Many Companies Stepping Up to Help Small Businesses in Need
Gabby Althoff Designer
Due to the rising number of states issuing shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19, small-business owners are being forced to take their businesses somewhere the virus cannot shut their doors – online. Adapting to an online environment can be a difficult and daunting process for some small-business owners.
The unique challenges small-business owners are facing have not gone unnoticed. Many companies are stepping up to the plate and offering free or reduced-price access to many tools and services that can help business owners weather the storm and succeed in moving your business online.
We’ve compiled a playbook of tips and resources that small-business owners can use to get an online presence up and running or to uplevel their current online presence.
Tip #1: Increase your social-media presence
Your customers are already on social media, but these days, they are likely checking in much more frequently to get the latest updates on the virus. Whether you’re posting about the virus specifically or trying to offer light, positive content to help take people’s minds off the panic, it can be helpful to increase your posting frequency to ensure you are showing up in their news feeds.
If you don’t already have social-media profiles for your business, now is the time to create them. Here are some ways you can use social media to connect with your customers:
- Update your profiles with any changes to your hours or what services you are providing during COVID-19
- Post real-time updates about what you and your business are doing to handle COVID-19
- Share helpful content, including articles, blog posts and videos
- Build your community with Q&A sessions
- Use automation and scheduling tools to make sure you are posting regularly
Tip #2: Utilize free website builders
If you do not already have a website, now is the time to create one. There are many free or inexpensive ways to create websites, and they take little to no experience in web design or coding.
Shopify, a commerce platform that lets business start and customize online storefronts, is offering a COVID-19-specific e-commerce deal. It’s letting businesses run a free retail-store website for selling online for up to 90 days. Additionally, Shopify has added a few additional COVID-19 perks. For example, everyone can now make gift cards available on their site. Shopify is also hosting weekly webinars for struggling businesses with tools and tips on how to adapt to a socially-distant business.
POS (Point of Sale) company Lightspeed is also offering free three-month trial of its services. It has several service options, including Lightspeed Delivery for restaurants, Lightspeed eCommerce for retailers and Lightspeed Loyalty for omnichannel operations. Lightspeed is a great way for businesses to track and manage sales and inventory, along with marketing, reporting and employee management.
The most common user-friendly free website builder is WordPress. There are hundreds of website templates to choose from that can be completely customized. WordPress is so ubiquitous that there are hundreds of websites with tutorials on how to get started.
This site offers a great tutorial on how to start an online store for WordPress beginners: https://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/how-to-start-an-online-store/
Tip #3: Try to address your customers’ needs and concerns through digital channels
Now is the time to increase your customer-service capabilities to ensure that your customers can reach you no matter where they are. Social media is the perfect place to start, as many social-media platforms already offer built-in options for fielding questions from your customers. Set up the chat option via Facebook Messenger for an easy way to make sure you can field questions from your customer.
Find our more information about the Facebook Messenger here: https://www.facebook.com/business/marketing/messenger
If you’re busy trying to work from home on top of homeschooling your kids, try using a Facebook Messenger bot to aid in your customer service. Messenger bots are invaluable to businesses and can be customized to do all sorts of things, from answering questions to making sales!
This article from Later has some more information about Facebook Messenger bots and the types of things they can do.
Tip #4: Update your business information on Google My Business
During this time of constant change and uncertainty, it’s essential to keep your business information up to date so that your customers can know if you are open, and if so, how they can access your services or acquire your product. If you are reducing hours or closing due to a shelter-in-place order from your state’s government, make it clear to your customers so there is no confusion. Additionally, you should also update your Google My Business Profile, which many customers rely on when searching via Google.
If you have a website, you should add a header or notice on your site letting customers know they are receiving up to date information about your business. If you have social media, pin the post or add the information to your profile so that it is easily accessible.
Here is some information you should consider sharing with your audience:
- Update your website, social media profiles and Google My Business Profile with your new operating hours
- Explain what extra precautions your business is taking to ensure the health and safety of your employees, customers and community
- Let people know if you are providing any new services to the community
- Let your customers know if they will experience any delays
Tip #5: Make it easy for customers to contact you
In addition to updating your business information on Google My Business, you should take a look at the contact information you have on your website, email signature and social media platforms and make sure that they are up to date. Like we mentioned in Tip #3, using tools like Facebook Messenger can ensure that you don’t miss any inquiries from customers. You can set up notifications in Facebook Messenger that let customers know when you’re available to chat and also offer auto-responses for when you are not available. If you have a brick and mortar business, post your up-to-date contact information in a highly visible area and let people know if you are open for business online by listing your website or social media handles.
