You can ensure that your business thrives . . .
Yes, it is possible even during economic uncertainty — keep reading.
Smart business owners know that adapting marketing and business practices in response to economic fluctuations is vital for any successful business.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, most companies (large and small) have had to significantly modify the way they do business. This includes how they communicate with current and future customers. What’s working now? Listening to how small business owners are adapting can help you identify opportunities to pivot and succeed.
Constant Contact, a leader in online marketing, whose mission is to provide people with a smarter way to market their ideas, small business, or cause online, invited three small business owners to discuss how they are adjusting to meet this challenge. The virtual panel discussion was entitled: Adapting Your Business to COVID-19. The panelists included:
- Sydni Craig-Hart — CEO and Co-Founder of Smart Simple Marketing, a multi-award winning content marketing consultancy
- Julianna Curtis — Founder of The Energy Barre, a fitness studio
- Anthony George — The Home Guy, Waco Re/Max realtor
- Host: Dave Charest — Constant Contact’s Director of Content Marketing
COVID-19’s Impact on Business
Like countless small business owners, each panelist has faced the loss of revenue and operational disruptions during the pandemic. Both Smart Simple Marketing and The Home Guy were in the final stages of contract negotiations when COVID-19 exploded, and the contracts were paused or canceled. All four of the Energy Barre’s locations were closed to in-person classes.
While these are certainly challenging times, the panelists all mentioned silver linings. Even during a pandemic, clients need services and products. This presents new opportunities to serve customers beyond the existing client base.
As the panelists talked about their challenges, they also discussed how they found solutions and developed new processes. These innovative entrepreneurs have developed practices they plan to continue to embrace, particularly online with virtual events and live streams.
Adapt Marketing Messages
Smart Simple Marketing helps businesses acquire more customers and revenue by creating inclusive messaging to reach diverse populations. As the CEO, Sydni Craig-Hart has worked in niche marketing for more than 14 years.
Her expertise, based on working with over 10,700 small business owners across 79 industries, gives her a unique perspective on the mindset and challenges small business owners face. During the webinar, Sydni offered actionable steps similar to the guidance that she provides her clients. “Adjust your marketing and messaging to the current tone . . . keep talking about what your audience needs to hear.”
Julianna Curtis’s first boutique studio opened in 2013 and specializes in group fitness, offering a wide variety of movement options at four locations in Massachusetts, where gyms remain closed. She discussed the importance of transitioning to new ways to offer services, “For about 30 days, we didn’t sleep or close our eyes or stop until we’d secured a way for our clients to have access to our classes.”
Anthony George has been a realtor for eight months in Texas and is considered an essential service provider. However, he found that many sellers didn’t feel comfortable with people walking through their homes. Anthony shared how he’s had to stretch himself and find a way to connect to customers, “we are having to figure out new ways, new avenues, to be able to market and help customers complete their transactions.”
Here is their advice on how to adapt your marketing message during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meet Today’s Circumstances
The experts agreed that acknowledging what customers are going through ensures your brand stays relevant and that your message is likely to be received in a positive light. Host Dave Charest pointed out that marketing is about talking to people who want to hear from you.
How can I serve?
Sydni suggests taking a pause from selling and, instead, think about how to serve others. Rather than immediately focusing on replacing the clients that canceled contracts due to COVID-19, Smart Simple Marketing decided to serve other small business owners by creating valuable content to help them make good decisions during this challenging time.
The team hosted the Thrive NOW™ Virtual Summit on April 14th. In just two weeks, they organized this free, one-day, virtual conference featuring experts in law and business, who shared insights into how to help small business owners make critical, real-time decisions about the future. Topics included maintaining a winning mindset, creating revenue streams, and the important legal considerations for businesses to manage during the current environment.
Provide specific, relevant content
Julianna made the hard decision to close her studios, voluntarily, because she wasn’t certain she could keep her clients safe, yet she still wanted to provide value to her customers. “There was one day when we didn’t offer services, then we immediately transitioned to online,” she said.
She built upon existing pre-recorded class content to help her clients maintain a healthy mind and body. New clients looking for support with their wellness routines have found Energy Barre’s content and new virtual offerings to be valuable resources during this difficult time.
Move out of your comfort zone
Dave asked the participants to touch on how their business practices have changed. Each participant said that online was the new normal and discussed how to overcome being shy or fearful of presenting to an online audience.
