The COVID-19 (or coronavirus) pandemic has changed the world we live in. This global emergency is all that anyone’s talking about, whether you flip on your TV or log onto social media. One thing that has been circulating throughout the news in recent days is the term “social distancing.” For consumers, social distancing may be an inconvenience that ultimately helps slow the spread of the virus. For business owners, on the other hand, social distancing has a much bigger impact. With states putting restrictions in place and the majority of consumers opting to self-isolate, many businesses are shuttering their doors. It may feel like too much for you and other small business owners to handle.
It is a scary time for everyone. And while we don’t know what the future holds, there are a few things you can do starting now so that your business can adapt to and survive the coronavirus. In this post, we’re going to take a look at social distancing. We’ll talk about what it means, how it may affect your business, and how you can adapt and grow closer to your customers during this challenging time.
What Is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is a strategy designed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. On March 15, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that events or gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks to slow the spread of the virus. If you do go out in public, it’s important to stay at least six feet away from other people, as one of the ways that the virus is spread is through close contact.
It’s also recommended to limit going out in public unless necessary, such as when buying groceries or receiving medical care. Travel bans are being put in place by countries around the world, and unnecessary travel should be canceled or rescheduled.
What Does Social Distancing Mean For Small Businesses?
Many businesses are also taking steps to protect their employees and customers, either by law or simply by choice. In states like Illinois and Ohio, all bars and restaurant dining rooms have been required to close. Other states may follow suit, while some businesses are choosing to close their doors before it’s even required. This includes retail stores, gyms, daycares, movie theaters, hotels, and casinos. Others aren’t completely shutting down but are closing public spaces, such as restaurant dining rooms and hotel conference rooms.
Unfortunately, social distancing means that most small businesses will see a downturn in their business. Reduced operating hours, closures, and fear and uncertainty among the public all equal a reduction in customers. The good news, though, is that there are ways that you can better connect with customers and continue to bring in revenue — strategies that we’ll discuss a little later.
With all that’s going on in the world today, there’s no better time than right now to evaluate your business policies for now and the future. For starters, take a look at your staffing policies. It’s a good time to inform employees that anyone that is sick should stay home to protect themselves and others. Not only does this apply to the coronavirus, but also to other contagious illnesses such as the flu.
Next, reevaluate your cleaning and sanitation policies. It’s likely that you already have some in place, but are you doing enough? In addition to your typical cleaning and disinfecting routine, consider cleaning more frequently. Many businesses are changing their hours so that employees have extra time to clean and sanitize surfaces before opening again the next day. Taking the time to clean and sanitize your business helps protect you, your employees, and your customers from the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Another thing to take a closer look at is your payment policy. Will this remain the same, or will you only accept payment cards? If you’re now taking orders online or by phone, do you have a way to do that securely? If not, it’s time to explore your options to make payments safe and convenient for customers. Learn how to get started by checking out Coronavirus Payments Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Switching To Online & Phone Payments.
No matter what you choose to change within your business, there’s one thing that you must do: keep your customers in the loop. Send out emails, post signage (if your business is still open), or use social media to provide updates, such as new hours, online ordering options, and measures your business is taking to protect customers.
4 Ways You Can Adapt To Social Distancing & Keep Your Business Afloat
The coronavirus has already made its impact on the world, and there’s no predicting what will come next. Instead of sitting around and waiting, it’s time to take initiative and find new ways to serve your customers and keep the money flowing. You may have to get creative, but there are options that can help keep your business operating despite social distancing. And the best news? Many options don’t even require a huge financial investment!
Unsure of the next steps for your business? Consider adopting one (or more!) of these strategies:
- Self-ordering kiosks & checkouts
- Online ordering & carryout
- Selling on social media
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these strategies to help you determine which is best for your business.
Adding Self-Serve Kiosks & Checkouts
If your business is a retail shop or quick-service restaurant, consider adding self-serve kiosks and checkouts. Implementing this technology into your business allows your customers to scan products they’re buying, place orders from your menu, and even pay for their purchases all through a kiosk or checkout terminal.
How does this benefit your business? There is less interaction with other people, so this strategy can mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. If you’ve reduced your staff due to illness or expenses, self-serve kiosks and checkout terminals help ease the burden that falls on your remaining staff.
However, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider. First, not every business will be able to use this tech in their business. Retail stores and quick-service or fast-food restaurants would benefit the most from the addition of self-serve kiosks and checkouts. And while these conveniences can lighten your load, you’ll also need to remember that your equipment must be cleaned and sanitized thoroughly, and often.
Another drawback is the expense. Installing self-serve kiosks and terminals can get pretty expensive, and businesses that were struggling prior to the epidemic may want to look at more cost-effective options. However, it may be well worth the cost for a number of small businesses. Adding this technology to your business can help you better compete with your competitors — and in some cases, even give you a leg up. More businesses are moving to the latest point-of-sale (POS) systems and terminals, so now could be the time for your business to get set up.
If pricing still has you on the fence, know that there are options. Some POS providers provide financing, allowing you to make affordable payments over time. You can also write your equipment off come tax time.
If the concept of self-serve kiosks and checkouts is foreign to you, learn more about this technology and why it could be right for your business by checking out, A Basic Guide To Self-Service POS Systems.
Adding Online Ordering, Delivery, & Carryout
Many governments around the world are ordering the closure of restaurant dining rooms. Whether a closure is mandated in your area or you simply choose to close the dining room on your own, there are still ways to bring in revenue. Many restaurants are now offering online ordering, delivery, and carryout services.
