At this point, the story is global — businesses in communities around our country and world have shuttered, many at the direction of local, state or national governments as we battle the coronavirus pandemic.
But grim as the picture may be today, millions of small business owners around the country need to grapple not just with the challenge of what to do while their operations are closed, but how to prepare for what lies on the other side of this crisis as the world emerges from quarantine and returns to business.
In pursuit of a silver lining during this trying time, below are three opportunities to turn a quarantine shutdown on its head and help build businesses stronger than ever before.
Explore creative ways to deliver your product or service
I’ve watched with fascination as many creative businesses have found ways to continue operating through a quarantine. Novel ways to deliver everything from orchestral music to personal training and therapy/addiction treatment have made the rounds as viral social media videos or popular articles. A similar solution may not be realistic for all businesses, but particularly if you deliver personal services (as opposed to hard goods and products that require in-person consumption), taking the time to invest in and perfect your digital delivery right now could pay benefits down the road.
Imagine a local personal trainer that works via in-person training sessions exclusively. These weeks (or months) may force their training sessions with existing clientele to video-conference, but if that trainer is intentional about streamlining their online offering they’ll be able to tap into a national (or international!) new customer base during and even after the quarantine ends.
Embrace any opportunity to explore an alternative delivery method for your businesses’ product or service, and you may reap benefits down the road.
Take the time to complete bigger tasks you’ve been pushing off
There are some projects that are just hard to do when you are engaged in the full-time business of helping customers and producing product each day. Large manufacturing facilities at companies like GE, Ford, Boeing, and more understand this as a fact of life — they proactively schedule dedicated plant-shutdown weeks where assembly lines stop completely to create space for large projects that wouldn’t be possible during normal operation.
Businesses of all sizes suddenly have this opportunity. What can you accomplish during your “plant shutdown?” Well, for ideas — there are physical changes (rearranging a showroom, gym, or restaurant seating arrangement to allow more functional usage), periodic maintenance (steam your carpets, paint your walls, organize your warehouse) and business tooling/service improvements you can make. Are you paying too much for your website, your payment solution, or your inventory management tools? Not all of these projects require significant investment, and it’s likely that some leg work today could save you money down the road.
Time and elbow grease could upgrade your physical space. Building a beautiful, more flexible site on Squarespace or Wix could reap benefits as customers experience your online storefront for months or years. Explore whether you’re using the best payment solution. What other tools do you use to run your business that you could evaluate right now?
Most businesses get one chance to make these decisions as you start operation, and the switching cost is very high once you’re locked in — mostly because change requires closing your business for some period. The quarantine might have forced the closure — take advantage!
Build your skills
In my decade of experience working with small businesses (small e-commerce merchants with eBay, cash-flow solutions with Kabbage, and I currently work with Drum, focusing on providing new ways for businesses to market themselves), I’ve learned people start and operate businesses because they believe in their core mission, not because they’re a magical jack-of-all-trades superhuman.
Retailers sell things they love to produce and curate. Restaurateurs create amazing dining experiences. Contractors are able to bring remodels and renovations to life. In an ideal world, entrepreneurs should spend as much of their mental and physical energy on the thing they’re really good at and leave the other elements of a business to others.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality that most business owners live with. There’s always more work to be done than there are hands to do it, and any business owner wears multiple hats — you can’t off-load everything. I’m sure there’s a hat every business owner wears that doesn’t fit so well.
If your poorly fitting hat is marketing-related, maybe a few weeks of couch time is great for pouring over free marketing tutorials (courtesy of LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com). If you struggle with keeping your financials straight and organized, maybe this is a great time to dive headfirst into QuickBooks resources. Even better — leverage the collective power of the Internet (particularly Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook) to find a subject matter expert. You may find a similarly stir-crazy professional with the knowledge you’re looking to develop that’s willing to provide some free/low-cost advice or trade some consulting hours for business services or products.
There are no easy answers — we’re all going to muddle through the next weeks and months together. But business owners are resilient, and they’re resourceful — I’m sure there are no shortage of brilliant ideas floating around. See what these suggestions could do for you, then pay it forward – share your own ideas, whether on social media or directly with your contacts.
Eric Nalbone is head of Marketing at Drum, a company building new ways for businesses to leverage the power of customer and community referrals. He has previously led marketing for Bellhops, a tech-enabled moving company headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn., and held a variety of roles with Kabbage, eBay and General Electric.