Tip #6: Offer your customers content that keeps you on
Your customers likely have a lot of downtime right now and if you have the capability, you should create content that helps your consumer navigate life during COVID-19.
Here are examples of content you can create:
- Write blog posts or articles on how to cope with various challenges during the COVID-19 shutdown, what you and your company are doing during the shutdown or uplifting posts about how your community is coming together to fight COVID-19.
- Videos are great ways to tell stories, not just relate information. They can be informative, inspirational and emotional. You could also create webinars to educate people about your company’s services without actually doing any selling at all. There are several free options for creating webinars, including Google Hangouts or YouTube Live.
- Creating a podcast is an easy way to speak to your customers in your own voice. You can do interviews (remotely, of course) with various leaders in your community or company. You can record a podcast with a basic audio recording programs such as Audacity, GarageBand or even Skype.
- Like we said in Tip #1, your customers likely have a lot more downtime right now and will likely be on social media more than they usually are. Create more social-media posts and try to encourage more consumer engagement. Let your customers know that you are there for them.
Tip #7: Utilize emails to keep in contact your customers
In addition to the content in Tip #6, you should create emails to let your customers know what is going on in your company and what you are doing to lessen the spread of COVID-19. Keep them informed about any special offers you have, any new content that you’ve created during this time, or even ways they can help in your community.
You can use an email-marketing service such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp to easily keep in touch.
Right now, Constant Contact is offering a host of free services for businesses affected by COVID-19. Learn more here: https://www.constantcontact.com/support-for-small-business-in-these-challenging-times
Tip #8: Create a membership site for training, learning or tutoring
Many fitness centers, schools, personal trainers and tutoring centers are being ordered to close their doors due to the pandemic. Creating a membership site is one way to continue to offer these sort of services to the community while still following your state or country’s quarantine orders. You can start a membership site with WordPress by using the MemberPress plugin to create a members-only area, share content and collect payments.
You could also use Facebook Live to run classes on your business’s Facebook Group.
Tip #9: Start a side hustle to supplement your business
Using some of the tips above, create a side hustle to sell your knowledge to prospective customers. If you’re a personal trainer, create a membership site sell virtual coaching sessions, if you’re a chef, sell cooking lessons or recipes. Write and sell eBooks related to your field or create an Etsy account if you sell home-made goods.
Tip #10: Stay positive
Remember, everyone is facing different challenges and hardships during this time, and you should ensure that your communications with your customers remain positive. A positive attitude goes a long way in helping people overcome hardship. Don’t just post content related to overcoming COVID-19, post photos of your pets pestering you endlessly as you try to work from home. Share feel-good stories of how people in your community are helping one another or tips on how to stave off cabin fever during the quarantine. It’s okay to have some levity mixed in with the informational content.
In addition to tips, we have gathered some links to resources that companies are offering for free or reduced rates to businesses and individuals affected by COVID-19.
Small Business Administration Loans: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering low-interest disaster loans of up to $2 million for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. The loans can be used to pay debts and cover payroll and other bills. Some states, such as Florida, have also set up their own small-business loan programs. Go to your state government’s website to see if your state is offering loan programs.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that individuals and many small businesses will have until July 15 to pay the income tax they owe up to $1 million.
Facebook has announced a $100 million grant for small businesses affected by the virus. They have also launched the Business Resource Hub, which features recommendations to help small businesses stay connected to customers and stay on track.
Google has pledged to donate $800 million for COVID-19 relief, which includes efforts to help small and medium-sized businesses gain access to capital.
Website and Social Media Creation Resources:
GoDaddy is giving away free tools to help small businesses open or stay open during the epidemic and to help lessen the economic impact. They are offering three months of free marketing tools, one month of free access to Over and a social-media design app available for iOS and Android smartphones.
Adobe is allowing its educational customers to request free home access for students and teachers to its Creative Cloud suite of tools. This will be available through May 31. Adobe has also made its webconferencing service, Adobe Connect, free for schools, businesses and government agencies on 90-day licenses that can run until July 1. The company has also pulled together a useful collection of content on distance learning here.
