Put all the stories and jokes about toilet paper hoarders aside, fear is our enemy in this situation.
The coronavirus has created intense situations where many businesses, chamber professionals and individuals are faced with tough and costly decisions.
Billions of dollars are being lost as events are canceled and businesses are reeling. Some people are self-quarantining. Schools are canceled or going virtual. Parents are worried about balancing their job and child care needs.
Chamber pros across the country are reaching out to one another to try to figure their best chamber pandemic response. They want to balance caution with economic stability.
It’s a difficult time for everyone.
But if you’re like most people, sitting back and watching the news is disheartening. We’re all waiting to find out what the worst-case scenario is. Are we being overprotective or are we on the verge of experiencing an unprecedented situation that’s getting worse?
Either way, it’s difficult to just sit around and think about it. Most chamber professionals are doers so let’s start looking at ways we can be an inspiration, connector, and assistant in the communities we serve.
In addition to the calls to wash our hands and avoid handshakes, the next logical step in our chamber pandemic response is to look into creating action plans for helping our communities avoid the worst of it and begin to heal.
In addition to providing good information, one of the earliest ways to begin to help member businesses recover is by mitigating the impact to their business to begin with.
That means quelling fears.
And what are people afraid of when it comes to buying? Illness and contamination, of course.
Help spread messages of what your members are doing as far as:
- Cleanliness practices including things like wiping down surfaces between customers, sanitizing tableware, waiting practices, etc.
- Take out and delivery services
- Limiting access to certain attractions
- Crowd control, etc.
If people feel more secure in their interactions and feel like their health is a top priority, they will continue to patronize businesses until told otherwise.
Most people are social. Long-term quarantining is difficult on one’s mental health. But you don’t want people to feel like their physical health is at risk either. Share the messaging that is occurring and be a resource for business owners. Which brings us to…
Help Them with Messaging
A lot of business owners are frightened.
This means that they may want to ignore the situation. I know several businesses that want to keep posting to social media as if none of this is happening. While you don’t want your community businesses to act like the sky is falling, you also don’t want them ignoring the situation either.
Whenever possible, encourage them to post about their solution.
(Here are 7 types of stories your chamber should be telling now and in preparation for the economic recovery.)
What are they doing to put safety first? They’re likely doing something. For instance, buffet restaurants may decide to pull staff to serve food from behind the buffet instead of allowing guests to help themselves, businesses may switch to call-ahead waiting so people aren’t congregated in a small space, restaurants may use plastic, disposable flatware instead of metal ones.
Whatever they’re doing, encourage businesses to be transparent and not pretend this is business as usual.
Make Suggestions That Support Business
There are many suggestions you can make to the community to help allay fears and support business.
At the time of this writing, these are still considered safe practices but continue to monitor the situation before sharing them. Some of the things you might suggest to those who want to be safe but still maintain some semblance of normalcy is:
- Dining at a table instead of a bar. There’s less turnover at a table than a bar so a table is likely a better choice if you’re going out.
- Patronizing businesses at off-hours can mean fewer patrons and less exposure to the virus. Jonesing for a latte? Suggest people stagger the time they pick up their usual beverage to avoid the crowd.
- Supporting businesses virtually. Some businesses offer virtual ways to buy from them. Maybe you can order a CD of your favorite local performer since their shows have likely been canceled.
Provide Business Continuity
If possible, staffing your chamber office and maintaining a presence is good for travelers and businesses (if your office gets a lot of foot traffic) to see someone present.
However, response is what’s most important here. If you are concerned about health and safety of your staff and want to work remotely, make sure you are available for social media comments, messages, phone calls, and emails. Being able to get in touch with someone trumps actual physical presence.
Community leadership and working with your board members may get more difficult before it gets better but keep supporting the idea of working together and supporting one another while practicing transparency. Your chamber pandemic response will set the tone for now and the future.
Help with Stress
You (will) likely have stressed-out people in your community. You may even be one of them. While it’s not your job to be a therapist to them, you can provide them with some needed distraction and something entertaining.
While you want to avoid making light of the pain and loss that people may be suffering, there are inspiring and funny stories to tell. Sharing pictures of baby animals is also a big winner on social media peppered in between your serious messaging.
