Across the country (and the world), COVID-19 is causing people to face increasing case numbers and proposed lockdowns. Some states are expanding lock downs.
Some cities are already embracing “2nd-round” restrictions and others are trying to figure out the right balance between safety and protecting business.
There are no perfect answers.
There is a lot of empathy and sympathy for the business community (including the chamber business community).
How will your communities’ businesses survive another lockdown?
What can the chamber do to help?
We are still right here with you and we’ve dug deep to create ideas on how you can help and what your chamber members need right now.
- Small business assistance.
They need your help getting the message out there to shop small. This includes franchise owners of brands as well. If they can’t make their numbers, they’ll have to close too. Social media messaging is important but infographics, blog posts, the call to shop small added to your email signature, these are all things that can help remind people how much small business needs our help right now.
- A wake-up call to go digital.
At this point, everyone MUST have a website. If the business sells something that can be purchased online, they should have an online store or somewhere to purchase things online. At the very least, the business should have a menu or images of its offerings online. People are online. If the business isn’t, they’re missing out on sales. The chamber can host a webinar on popular online commerce plug-ins or details on different sites that businesses can sell through. Did you know that in addition to Amazon, people can sell on Walmart and BestBuy? Let your members know this!
Inspiration won’t save the business but it can keep them dig deep and push through. We know you’re tired too, but whenever possible, tell success stories. Spread the good news. Connect them with others who struggled and overcame.
- A voice.
A lot of communities are wondering if they should begin rolling back the openings or not. The hesitation for most is business. The chamber is ideally situated to be a voice for business. Tell city and county officials what your businesses are thinking and what their decisions mean for “Main Street.”
Create and/or share infographics like this one from the Florida SBDC.
- Good Word Ambassadors.
Reviews and likes on social media and the internet go a long way to help businesses. There are a lot of people out there who want to help small businesses but they’re on hard times too and can’t afford to spend a lot of money. You can help round up volunteers who are willing to write reviews for businesses they patronize. You can use the official chamber ambassadors or create a new group designated to help small businesses. There’s a lot you can do with a group like that and people can do it from home on their own schedule.
- A Facebook group.
If there isn’t one in existence, consider creating a Facebook group dedicated to business in your area. Ask owners to post specials, hours, ways to shop with them, etc. If you work to build this resource, it could become the place people check to find out the latest information about small businesses in your area.
- Grant money and funding.
Many businesses need money right now. The chamber staff and possibly board members are probably well-versed in the options out there. If not, it’s time to become so. Most likely there will be another round of funding at some point so you’ll want to follow what’s going on in Washington and locally. Also, don’t forget grants. There may be very specific opportunities for niche businesses/individuals to receive funding.
- Help with existing resources.
Facebook and Google are both large entities that have recently tried to help small businesses. Your members should have completed Google My Business listings as well as knowledge about Facebook for Business. You could host a webinar or record a video so that members know what’s out there.
- A new mentality.
There are still businesses out there without a website! Some use Facebook as their website but some have absolutely no internet footprint that they are in charge of. If we have any shelter in place orders in the future, these businesses will have a really hard time surviving. They need help being brought into the 21st century.
- The understanding that hybrid ideas work too.
Some businesses are afraid to go online. They don’t want to relinquish a brick-and-mortar presence and that’s perfectly fine. But they do need to be online in some way, especially if they have goods to sell. The other day I saw a store that sold hand-crafted jewelry. It was closed to the public and open by appointment only. That means they are shut off to that serendipitous foot traffic brick-and-mortar stores swear by. But they didn’t have an online option. So let’s say someone was walking by, saw a beautiful necklace in the window and wanted to buy it. The store isn’t open. They can schedule an appointment but jewelry is an emotional purchase. By the time the appointment comes around, the buyer may have thought better of it or maybe the buyer is only in town for the day. If the buyer was savvy enough, they could Google the shop or the shop could have a QR code on the window that would take them directly to the online store. But this store didn’t have a site with a commerce option. Their website simply said “Due to COVID, by appointment only.” How many of those types of sales can your members afford to miss out on? A hybrid solution of a brick and mortar and an online shop would attract impulsive and scheduled buyers, as well as those who want to go out and those who don’t.
- Gift cards.
Gift cards are an excellent way to get money coming in even before someone makes an actual purchase with the business. But they can be a pain to implement. If you have a connection that can help your businesses enroll in a gift card program, that could be very helpful to them. Some chambers have created local currency programs and they handle the implementation of the program. While this doesn’t give the business immediate access to funds the way a gift card does, it does entice people to keep their money local and might be a helpful asset to your community.
- Takeout campaign.
Restaurants are struggling. You can create a campaign around making it easy for people to order takeout. Whether it’s a list of restaurants on your website with hours and specials, something you post to social media, an infographic, or a weekly email of delicious specials, people like to eat out. If they’re not able to due to restrictions, help them find their favorites and order from them.
The Mason Deerfield Chamber created a Takeout Blitz event, leveraging the power of social media.
- Advice on taking on mega-retailers.
There are several reasons shoppers choose Amazon over the local store. One of them is delivery speed. Local options can likely compete on local delivery or pick-up but they need to communicate that. For instance, a buyer may wait until the last minute to make a purchasing decision and buy a gift. They know Amazon will get it to them in time for their occasion. They don’t know about a local store, unless that local store communicates their delivery abilities to them. If they don’t know, they’ll rarely ask. They will go with the known quantity here, Amazon. But if your member markets their delivery speeds and reliability, the purchaser may try it. Also, local businesses can also sell at many major online retailers. Selling on these sites would make a good webinar topic.
- Help flexing their creativity.
COVID calls for creative lengths for businesses. For instance, when salons were closed, some offered tailored DIY packages of color along with instructions and Facetime consultations. Service industries provide value and they do have a commodity to sell. They might just need a little help being creative. Research what other areas of the country across all industries are doing and share that with your members and community.
- Get the word out about small vs. shortages.
This past spring, mega-retailers had empty shelves and were sold out of basics like soap, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. That’s when the chamber could’ve jumped in and checked local supplies. Many artisanal soap makers had soap and natural sanitizers. People thought about the larger stores first but many local stores had inventory. Check with them and help them market their products, as needed.
- Support for local growers.
With restaurants in trouble, many local farms are also facing problems because their clients aren’t buying like they used to. Help these people amplify their voices. If they’re running specials, give them a shoutout. Share their content. Post about local farmer’s markets.
- Host a virtual bazaar.
Many holiday markets are in jeopardy this year because of the CDC’s guidelines on crowds. Instead, host a virtual bazaar or a drive-through event with contactless purchasing. These are fun ways to encourage people to buy locally.
This article on a drive-through back-to-school shopping event gives you some good ideas on how to set this up.
- Advice on newsletters.
Newsletters can be very important in moving inventory during COVID. Encourage members to build an email list and market to their customers from the comfort of their homes. Encourage them to start newsletters through a step-by-step, action-oriented webinar on newsletter 101.
- Show kindness.
Masks make it really hard to see a person’s face. Because of that, we may forget that the people we are dealing with are people. We tend to look away more often now. No one can see smiles. We need to do something to remedy that. Whenever possible, exhibit kindness in other ways. Be helpful. Anticipate needs before they’re voiced. Exhibiting kindness will not only make others feel good, but it will also give them something to emulate. And we could all use some of that right now.