My plant store, Urban Planting, a local “Main Street” business in Cleveland, Ohio probably never thought about having a crisis-response plan to keep their business running during a global pandemic.
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However, they’ve taken it in stride and adapted by offering all of their products online for purchase, photos and descriptions of all their crazy-named plants (like Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma Trellis...say that 10 times fast), offering virtual tours, contactless curb pickup, and delivery options.
Small, local businesses might look a little different by the end of this pandemic, and that’s an opportunity where they can thrive.
This need for businesses to adapt to the needs of today’s more or less “digitally-mandated landscape” is also a topic WIRED’s editor in chief Nicholas Thompson and branding expert Amanda Brinkman discussed in a recent Facebook Live session.
According to Brinkman, a brand expert with Deluxe, the key to thriving is embracing digital.
“Many businesses that previously thought of themselves as just local businesses are now able to be global businesses — if they have the right online presence. We’re talking to a lot of these organizations that say, ‘Why didn’t we do this before?'"
Local businesses have started offering virtual classes or personalized deliveries.
Creative businesses can capitalize and grow during this time, poised to continue that growth as the pandemic recedes.
3 steps to going digital
Going digital can be overwhelming. Here are some places to start:
1. Have an optimized website
Maybe in the past you were able to rely on a stream of word-of-mouth referrals, but that might not be the most effective strategy these days.
If even your most loyal small town customers are going to support you during this time, they need to be able to visit you digitally.
I know that you didn’t start a business to become a digital expert, but this is the moment where you need to invest time and resources (in whatever amount available) into your web presence, especially since this is the main way people will be able to interact with you for an unknown amount of time to come.
Make sure your site looks good on mobile devices
Most people are probably visiting your site from their phones, so make sure it displays in a way that encourages user interaction, not frustration.
Google has this Mobile-Friendly test you can use to see how your site is performing on mobile devices.
It should have up-to-date, relevant information
Especially these days, your site needs to have up-to-date information about the products and services you offer. What are you still offering? What’s sold out?
In the case of my local plant store, I saw they were frequently updating their site with Sold Out markers. This let me know that time was not to be wasted in putting in my order.
Treat your website content like a salesperson — let it do the work for you!
2. Offer payment processing and touchless sales
Depending on what you sell, this may or may not be possible. But there are plenty of great tools and plug-ins you can use to take payments and orders directly on your site.
Square may be widely known for offering in-person payment options, but it also has plug-in integrations for your website (or even a full website with a shop option if you need).
If your site is on WordPress, WooCommerce is a great option.
SquareSpace is also one example of an all-in-one site builder with a store.
If you can’t actually take payments online for your product for whatever reason, you should at least have enough content and detailed information on your site so that someone knows the ins and outs of what they’d want to purchase.
This means when they pick up the phone or fill out a form to move forward in the sales process, they don't need to bog you down asking a dozen questions and call back. They’ll know right off the bat what they need, making the sales process that much smoother.
In the case of Urban Planting, that also meant offering a virtual tour (or “meet and greet”) with my plants before I bought and picked them up.
3. Have an updated Google My Business page
One of the most important things business owners (especially small business owners) can do right now is let their customers know whether they’re open, and what their revised hours are.
Google My Business (GMB) is a great place to start with that. It lets people find you easily when searching on Google. This is a huge driver of local business at any time, even when we’re not in a COVID era.
Check out some tips to get your GMB page optimized to make sure you’re getting the most out of it.
SMBs: You can come out of this even stronger
I've noticed two different outlooks businesses have right now
One is: “What do we need to do to come out the other end and get back to business as usual?” Businesses with this mindset want COVID-19 to be a blip in the radar before they continue business as usual once it’s all over.
The second outlook, though, doesn't try to fight the wave of impending change. Instead, it favors adaptability. This is the difference in mindset between businesses who will survive this pandemic and those who will emerge even stronger and better positioned than how they went into it.
This pandemic isn’t something that you should aim to come out of unscathed and unchanged. Let it push and drive your business to change you for the better.
Adapting to these changes can set you up for increased growth once local stores are back open for business in the ways we’ve formerly been accustomed to.