By Jason Eisenberg Community Program Manager for Office Depot
Life is full of uncertainties and it can go double for a business owner, so when the spread of Covid-19 became a global pandemic, business owners – large and small – have been faced with unprecedented challenges in keeping their customers happy, employees working (safely) and doors open for as long as they responsibly can. If you take a look on social media – one of the last places everyone can still interact with each other – you’ll find thousands upon thousands of small business owners who are trying to do right by their employees, their customers and themselves. But in such uncertain circumstances, everyone has questions.
Luckily, there are many experts out there (from notable giants like Mark Cuban, Gary Vaynerchuck and Winnie Sun to the experts we’ve had on #DepotBizChats like Brittany Krystle and Paul O’Brien, who have taken to social media to offer their expertise and help answer business questions during this difficult time. Here is a curation of the most common questions from businesses during this unprecedented time.
How do I take care of my employees? What is the biggest issue with laying off?
Harvard Business Review emphasizes the importance of transparency in this situation. By communicating what is happening from the business’ perspective and ‘sharing the pain’ (meaning you are sacrificing just like your employees). One suggestion is to consider a 3 or 4-day work week or cut hours. Because you’ve shared with your employees that you are trying everything to prevent layoffs, they can be more likely to take half hours or even unpaid leave knowing it saves their job in the long run.
To answer the second question, Mark Cuban puts it very simply:
How do I continue to charge my customers for services when I know spending is likely not their priority right now?
For something like an auto repair shop, Mark Cuban really focuses on the fact that if everyone is avoiding the cost of repair for 2-4 months, then when this passes EVERYONE is going to get their repairs done. Lock down those customers now! Offer gift cards or certificates for when things begin to normalize or if your business allows for it – offer the “virtual version” of your product or service.
To address the immediate need for customers or if you have a subscription model, you may need to offer a little extra value if your primary service or product is hindered in any way. For example, I climb at an indoor rock gym, which is temporarily shut down. Instead of refunding everyone, they are adding a month to our membership for every month they are closed. Some gyms even refund the money, but it depends on your situation.
I have a service-based business where people come in – i.e; salon, restaurant, dog groomer, etc. how do I keep my customers?
It’s time to get creative. The comment on LinkedIn highlights local salons creating DIY hair coloring kits for home with instructions to boot. You could also have your video instructions on your social media pages, essentially teaching everyone how to color, style or dare I say, cut their hair with your DIY products. Are you a restaurant? You could use Facebook Messenger or one of the many available apps for delivery AND create a makeshift drive-thru for orders your business can take in advance – be sure to use clear signage for your customers so they know what to expect.
A lot of media creators will be needing work soon, so capitalize on the time you have to create some truly valuable content when everyone is at home on their favorite social media platform.
How do I handle B2B right now?
If you’re in B2B, you can answer questions online for other business owners who are in the same position as you. This is the perfect time to own a corner of your industry by stepping up and helping not only yourself, but humankind.
Also, help them through this period so they can count on you for the Great Opening when this situation stabilizes.
The Common Thread:
While businesses and situations vary, there is a common thread that brings all businesses together in a crisis: helping each other and thinking outside the box to solve for the new normal. Ask yourself, what is needed right now in our society and how can my business help address that need? And then ask, who (or what businesses) can I work with to meet a common goal?
Google is donating $800 million in coronavirus support, which includes $340m in Google ad credits for small and mid-sized businesses.
Facebook offered a $100 million in grants and ad credits for small businesses earlier this month. They also just announced another $100 million that will be directed towards both local and international news media outlets.
Three local eateries in Austin, TX (Contigo, Tiny Pies, Lick) joined forces to create a full family dinner to deliver for their customers – they are lifting each other up (and the videographer got a project out of it too!)
Despite these uncertain times, businesses and communities are coming together to help support each other in socially distant and innovative ways. If you have any questions or would like to help others with your insight, check out our Facebook group for businesses where you can find answers to your business questions from real business owners.
About the Author Jason Eisenberg is the Community Program Manager for Office Depot, specializing in small business and entrepreneurship. Based out of one of the most exciting cities for startups – Austin, TX – Jason is plugged into the business community, often connecting with thought leaders, entrepreneurs and strategists to help identify and find solutions to common pain points all business owners share.
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All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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