulation to enhance their growth and development. But, a mom needs to be able to trust the facility and have confidence in it’s ability to maintain a COVID-free setting. Luckily, in our case, this is something which we have worked hard on emphasizing before COVID and I do hope its recognized – but it is definitely a selling factor, something which sets us apart. In our case its not so much a change in service, but a change in focus in our marketing approaches.