If this sounds like a lot of work, in many cases, it’s hardly any work at all. In fact, you may already have everything you need to start serving your customers in new ways. Before you get started, determine what strategies will work best for your restaurant. For example, do you have an unused drive-thru window? Do you have servers and bussers that you could keep on staff to deliver orders or box up takeout options?
Now is a good time to get really creative, too. For instance, if you plan to shorten operating hours in the evenings, consider offering “take and bake” meals that customers can heat up at home for a quick and tasty dinner. Or you could take a load off of your fatigued customers by offering curbside pickup — they place an order, park their vehicles, and one of your staff members brings their order right to their car.
How do you get started in offering these new options to customers?Â It may be easier than you think. Here’s how to get started.
How To Accept Call-In Orders
Some customers may not have access to the internet or simply prefer to call in their orders. Call-in orders can be used for delivery, in-store pickup, or curbside carryout. There’s a good chance that your restaurant’s POS system already offers this feature. If you’re unsure of how to do this, contact your POS company to learn if this feature is available.
If your POS system doesn’t have this feature, it’s possible to do this manually. Have someone man the phones, take down orders and relay them to the kitchen, and ring up each customer.
How To Accept Online Orders
During the pandemic, many people will be at home placing restaurant orders online. The easiest way to offer online ordering is by seeing if your POS system integrates with third-party services such as GrubHub, Postmates, or DoorDash. Customers can easily place online orders for pickup or delivery, and you won’t have to add extra staff to handle your deliveries.
If you want to keep your employees busy, consider adding in-house delivery services. While this will require more work on your part, you can utilize current employees to take on this task. The benefits of this option are two-fold: you’re providing a needed service for customers while allowing your employees to continue to work and get a paycheck. Like the other strategies in this post, this is also one that you can maintain after restrictions have been lifted and life begins its return to normalcy.
If you’re in the restaurant industry, this time can be a challenge. Keep serving your customers and bringing in revenues by checking out our Coronavirus Survival Guide For Restaurants.
Expanding To eCommerce
If you are a retailer, you’re in luck. Even if your doors remain closed during the pandemic, you can still provide your products to customers that shop online. If you’re new to eCommerce, making the switch can seem long, difficult, and expensive. But you’d be surprised at how easy this is for may retailers.
This option will be easiest for retailers with limited inventory. If you’re a larger business with a lot of inventory, setting up an online store isn’t impossible but may take extra time and effort.
While you can certainly set your web store online manually, first look into the capabilities of your POS system. Many systems already integrate with popular web store options and even offer automated features like importing inventory.
New to eCommerce? Learn how to get started in just five easy steps.
Selling On Social Media
If you’re unable to easily set up a web store or you have a large online following, you can put social media to work for your business by selling on selling on Facebook or using Instagram Shoppable Posts. The advantages of selling on social media are that it’s quick, easy, and inexpensive. This is a great option for any retailer that doesn’t want to set up a full eCommerce site but still wants to reach customers and bring in revenue.
The Best Ways To Stay Close To Your Customers (While Practicing Social Distancing)
Social distancing may mean that your business sees fewer customers. Even when the pandemic is over, it may take some time for business to return to normal. This doesn’t mean that you have to drop off the radar of your customers. Use these strategies to continue to connect with customers while practicing social distancing.
Use Social Media
Many people are stuck at home right now checking their social media. Why don’t you let your posts be among those that they see? Use your social media pages to keep customers updated on what’s happening with your business. Post updated store hours, closures, and any other changes to your regular operating schedule. You can also use social media to announce new services (such as your new online store or delivery services), post current and upcoming promotions, and keep your customers excited for what you have to offer during and after the pandemic.
Use Email Lists
Not everyone uses social media, so make sure to keep all customers updated that have signed up for your email list. If you don’t already have an email list set up, make sure to add a sign-up option on your website and social media pages. Just as you did on your social media pages, you can update customers on changes within your organization. You can also use your email lists to offer exclusive promos to subscribers.
Offer Gift Cards
Now is a fantastic time to offer gift cards that can be purchased now and used later. This is a great way for customers to plan future purchases or even provide a quick and simple gift for their loved ones. E-gift cards are easily purchased online and sent right to the customer — no plastic cards or in-store pickup required. Many POS systems, payment processors, and online stores integrate with gift cards, so check with your provider to learn more. You can also read our post How To Implement A Gift Card Program For Small Business to learn how to get started.
Promote A Good Cause
While you want to remain top-of-mind for your customers, don’t just think about the hardships of your own business. Instead, spend time encouraging your community to give back in any way possible. Donations to food banks or local organizations and volunteering are just a few options that can bring the community together during these difficult times. You may even consider launching a fundraiser or directing customers to other fundraisers, events, and news in your area.
It’s a scary time for all of us out here, so try to remain positive and keep your customers in good spirits. There is enough negativity throughout the news and social media that can raise fears and anxiety. Don’t pretend that nothing is happening in the world around us, but instead, put out positive and encouraging messages. There’s no better time than right now to connect with your community and offer your support for your followers and customers.
Adapt Your Business To Social Distancing To Weather The Storm
People are dealing with a lot of fear and uncertainty worldwide, and business owners are no exception. Your health, the health of those around you, and maintaining your livelihood can easily overwhelm you. But just know that there are options available that will help keep your business afloat. While you may have to dedicate your time and may even need to consider a small investment, these efforts can boost sales and help your business come out on the other side. Good luck!
For more resources on surviving the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus, check out our COVID-19 hub for small businesses.
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