Through July 1, Hootsuite is offering free access to its professional product for nonprofits and small businesses most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, who can use it to engage with their audiences and manage crisis communications.
Panopto Cloud, which can be used by executives, teachers and others to record and distribute video content, is letting new users have the service for free for three months and won’t cap the amount of material that can be captured and streamed.
Kabbage has launched an online hub to help boost sales for U.S small businesses impacted by COVID-19, including a system through which businesses can sell gift cards to consumers for use at a later date.
Shopify, the e-commerce platform, is offering an extended 90-day trial for new customers. For those of you currently on a 14-day trial, you can extend it at no charge to 90 days.
Email on Acid
Email on Acid is providing complimentary subscriptions to individuals and organizations that are directly involved in the severely impacted industries. It’s important that these organizations continue delivering email perfection to their subscribers. These accounts will also have unlimited access to the company’s fully automated pre-deployment checklist (Campaign Precheck), which includes checks for ADA compliance, domain blacklist and spam testing, and its email rendering application. Unlimited add-on seats will also be provided to enable more efficient collaboration between teams that now work remotely.
MailChimp’s platform is used by marketers to distribute e-mail newsletters and other online promotions. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the company is offering free accounts for its more feature-rich service to local governments, schools, healthcare providers, nonprofits and other organizations that need to communicate critical health information about the disease. Existing customers who fall into these categories will not be billed during this period and those who are on MailChimp’s free or basic plans will be upgraded to the standard one at no cost.
Salesforce is providing free access to its Health Cloud service for response teams, call centers and care-management groups for health systems impacted by COVID-19. It is also making the basic service of its Quip team collaboration software available for any Salesforce customer or nonprofit through September 30.
Moz, the SEO software company, is offering free access to more than a dozen of its Moz Academy SEO courses through May 31, covering everything from keyword research to backlink basics and more.
Working from Home Resources:
Microsoft has made its Teams video conferencing solution available for free for six months.
Appian has made an application that can help manage the health and safety of employees free of charge to its customers and to any organization with over 1,000 employees.
All existing Blackline customers who don’t already have it can get access to the company’s task and reporting software free for the next six months.
Box has made the business edition of its service, which offers things such as unlimited storage and data-loss protection, available for free for 90 days according to a tweet by the company’s CEO, Aaron Levie.
Team-communication platform Slack is offering free upgrades to paid plans for organizations working on coronavirus research, response or mitigation, as well as to local media organizations and scientific publications covering these areas. The company has also removed the 250-user cap on its Standard Plan service for all nonprofits for three months.
Videoconferencing company Zoom is offering resources on how to navigate working from home in addition to lifting the 40-minute meeting limit on free Basic accounts for schools worldwide.
LinkedIn has made 16 LinkedIn Learning courses available for free, including tips on how to stay productive, build relationships when you’re not face-to-face, use virtual meeting tools, and balance family and work in a healthy way.
General Business Resources:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put together this customizable flyer that small businesses can use to communicate their coronavirus efforts to their customers. You can find the flyer here.
You can also connect with your local Chamber of Commerce to see what local programs are being implemented and connect with other business owners in your area. You can find your local Chamber of Commerce here.
Forbes has put together an extensive list of free software available to schools or businesses affected by COVID-19 shutdowns and also a list of funding, grants and resources available to small businesses.
Inc. has also put together a list of free marketing, creative and web tools available to small businesses.
Kangaroo wants to support business owners who are unable to be physically present at their offices: The security startup is offering free (for three months) security camera and monitoring kits.
1Password is offering its 1Password Business service free to small-business owners for six months, so your remote team can securely share passwords and create custom groups, vaults and permissions.
Headspace is offering a variety of guided meditations and exercises (including new ones) for free to all businesses and their employees.
DoYogaWithMe is offering two months of free access to its premium content.
Though fantasy novels, nerdy movies and her Etsy shop are passions of Gabby Althoff, her primary focus has been producing engaging, brand–centric marketing design. In a return to her hometown of Billings, she joined Kinetic in June 2019 as a designer. She had been in Bozeman for five years before that as a designer and social media specialist for Cat® Workwear.Read more about Gabby