Tips for Keeping Your Business Afloat During the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Tyson Downs
These are scary times for everybody in the United States and around the world. As human beings, we are all vulnerable to the novel Coronavirus known as COVID-19, and its rapid spread has impacted everything from our social habits to our ability to do business.
At Titan Web Agency, we believe it’s our responsibility to provide guidance and advice to our clients during this difficult time. We understand that marketing might be the last thing on your mind. But, the truth is that if you market with intention and care during this time, it can help you to keep the people you serve informed – and help to keep your business afloat. Here are some tips to help you.
Try Not to Panic
Our first tip is going to be a difficult one to master, but it’s important for all of us. While the news is unsettling and uncertainty is high, it’s important to remember that panicking is not going to help you get through it. In fact, panic makes it impossible to think rationally.
Before you make any moves regarding your business, take a few deep breaths and a step back. You may need to make some unpleasant decisions, but they won’t be easier to make if you let your anxiety get the best of you. Take a snapshot of your business, including basic information such as:
- Your cash on hand – how much money do you have to put into your business?
- Your employees’ ability to work from home
- Your ability to meet payroll and other financial obligations
Once you have a handle on your financial situation, you’ll be able to make the choices you need to make to help your business.
Take Care of Your Employees
Your employees are the ones who keep your business going. For many small businesses, closing temporarily is a must. Many states have put “shelter in place” orders into effect and non-essential business are being told to remain closed.
For some businesses, working from home requires adaptation and creativity. You may find yourself scrambling to understand the technology you need to complete your work and stay in touch with your employees. That’s the best case scenario.
For businesses where employees can’t work from home, such as dental practices, the situation is not so easily resolved. You cannot treat patients from home. That being the case, your first order of business should be figuring out whether you can continue to pay your employees.
If you can, then you should do so. However, if you can’t, then it’s your responsibility to give your employees the freedom to file for unemployment or find other ways to make money. That means laying off employees and filing a claim with your state unemployment office or department of labor to get your employees onto the unemployment rolls right away. That will make it easy for them to collect benefits. Remember, you have paid into your state’s unemployment fund for exactly this type of situation. There’s nothing wrong with using it if you need to.
Another option is the Payroll Protection Plan.
From the above link:
Under the CARES Act, qualifying businesses include:
- Businesses with up to 500 employees or which meet the applicable size standard for the industry as provided by SBA’s existing regulations
- Qualified self-employed businesses
- Businesses in the accommodation and food services industries with more than one physical location but no more than 500 employees at each location
- Nonprofit organizations
- Eligible independent contractors and sole proprietors
Where will the funds be available?
Loans will be available through SBA and Treasury approved banks, credit unions, and some non-bank lenders.
How much can I borrow?
Borrowers can borrow 2.5 times their average monthly payroll expenses from the previous 12-month period, up to $10 million.
Self-employed borrowers can borrow net earnings from self-employment or similar compensation, no more than $100,000 in 1 year, as prorated for the covered period;
Applicable uses for the loan proceeds include: (1) qualified payroll costs; (2) rent; (3) utilities; and (4) interest on mortgage and other debt obligations.
- Borrowers can borrow 2.5 times their average monthly payroll expenses from the previous 12-month period, up to $10 million.
- Self-employed borrowers can borrow net earnings from self-employment or similar compensation, no more than $100,000 in 1 year, as prorated for the covered period;
- Applicable uses for the loan proceeds include: (1) qualified payroll costs; (2) rent; (3) utilities; and (4) interest on mortgage and other debt obligations.
Loan forgiveness is available for funds used to pay payroll and other qualified expenses eight weeks from the date of the origination of a covered loan.
Head on over to Cook Martin Poulson's Coronavirus Resource Center to learn more.
Evaluate Your Marketing
After you have taken care of your employees, it’s time to look at your marketing. While it might be tempting to suspend your marketing during this time, we suggest you remember that any SEO losses for you during this time are likely to be gains for your competitors. According to the Small Business Administration, businesses with under $5 million in gross revenue should spend 7% or 8% of their gross income on marketing.
That said, this is a time when you should revisit your marketing mix and think about what to do to maximize your ROI and situate your business to rebound quickly when the crisis is over. That may mean exploring new marketing platforms, putting your entire marketing budget into online marketing, or coming up with offers that will help you attract new business.
