The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted nearly every business with mandated shutdowns, quarantines and the often-resulting revenue losses. Customers and employees feel as though they’re in perpetual work-from-home mode, and all the uncertainty and inactivity can really take a toll. However, there is a silver lining: All this unexpected downtime can actually be viewed as an opportunity to delve into myriad activities business owners don’t routinely have time for.
Now is the time to rethink, revitalize and even reinvent your business to best position yourself for success when the COVID-19 dust settles. To that end, here are ten things companies can do to maximize slack periods and prime their businesses for better times.
1. Amp up (or enter) the email game
Email is one of the most cost effective marketing channels available and boasts a formidable 122% ROI (more than four times that of social media and direct mail). For businesses that haven’t had time to establish an email marketing program, now is an excellent time to learn how. Mailchimp is an excellent email marketing service. They are free if you are just starting out and your database is under 2,000 contacts.
Businesses that haven’t invested in email marketing can use the quarantine to:
- Craft valuable email content that helps customers solve problems now, and post-quarantine
- Develop lead magnets such as whitepapers, eBooks and reports that drive email subscriptions
- Create strategic drip and lead nurturing email campaigns that foster trust, establish authority and ultimately lead to sales once the economy recovers
Companies that already invest in email marketing can use downtime to evaluate their strategies and identify opportunities for improvement, including:
- Review open rates, clicks and conversions to gain a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t
- Set up A/B split testing and compare results, which can maximize ROI
- Segment email lists based on customer interests and behaviors for more efficient email marketing
The daily hustle and bustle often make it difficult for businesses to focus on long-term email strategy. Now, companies have time to not only develop winning email campaigns, but also to plan them out several months into the future, so you’re poised to capitalize on the economic rebound.
2. Develop a new product or service
Many businesses maintain lists of potential opportunities, including new products and services they’ve identified to fill unique niches, boost revenue and increase market share. That makes now the perfect time to develop a new product or service to hit the post-quarantine market, even if sales are currently slumping.
Businesses should ask themselves:
- What opportunities have we identified but haven’t had time to implement?
- What new products and services can we add to beat our competitors?
- How can we improve existing products and services to better serve our customers?
- Are there any product or service tiers we can add to upsell or cross-sell?
- What will customers need once the quarantine has lifted? What problems will they have, and what problems are we uniquely positioned to solve?
- What will it take to bring a new product or service to market? What are our costs, unique selling propositions, price points, marketing strategies and projected ROIs?
- How can we prove business concepts before investing?
Whether a business is considering adding a service to keep up with competitors or inventing a new product that’s never hit the market, the quarantine could afford it the time it needs to develop a new, profitable revenue stream.
3. Improve business efficiency
Many businesses have been forced to take a deep dive into the numbers to maintain continuity and solvency. Unfortunately, that means businesses have also had to make tough decisions regarding employees, benefits and budgets – but it also presents an opportunity to improve business efficiency.
Businesses can take a hard look at the numbers to:
- Identify cost-saving insights that reduce overhead and maximize profits
- Cut wasteful spending and unnecessary services, then invest the savings in valuable employees and profitable activities such as marketing
- Develop new and improved budgets that help streamline post-quarantine operations
Financial efficiency isn’t the only thing businesses can tackle during slack periods. Opportunities also exist to:
- Clean up to-do lists: From implementing a new POS system to investigating different accounting firms, now is the time to check off long overdue tasks
- Organize everything: From reorganizing the floor plan to shaping up office files, businesses can prep for enhanced efficiency once the quarantine lifts
- Revisit process efficiencies: Identify current operational inefficiencies and develop improvement plans; investigate software that can streamline accounting, employee management, invoicing, sales and other business processes
Businesses that take the time to improve efficiency now will be prepared to hit the ground running and enhance profitability when the market rebounds.
4. Evaluate marketing strategy
Under normal circumstances, businesses operate full speed ahead. Even though they recognize the value of marketing analytics, it can be difficult to find the time to take a deep dive into marketing strategy.
Afforded that time, businesses should:
- Evaluate marketing metrics and identify what’s working and what isn’t
- Consider how marketing strategies will change post-quarantine
- Investigate new marketing channels that could yield significant sales: email, social media, on-site content, direct-mail and more
- Develop lead generation and nurturing campaigns designed to establish authority, foster trust and inspire customer confidence
- Audit websites and identify opportunities for improvement: strategic calls to action, email subscription forms, overall design and presentation, search engine optimization, mobile responsiveness and more
- Plan, develop and schedule social media posts for now and after the quarantine is lifted
- Examine online sales funnels to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies; in other words, discover where leads are dropping out of the funnel and craft strategies to recapture them
- Explore alternative benefits, audience segments and unique selling propositions to tailor messaging to a post-pandemic customer base
It’s important to consider not only how a shift in marketing strategy can benefit businesses today, but also how businesses can cater to customers once the pandemic ends.
5. Communicate with customers
Marketing isn’t the only type of communication businesses should focus on. Downtime presents an opportunity to participate in customer communities, ingrain companies in the conversation, and build relationships that will benefit businesses once things turn around.