To sell homes, Anthony typically offers in-person tours of properties, but many are now reluctant to take such a tour. Despite being a video newbie, he strapped a Go-Pro to his head to do virtual tours of his properties.
Even though Anthony didn’t have experience filming or narrating videos, he embraced the opportunity to develop new skills to be of service to his clients. “This experience has opened me up to being in front of the camera . . . The more that I get real feedback, people say I can see the real you,” Anthony said.
Sydni agreed with Anthony’s approach, “There are many upsides to just pushing yourself off that cliff . . . this is the best time to try something outside your comfort zone.”
Julianna added, “People respond more to that authenticity. It feels good to see your fitness instructor also struggling!”
How to Communicate
An essential element of a successful client relationship is communication. The method of communication matters, particularly in a time when people may feel isolated. Here are suggestions for staying connected to customers.
Share helpful content frequently
Posting virtual tours on his website and sending his newsletter weekly rather than monthly are just two ways that Anthony is doing more to reach his clients. “It’s more of a personal message . . . and I think I’m going to maintain a lot of this,” he said. “It’s less marketing and more personal conversation.”
“It’s about communicating more with people who want to hear from you,” enthuses Dave. “That is marketing.”
Send more video messages
Based on the positive feedback she’s received from clients, Sydni has been sending more video messages via email and getting a great response. The positive response is backed by current statistics. In 2020, Hubspot reports that 85% of businesses surveyed said they use video and 92% say it’s an important part of their marketing strategy.
Be social on social media
Now is not the time for a hard-sell message, especially on social media. Sydni advises her clients to be social on social media. “Take advantage of social media to actually be social; show personal interest in people and keep building relationships with your contacts,” said Sydni. When the time is right, you’ll have the opportunity to talk about business.
Pick up the phone
Sydni says that customers appreciate hearing your voice. “Pick up the phone,” she says. “I’m scheduling virtual coffee chats just to catch up.” This has brought up unexpected benefits — people ask about Smart Simple Marketing’s services, without a pitch.
Customer Retention and Acquisition
Despite navigating challenging times, all the panelists have acquired new customers. And, Sydni says that some clients are doubling their marketing efforts to attract customers. Here are the steps to getting a greater market share during COVID-19.
Speak to customers’ needs
Sydni advises looking at the current interests of your existing customers, “Take your business owner’s hat off and really put yourself in the space of your customer.”
This customer-centric approach answers several questions:
- What are your clients struggling with?
- What are their fears?
- What do they need?
- What problems are they trying to solve?
Discuss these questions and your solutions to fulfilling their needs and truly connect.
Anthony’s early virtual tours were met enthusiastically, but with an occasional comment from viewers, ‘”Hey, you’re 6’ 3″ tall, we’re not,’ so I learned that when I came up to cabinets, I would need to squat down to give them a different perspective.” Learning what the customer needs allows Anthony to provide a better experience.
Julianna added that her fitness instructor training programs have experienced a boost with online training, and she will keep an element of the online training going forward, “People were able to commit to doing yoga teacher training . . . or barre teacher training from home.” Child care and other challenges are no longer in play.
Think past your product
Focus on adding value as you talk about issues that surround your product and also think about the impact your product provides. Examples of rich content include:
- Pitfalls customers should avoid
- Tips and strategies customers should know
- What impact the product will have on their lives
Add solutions that are relevant now
If you can, help ease the burden for customers during this time. Take advantage of the opportunity to offer new products and services to meet your audience’s current needs. And, as you’re trying new marketing messages, beta test them to see how they impact your target audience.
Adapt your service
As mentioned earlier, adjusting your service or product to help clients meet distancing or other guidelines will maintain your customer base. With three fitness studios offering online classes, Julianna confirms that this can help attract new clients and keep them.
Be consistent and relentless
“Keep showing up and giving value,” Sydni reminds business owners. “Decide how you want to stay top-of-mind with your audience and show your steadiness and your tenacity.”
She adds, “This situation isn’t going to last forever, and the businesses that are consistent are the ones that will still be standing at the end.”
Do More Than Survive – Thrive
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, small businesses can thrive by maintaining customers and acquiring new ones. The keys are found in adjusting services and marketing messages, connecting with clients in the way they like, and finding what truly matters to them.
Watch the Adapting Your Business During COVID-19 customer panel on our YouTube channel. Or, get in touch with Sydni Craig-Hart, Julianna Curtis, Anthony George, or Dave Charest for more information about their services.