Reconsider Your SEO
Your small business probably has a well-thought-out SEO strategy that targets your most important keywords. However, those keywords might not be the best ones for you to target in this time of economic uncertainty.
For example, you might own a dental practice that makes most of its income from crowns and dental implants. Demand for voluntary procedures is down as most patients are avoiding high-risk situations. However, emergency dental service is still a need – and not every dental practice will be able to provide it.
Your practice might be well-served by refocusing your SEO efforts on keywords related to emergency treatment. However, we don’t recommend dropping your usual keywords. It’s likely that you have seen a decline in organic traffic, but that’s because most of the country is sheltering at home and as a result, not using search engines in the same way.
Another way of looking at it is that if you keep your focus on marketing your business, you may very well come out ahead of competitors who slash their marketing budgets because they’re not aware of the long-term effects of that decision.
Keep an Eye on Your Analytics
If you have employees working from home, then they may be accessing your website and skewing your analytics as a result. It’s important to take that into consideration. Unless your employees are using a VPN to access your site, their visits will not be viewed as internal traffic, but external traffic.
There’s no real way to keep track, but you can and should put an annotation in your analytics account to make note of the increased traffic.
Communicate with the Audience You Serve
You may have noticed that your inbox is flooded with emails from businesses reaching out to their customers with statements about the COVID-19 crisis. They mostly focus on:
- Expressing concern and care for their audience’s health and well-being
- Reassuring their audience that they are there to help in any way possible
- Offering information about how they are coping with the pandemic, whether it’s following CDC recommendations for cleaning or offering virtual assistance in lieu of face-to-face services
Communication is essential in any time of crisis. You should keep your online audience informed of any changes in your business, whether you have shut down your office, shortened your hours, or expanded your online services.
Put another way, you have an opportunity to strengthen your brand and build loyalty with your customers by keeping them in the loop and being an authoritative and reassuring presence in their lives.
Maximize Email and Social Media Marketing
While some marketing efforts may not get the same ROI now that they would in a time of less economic uncertainty, email and social media are still safe bets. Your audience will want to hear from you and these channels offer the most direct (and least expensive) way to keep in touch.
Your content at this time should be focused on delivering value and reassurance to your audience. By keeping your name in front of the people you serve, you can position yourself for the speediest possible recovery when the crisis is over.
Seek Financial Assistance if Necessary
The events that are unfolding are unprecedented in the modern era, and lawmakers passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27th, 2020.
One of the key provisions of the act is aid for small businesses who have been forced to close or curtail their operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It extends small business interruption (SBI) loans to businesses who need them. Here are the details:
- Available to businesses with fewer than 500 employees
- Provides up to 4 months’ worth of expenses, including payroll, mortgage or rent, utilities, and payments on other indebtedness
- Loans max out at $10 million dollars for businesses whose expenses exceed that limit
- Eligibility expires on December 21, 2020 unless extended
This plan allows small business to bypass the Small Business Administration and get loans directly from lenders. The SBI loans under the CARES Act may not be taken out in conjunction with an SBA economic injury disaster loan (EIDL).
If you think you will need a loan to get by, you may want to check out the SBA’s COVID-19 response page here for additional resources.
You know the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. If you’re wondering what you can do to keep your business afloat, here are some suggestions.
- Is there a way to provide services to your customers online? For example, if you normally do in-person consultations or treatments, can you move them online? Telehealth is becoming hugely important and the same is true of business videoconferencing. If you can take advantage of the technology, now is the time to do it.
- How can your marketing serve your customers? Can you deliver a product to them at a home that they would normally pick up? Can you provide them with information about how to file their taxes, deal with the chaos on Wall Street, or manage their stress?
- Consider implementing live video to communicate directly with your audience. Live video allows you to answer questions, reassure people, and show that you’re still available even when your audience is sheltering at home.
The most important thing to remember is that even as they practice social distancing, your audience is still there. They want to hear from you – and you have an opportunity to build trust with them and set your business up for future success.
Need assistance planning your marketing in this stressful time. Click here to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Tyson Downs, the owner of Titan Web Agency, has years of experience working with small businesses and helping them meet their revenue goals. Prior to starting Titan Web Agency, he freelanced in SEO and Web Design while working in the corporate world. Tyson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, the father of 5, and enjoys spending time with his family. Particularly on the baseball field.