Every business is struggling now under the recommendations (and requirements) for people to stay home and not be in public gathering places, retail locations or restaurants and bars.
Here are 7 suggested activities for your social enterprise, to make good use of this time in order to strengthen your business in the future.
To be clear, it is clear that this is not business as usual. Money is tight. Priorities may be changing. Families are in varying degrees of crisis and need. Clients are scared. Entrepreneurs are doubting their futures. Beneficiaries are in greater need than ever. These following recommendations are not a magic solution—if only there was one—but try to take from this list some ideas that fit within your context.
Build customer relationships. Now is a good time to build relationships with your customers and stakeholders. We should do this at all times, of course, but when we can’t meet face to face, there is an unusual opportunity to reach out to get to know your customers better. Here are a few approaches to consider:
- Ask them how they are doing, and what your business can do to help them?
- Provide incentives for online shopping, pre-ordering, or referring a friend.
- Re-confirm the information you have about them (their preferred email, a new phone number, product preferences, etc)
- Invite them to answer a survey (or attend a video chat) to share what they value most about your products or services.
- Share with them a good news story about how their past support has provided something of value to a beneficiary of your social enterprise.
Be careful with the content of your outreach, however. Many of us have received emails from every company for which we have a loyalty card or an account telling us their policy on COVID. Frankly, everyone’s policy is the same (give or take) and these efforts at communication are very one-sided. Do I really care what my preferred car rental company’s policy is? Or how the opening hours of the local pharmacy are changing? If we wanted to know this (because we needed to rent a car or pick up a prescription)…we would simply visit their website, or ask them by phone.
Re-visit your business plan. Don’t revise it based upon the pandemic, simply take this time to go back to your original assumptions, do some analysis of how your targets have been met or not met in the last year(s), review the past effectiveness of your strategic marketing channels, etc. Of course, it might also be prudent to look at your risk management strategy (of course you had one in your business plan, right?) and maybe consider what you might include going forward now that you are in the middle of a risky business environment. (What are you learning that would inform your future resilience?). Write down you hypothesis based upon what you know. You can check back in a few months to confirm your assumptions as the market re-calibrates.
Offer your services. You are a social enterprise. You are therefore creating social value at a time when social value is most needed. If your service helps people, make it available. If your revenue helps to provide benefits to those in need, ask people to buy your product/service so that you can help more people (ie double down on communicating your social value proposition to clients). If you can afford to, give away your product/service/time to help others manage through the crisis. This is not about marketing, but about increasing your social impact (and that is what you are in business to do, right?). Oh, as a happy by-product, people will know more about your business, which may help future marketing, but for now, focus on creating social value.
Do (free) online promotions: This is the time to offer a webinar, or create valuable downloadable content, or host a zoom call of your key clients. It may seem counter intuitive if you are losing money to offer free online content, but remember that by offering up something that is at no cost, but can be of benefit to your audience can help with future sales, or at the least can demonstrate your social commitment while showcasing your expertise or product.
Create (or improve) that online storefront: Your “to do” list probably has included some reference to creating or strengthening your online sales capacity for some time. It is part of your business plan that you might not have got to yet. Well, today is the day. Start investing in the infrastructure to sell your products or services online. Create a virtual storefront. Set up a Paypal account. Ensure that you are able to fulfill online orders promptly and accurately. Link your online ordering system with your customer relationship management software (or your Excel spreadsheet, or your paper files…depending on the maturity of your office record keeping systems). This may cost you money to set up (at a time when money might be tight) but it is a necessary investment in future growth…and very likely will help you recover losses is this pandemic scare lasts for any length of time.
Limit your costs. This sounds obvious—and somewhat counterintuitive after some of the recommendations above—but wherever possible, reduce your variable costs and try to negotiate lower fixed costs (or defer them). Don’t keep your staff hired just to make a point if it is going to harm the long term sustainability of your business. (There are—so far—more cash benefits from government for individuals than there are for small businesses) Don’t place that huge supply order unless you absolutely need it to meet market demand. Negotiate better terms with your financial partners on outstanding loans. Ask for longer payment terms on outstanding invoices. (your clients may be asking you for the same if you are selling business to business)
Apply for relief. There are several programs and promotions being offered to support small businesses. These are changing each day, but research grants, low interest loans, tax breaks and other policies that may apply to your business.
Key Gov’t supports are summarized and linked here: (bookmark this link and check back frequently, as the programs keep changing as we learn more)
Check with your financial institution about Accessing interest free loans (up to $40K until Dec 2022) through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). Up to 25% of this loan is forgivable in certain conditions.
And a bonus one: (thank you for reading to the end!)
Look after yourself. Of course you are social distancing, or placing yourself in isolation if you are not feeling well. But remember to eat well, get moderate exercise, sleep, listen to your favorite music with your eyes closed, limit your intake of frenetic news updates…whatever you need to stay physically and emotionally healthy.
The restrictions on our lives and businesses, and the inevitable new landscape in the economy in the coming months will need us to remain positive, balanced, mindful and patient.
Don’t let the worry lead to a feeling of despair. Stay connected with friends, clients, beneficiaries, and family in whatever way you can to bolster your spirits and your resolve to remain in business for social improvement.
The effectiveness of your social enterprise will rely on your ability to remain committed, focused, and diligent in the months ahead.