COVID-19 has hit every economy around the world and practically every industry and vertical, but small businesses have been hit particularly hard.
In April 2020, almost a quarter of small businesses in the UK had to close, and those that reopened reported that revenue had declined by an average of 80 per cent. All told, 234,000 UK SMEs shut up shop permanently between March and September 2020.
The outlook is admittedly pretty bleak, but if there’s a silver lining to this cloud, it’s that people’s eyes, hearts and purse strings have opened to the importance of local SMEs. With the right strategies in place, today’s entrepreneurs can ride the wave of this sentiment, hopefully closing the financial year from a place of strength that can carry momentum into 2021.
We’ve all fallen in love with local
The novel coronavirus and loss of in-person socialising has led consumers to fall out of love with global service companies and products that are mass-made in China. Instead, they’re realising the benefits of local businesses. Around the world, activists have set up organisations to support local businesses, like Goodmoney in Brighton & Hove in the UK; Support Local BC in British Columbia, Canada; and SOS New Zealand in, you guessed it, New Zealand.
SME owners, in turn, have realised that they need to be part of a thriving local business ecosystem in order to succeed.
SMEs are noticing that sometimes, the best way to improve their own business is to help others survive, such as by setting up a reciprocal agreement with nearby companies or using local suppliers instead of big corporations.
As we head into the winter shopping season, owners of struggling SMEs need to find the best ways to forge these alliances and get involved with visible community-boosting activities.
Optimise your bulk offerings for gift giving
The winter holiday season is peak gift giving time, and all the owners and employees at your local, friendly SMEs are deciding what to give to their friends and loved ones. On top of that, it’s the time of year when businesspeople buy gifts for their most valuable clients, business partners and important suppliers as employee bonuses and holiday gifts.
Why not suggest that they use your service or product for their gifts this year? Make it easy for them to do so by using vcita Packages to create discount bundles of services. For example, you could offer six manicures for the price of five; a free hot stone treatment for every relaxing massage; or a mix-and-match offer of eight fitness classes of the buyer’s choice for 10 per cent off.
The workflows supported by vcita’s platform allow you to make the whole purchase process personalised and friction-free, so that your holiday gift offers are even more appealing. And you can set the terms for how long buyers have to redeem their bundled purchases.
Digital gift cards are another way to encourage fellow SME owners to shop for gifts at your business. They help corporate gift givers to avoid the minefield of choosing the wrong style, size or colour, while still giving a gift that’s warmer than cash. Digital gift cards come across as thoughtful but not intrusive, leaving the recipient to choose their favourite items.
Multi-business e-gift cards are likewise fast ways to move your in-person business online, so if you don’t have an online store and you’re nervous about the tech involved in pivoting to online transactions, you can still manage to set up gift card sales. Find out if your city or county has a gift card scheme that you can participate in, like the ones in Leicester, Southport and East Ayrshire, to name a few.
Remind your business contacts that digital gifts are the best gifts this year. They can give them even when they can’t meet the recipients in person, and don’t need to worry that the overstretched postal or logistics services might fail to deliver them.
Follow up on existing relationships
Sometimes SMEs who’ve been particularly affected by COVID-19 already have a connection with other SMEs. If you’re on the harder hit side of the relationship, don’t be shy about talking with your business owner peers about your difficulties.
For example, your fitness studio may be on good terms with the sports equipment company around the corner. Business is booming for sports equipment to furnish home gyms, but your studio is gasping for revenue. You could suggest that the other company gives out your fitness packages as gifts to their employees or puts you in touch with some personal trainers who need private indoor space for their one-on-one sessions and can use your studio until classes can return.
They might not even realise how much you’re struggling until you ask. The same can be said for your more loyal, long-term customers, who might gladly rally to pre-buy some of your services for 2021, keeping the cash flowing for you a bit longer.
Arrange for signal boosting
Don’t forget to ask your allies, partners and neighbours to help you out without having to spend a penny of their own, by giving you a signal boost on social media or business review platforms.
Once again, you’ll get better results if you make it easy for them to do so. Try sending them some media images that they can use in a post about their great connections with the business around the corner. Alternatively, suggest that they write you a positive review on Yelp or Google My Business.
You can also direct them to your recent Instagram or Facebook posts that need a bit more exposure and engagement. Ask them to share or comment on them.
Two heads are better than one
These tough times are taking their toll on everyone. Your mental, emotional and physical health can all be affected by the dread that your business could close, fear of the potential consequences, or stress about remaining afloat.
It’s a good time to contact other SME owners to share your concerns and brainstorm tactics for riding out the storm. Maybe someone else has a bright idea to keep your business on an even keel.
At the very least, pouring out your woes to a sympathetic ear will help relieve the stress and might bring you new strength to keep plugging away.
Ride the wave of local solidarity
Turn the trend of supporting local business to your advantage as the holiday gift giving season looms. Make it easy for other SMEs to give your services or products as gifts, smooth the way for them to promote you on social media, and reach out to other small business owners for practical, financial or moral support.
Your business is stronger when you’re part of a wider ecosystem.
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