(NOTE: Most of this post was originally the contents of an email to the Milford Business Association members in Milford, Michigan.)
Anytime a crisis hits people quite naturally formulate a quick plan to deal with it. If you recall, I wrote about having a plan way back on March 20 in my post “What is your plan?” Doesn’t that seem like a long time ago? The Corona Virus crisis is turning out to be one in which that plan (we’ll call it plan “A”) isn’t working out for most. It’s time for plan “B”.
Plan “A” is the one that most bought into initially, which said, “I’ll just wait out the next two weeks” or “I’ll just close until April 3 or April 13”. That last plan was what many small business owners used as Plan “A” in my area. Plan “A” was a very passive plan – the hunker down and wait it out plan.
Now we have been told it will be at least April or May before we can even think about easing the restrictions on travel, crowd gatherings and working. It is clear that at least half of the year will be gone before America starts the road back to something approaching “normal”. No matter what you may have believed going into this crisis, it is clear that it is time for Plan “B”.
For the small business person, Plan B is a proactive one that deals with the reality that this situation is liable to be with us until late summer and that you need to figure out how to do business under the rules that have been imposed by government. For almost all, that means finding a way to do business without being able to welcome visitors into your physical stores.
Many small businesses already had a web site or a presence on Facebook and other social media sites. Now is the time to expand and leverage that presence to allow your customers to do business with you. If your web site didn’t have an eCommerce capability before, now is the time to add it or highlight your alternative. You need a way for customers to order and pay through your web site or via a phone call. It is also the time to figure out how you are going to deliver products to customers – on-site pickup or delivery, somehow.
For some small businesses in the services industries, it may well mean delivering your services via on-line sessions, either interactive in real-time or pre-recorded. Churches are using both methods during the shutdown and some fitness and health related businesses, such as personal training and yoga have already launched on-line classes.
The keys to creating a Plan “B” that will get you through this is understanding the needs of your customers and making it as easy as possible to do business with you while the shutdown lasts. You can do that through advertising, offering incentives and making the shopping and delivery experiences as easy as possible.
You can start with the assumption that the customers do not know what you are doing during the crisis. Begin your road back by informing them of your plan B – how to do business with you; what your hours of “operation” will be; where to go on line (web site or Facebook) to see your goods and how to order products; what incentives you will be offering; and how they will get the goods or services that you provide. For some, it is also about informing the customers about your new, spring product lines. This crisis hit right when that seasonal transition was to take place.
In the same “What’s your plan” blog post I described the four phases that people go through in crisis situations. Most are now exiting phase three and entering phase four. They are starting to put some creative thought into how they will live under the constraints imposed by this crisis and they are looking for ways to get the things that they need and want. It is up to you to tell them how to get those things from you.
Communications with your customer base is more important now than ever. Using ads in your local paper (like the Spinal Column in the Milford, Michigan area) to reach your local base is a critical part of that communications. People are home all day and have time to read those papers. Your ad in the local paper can tell the customer base many things – “I am still here”, “I am open for business”, “I am working hard to help you get through this crisis”, and “We will get through this together”.
So, take some time to craft your message for plan “B” and get it out there to your customer base. I think you’ll find a very receptive audience that is ready to find a way to do business with you.