Using The Internet to Grow Your Business During a Pandemic

Most people still remember what they were doing when they heard about the Twin Towers falling. COVID-19 wasn’t like that, it crept up and before we knew it we were stuck in our homes, wondering if the business we’d put our everything into for all those years would survive. It was so strange and surreal, yet uncomfortably familiar from watching movies or reading fiction.
Will our businesses survive the lock down, can we still operate, do we still have any customers?

If our business is more bricks than clicks, our initial and obvious reaction is to look over our shoulder for the four horsemen. But this is the biggest online shift we have or are ever likely to see. Amidst the wreckage are opportunities. They are everywhere and not usually obvious.

It’s also an obvious time to evaluate costs and your website is one of them. Here are some questions that should help you make the best of the situation, and with any decisions you need to make.

Can your website help you be more available and provide better service?

With most physical business premises closed and customers locked in their homes, customers are flooding online. Hopefully you can redirect your phones to be answered from home. If not, add a message that tells customers if you’re open and what service you’re providing.

Are your customers looking on your website for that info too? Probably – they are for most businesses. You can check your stats on Google Analytics to see how many visits you have to your home page and contact us page. Also check if you are receiving enquires from the enquiry form on your website.

If you are getting a lot of questions from customers by email or phone, you can put the answers to these questions on your website. This could save you time and reassure your customers.

Do you send your customers forms to be completed or other info, and would you normally send these by email or give them paper copies or sign documents in person? All of these things can be done through your website.

Think about what other face to face contact you normally have with your customers and how that could be moved online to keep your business running (and make it more efficient).

What happens if customers can’t find your website?

If a new customer who has heard about your business, or an existing customer, wants to look you up and your website is not there or can’t be found in Google, what will they do? Move on to your competitor? Try to find your contact details some other way? How much effort will they put in?

While it varies for every business, new customers will generally give up and move on and existing customers will try a bit harder to contact you. Think about each of these questions for your business and how it’s different now.

Does your website complete the social media experience?

Some businesses thrive on social media, for others it’s a black hole for time and money.

Social media usage is now at an all time high. Does this present any new opportunities for your business?

If social media is important for your business, does your website help to complete the sale? If not, how could it be used to do so?

Does your business rely too much on social media?

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter – they can all be amazing channels for engaging your customers and winning their business. All of them change constantly and often introduce new opportunities.

What happens if your preferred social media site changes the rules and cuts you off?

Your website and the sales it generates are totally under your control and no social media giant can take it away from you. They can stop feeding you business but they can’t stop business being fed to your website from other sources.

Think about whether your business is susceptible to such changes, and if your website does or could be made to insulate you from them.

Can you communicate quickly with your customers?

The most reliable ways to communicate with customers are usually phone, SMS and bulk email, in order of most to least expensive and most to least reliable, email usually being the most cost effective.

Do you improve your communications by including links to a page or blog article on your website so customers can share with others, easily go to your website to find the info they remember seeing but forgot the details of, and so new customers can find it too? Do you need to do this and would it make any difference to your business either way?

Are customers looking for your product or services online now?

If you’re not an essential business, it might be easy to assume the answer is no. But people still want what they want and they are impatient. Plenty of pre-purchase research is being done now and doing some keyword research or reviewing your website statistics should tell you if people are trying to research or buy your product or service.

Are you getting enquiries now? What feedback are you getting from people you have conversations with? Ask them what they need, what they can afford and what they plan to do now and when restrictions start to lift. Ask the same questions of your existing customers too.

Can you take orders now and deliver later?

Can your product or service be ordered now and delivered as soon as restrictions are lifted? Giving a 5% or 10% discount for payment in advance could give you enough cash flow to see you through.

What about production or stock levels? Think about what you need to do to get stock or produce your product or service. If the way you’ve always done it does not work for now, what other options do you have, what can you change to make it work and who can you talk to for the best advice?

Can you use your website to deliver your product or service?

If your physical presence is not required to deliver your product or service then consider tools like eCommerce (an online store), online order forms, secure online document signing tools like HelloSign or video meetings with Zoom or Skype.

We often do things they way we’ve always done them, without looking closely at other options that could save us work and cost. At least until we are forced to, like now. Talk to your business coach, web or IT person about what tools are out there that you don’t know about that could help you do business online and keep your business going now and make it more efficient in the future.

If you need to visit a client’s premises to evaluate something before giving a quote, can you do your evaluation with Skype (all smartphone cameras are amazing now) then give them a quote and book the job for “as soon as restrictions lift”? Will such a process save you travel time/cost and be a better way to do business in some situations going forward?

If you are allowed to provide essential services only, would a quick Skype video call help you establish if all or part of the job is essential before you go?

If customers come to you (like car repairs) could a Skype call help you evaluate the problem and sometimes diagnose remotely, or order parts now that can be installed when restrictions lift?

Where are your opportunities? How can you leverage the internet short AND long term?

New opportunities are everywhere. All sorts of factories are switching out machines and using their existing resources to make and deliver face masks, PPE and ventilators for a demand that seems like it can never be met.

After a vaccine is found and eventually rolled out, business will shift back to the old normal to whatever degree it does. But the new ways of doing business will also stick to some degree – people and businesses have already developed new habits. More people will shop online, some people will be happy for you to save their money by meeting on Skype for a quote. Almost everybody will be used to doing business online and many won’t want to go “backwards”.

History shows that this will not be the worst virus we ever see. The PPE industry has grown forever, essential businesses have been identified and many other new things are normal now.

That’s a lot of new opportunity to tap into, both now and when the current pandemic is gone. It’s often easier to see opportunities for other businesses you know well than it is for your own, so get together with your friends in business and brainstorm what the new opportunities look like in your industry and how each of you can take advantage of them – and how you can generate cash flow to get you through the lock-down(s).

Are you visible in Google Maps?

If you’re a local service business you can’t over estimate the value of Google Maps to your marketing. If your Google Maps listing and your website are both set up well (for example, the format of your street address on your website is identical to the format in Google Maps) then you have a good chance of being listed in the first 3 or 4 Google Maps results that appear on the first page of Google search results.

Optimising your website well, helps your Google Maps listing get found. This will help when restrictions are eased.

Are your Google rankings working hard enough for you?

I’ve seen 2 very similar businesses in different areas, with 2 similar websites, where one was lucky to get 5 website enquiries in a month and the other consistently got 10 or 15 per week.

The latter had a website that was slightly better optimised for Google, but mostly it had a whole lot more great content for Google to index and rank for different keywords.

If there is one thing you can do to help your marketing, without spending money, it’s writing content for your website. Think about all the questions your customers normally ask you and create a page (or even better, multiple pages) to answer them. Think about the questions your customers don’t know they need to know and answer them too. Write tips, blogs, articles or guides about anything your customers need to know during these special circumstances, or afterwards, or impartial advice that compliments your products or services.

All of this will pay off when customers come back and your website ranks better.

Your content will rank better if you’ve done thorough keyword research and used that research to plan and optimise your articles, but don’t let that delay your content – keyword research and optimisation is also effective if the content is written first. For many of us, this is an excellent time to go hard with your marketing.

Prepare but don’t be overwhelmed

There is a lot to think about right now and it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Think about and talk to people about what business will look like as restrictions lift and how you can prepare for it. Talk to your coach, accountant, advisers, digital marketer and friends in business. We’re all going through this together and they may need your ear as much as you need theirs.

Talk it through, decide on your priorities, get focused and spend your time on the things that you know will count.

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