- Join Facebook and other social media groups customers frequent
- Post on relevant forums and help customers solve problems (minus the marketing pitch)
- Reach out to current customers via personalized emails and phone calls to check on their well being and see if there is anything the business can do to help
It’s well established that outstanding customer service and helpful, customer-centric communications lead to word-of-mouth marketing; however, businesses do not always have the time and resources to commit to audience-driven communities and personalized communication. Slack periods grant businesses an opportunity to show customers how much they care. The effort will be appreciated and could pay huge dividends once the market normalizes.
6. Create content
Content marketing is one of the most powerful strategies for long-term success, yet many businesses struggle to find the time to craft invigorating, valuable content that inspires customers to act. Now, companies can get ahead by planning, developing and scheduling content for the post-quarantine months.
- Develop unique, insightful and optimized blog posts packed with information their customers yearn for and that help boost search rankings
- Create social media posts, photos and videos designed to earn likes, follows and messages
- Host online workshops that help customers solve their most pressing problems, participate in their favorite hobbies or learn new skills
- Generate lead magnets such as whitepapers, infographics, reports and eBooks that boost email subscriptions; then, follow up with lead nurturing email content
In addition to creating new content, businesses can work on optimizing their existing content. For example, they can:
- Identify opportunities to implement calls to action, lead magnets and email subscription forms in top performing blog posts
- Optimize blog posts that reside just off the first page of search results to help them make the leap to page one
- Consider ways to enhance existing content with updated information, quality resources, videos and other elements that add value and increase engagement
Content is king, and the current downtime presents an excellent opportunity for businesses to improve, enhance and optimize content for better long-term ROI.
7. Seek partnerships
Partnerships can be powerful business building tools. They introduce companies to new audiences, foster sales via trusted recommendations and boost revenues through special multi-product or service discounts.
Businesses that have downtime would be wise to investigate partnership opportunities, including:
- Joint venture discounts (for example, a florist could partner with a confectioner)
- Referral commission programs (for example, a siding company could get a referral fee if it refers customers to a trusted roofing company)
- Affiliate programs (for example, a blogger could get a commission if readers purchase a product they review)
- Influencer partnerships (for example, a company could compensate an influencer for mentioning their products)
Before committing to a partnership, businesses should take measures to ensure they:
- Partner with noncompeting companies that share the same audiences
- Thoroughly vet potential partners and their reputations
- Construct fair arrangements that benefit all partners as well as customers
A good partnership can rapidly introduce businesses to new audiences, establish instant credibility and increase sales – and slack periods present excellent opportunities to explore potential partnerships that can yield dividends once the quarantine is lifted.
8. Review documents
Businesses deal with a lot of documents, from employment applications and employee handbooks to legal documents such as contracts and insurance policies. Now is a good time to review documents for accuracy and to identify improvements.
Business can review:
- Employment applications to make sure they’re asking the most pertinent questions and collecting information needed to comply with regulations
- Employee handbooks to ensure all policies are up to date (and avoid common HR mistakes)
- Customer, contractor and employee contracts to ensure the terms are appropriate, acceptable and fall within company guidelines
- Tax documents to ensure proper business organization, filing procedures and accuracy
- Insurance documents to make sure policy changes haven’t left the business exposed to liabilities or unexpected costs
- Mandated documentation, such as labor law compliance posters, to satisfy legal obligations
It’s a good idea for businesses to consult experts when reviewing some documents. For example, contract reviews require the help of an attorney and an accountant can be invaluable for tax document reviews.
9. Audit providers
Now is also a good time for businesses to audit their providers to make sure they’re getting what they’re paying for as well as getting the best deal. Doing so can help companies shave unnecessary costs, enhance business efficiency and ultimately maximize ROI – especially if there are lingering issues with any providers.
Businesses can audit providers to identify whether they’re getting the best:
- Service and quality
- Price points and deals
- Delivery fees and schedules
- Accuracy and compliance
- Customer service and experience
- Technology capabilities
- Options for their needs
Focus areas include:
- Product vendors and suppliers
- Business and liability insurers
- Health insurance and benefits providers
- Attorneys and business consultants
- Accounting, payroll and HR management vendors
- Marketing and advertising partners
- Logistics partners (fulfillment, warehousing and shipping)
- IT service providers
- Ecommerce providers
- Receivables management, remote deposit capture and bill pay vendors
The goal is to determine whether business needs are being met or if better alternatives exist, then to see if favorable terms and pricing can be negotiated. Businesses that take the time to audit providers can identify overspends and inefficiencies as well as discover new options that can help them achieve greater success and boost ROI once the market rebounds.
This could be the right time to evolve for businesses that have been putting off a rebrand. Extra downtime allows businesses to devote resources to rebranding efforts, and it could also allow them to supply remote employees with productive work. Rebranding can take many shapes, from a complete top-to-bottom makeover to a packaging redesign for an under performing product.
Refresh and rebrand ideas include:
- Logo design
- Brand colors
- Retail packaging
- Website design
- App design
- Promotional products
- Unique selling proposition
- Customer focus
- Branded marketing collateral
- Mission statement and company values
A strategic rebrand can help companies reconnect with customers and reach new audience segments that bolster profitability. Rebranding at this time carries additional meaning, too, since it can coincide with the sense of rebirth many will feel post-pandemic.
Downtime doesn’t have to be dead time: Savvy businesses will identify ways to make the quarantine work to their advantage. Now is the time for businesses to rethink, revitalize and reinvent themselves so they’re positioned for success on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.