While big events are out, you might be able to put together more intimate gatherings at member businesses for a quick coffee discussion depending on the impact on your area. This type of activity helps people get out, mitigates some of their stress, helps the business owner feel a little less stress by providing a few customers, and can help you all feel more normal.
Know That People Will Have Time on Their Hands
When my kids’ school was canceled, I lamented that they better give them school work or I would. And guess what? They did. Their school, like so many, is going virtual for as long as they have to in order to ensure everyone’s safety.
It’s unclear at the moment of this writing whether we will be quarantined or not but it’s safe to say, people will be going out less regardless of whether it’s mandatory or not. For this reason, you may want to consider some virtual programming.
Maybe you’re not ready to put together a full-blown virtual lunch-and-learn session but you can easily pull together a discussion for business owners on topics of interest. It needn’t all be virus-related.
Assuming they’re feeling up to it, now is the perfect time to take some of that unplanned time out of the office for professional development.
Moving Past Corona and Toward Recovery
Again, there’s a lot of work to be done on the healthcare side, the preparation side, and the prophylactic side but if you’re like me, you’re already trying to think of a way to make things better for after we’ve weathered the storm.
That sort of planning can make everyone feel a little bit more in control of the situation. That is not to take away from what is currently going on. But keeping an eye–and a mind–on how we’ll all recover as a community can be good for the mental health of everyone.
Chamber Pandemic Response: Post-Recovery
Here are a few things you can be thinking about that your community will need after the “storm” has passed:
It’s difficult to know right now just how impacted your community will be.
Most communities have already started to feel the economic pressure. After listening to President Trump and his proposed stimulus packages, it’s likely the federal government will continue to be helping in some way after the worst of the virus passes. The extent to that is unknown at this writing.
Chambers are in an ideal situation to link government, nonprofits, and businesses. The Small Business Administration will be offering some low-interest loans and the President mentioned deferred tax payments in his address.
Brush up on the details of these programs and stay abreast of them as they change. Being able to provide solid information on the assistance available will be priceless to your community.
Share Unbiased, Reliable Information
There are so many people talking about the virus, that it is hard to know who has the best information. It seems like we’re hearing contradictory information every day.
While it may seem like a full-time job for someone at your chamber, sorting through this information and keeping your social media and website as up-to-date as possible, it truly is something your community needs right now and will need after the virus has subsided.
Don’t share biased or misleading info. If you editorialize the info you provide, it should be done through the lens of business. Sorting through all of the information to find out what is important to businesses in your community is critical for your members.
You’ll want to be aware of trends (such as the March 2021 Washington post op ed on the idea of “immunity nights” – here’s some ideas on responding to that for chambers).
When things get a little better, and people begin to venture outside more again, you can begin instituting some of the following activities to help the local economy:
Host Cash Mobs
Bring small groups to individual businesses with a variation on “cash mobs” or “lunch mobs” by calling them “Mini-Mobs” to emphasize that they are small gatherings.
It may be that they will be limited in size due to people self-quarantining. Or, you might set a limit for the size. If you get a lot of demand, put them on a list for the next one or schedule a second “mini-mob” for the next day.
You’ve undoubtedly heard of a bar crawl but you can host one for any type of business that’s in walking distance of one another. You can host a “moveable feast” where you have a different course at each business or create a brand-new type of crawl like a pampering crawl that brings together the services of several different types of health and beauty practitioners for a different service at each location.
Get the Info Out There
As the voice of business, it will be up to you to be the loudest voice for supporting business and encouraging future spending. Continue to build your social media channels and messaging and craft your chamber pandemic response carefully.
A lot of chambers may turn to virtual programming and looking at membership in different ways. Advocacy will likely take on a much larger role for everyone as you’ll need to speak to legislators and those with the power of the purse strings to help your members in the future.
In the meantime, keep exchanging information with one another. The Chamber of Commerce Professional’s Facebook Group is ripe with good ideas and honest conversations on this topic.
In addition to other articles on the coronavirus and your chamber, we’re providing a regular forum in the Facebook group where you can discuss and share strategies with other chamber pros.
It’s so difficult to know exactly how long we will be impacted and to what extent. Most economists are predicting a sizeable economic impact in the months (years?) to come. Chambers are going to play a strong role in communicating that our communities are open for business.