Bounce Back Your Local Business With Digital
Covid-19 has impacted us all in one way or another – but if you’re entering the easing of lockdown with your health intact, the next thing you might be concerned about is your business.
Across Britain, everyone from dog walkers to personal trainers and bakers to bar-owners have been struggling because social distancing means they’ve had to close their premises and stop trading. Now the time has come to re-open, adapting them to the ‘new normal’ feels like a complete conundrum.
However, digital tech can offer some sort of light at the end of the tunnel for many businesses – even some of those for whom anything but a physical premises business model feels fanciful.
Let’s take a gander at some of the ways digital might help your local business bounce back.
If you currently have no digital presence whatsoever, you might understandably think that shelling out for a website right now isn’t realistic – cashflow might be tight and the thought of spending time coordinating it could feel overwhelming.
But you can actually get online in a few minutes for free – claiming a Google My Business (GMB) listing is completely gratis, you don’t need a website to do it and you can upload your business opening hours, phone number and attractive pictures.
To really climb the Google rankings and pop up regularly in front of customers who want your goods and services, you’ll eventually need a site that’s optimised for mobile and tweaked for SEO, but GMB is still a great way to stake your claim to a part of Google’s powerful digital real estate – and since it’s free, what have you got to lose?
Once you’ve got your GMB listing (or if you already have one) there are a few housekeeping and optimisation tasks to take care of so that it’s promoting your business in its best light:
- Google is currently placing warnings on all profiles that because of Covid-19, business operating hours may not be accurate. You can overcome this by adding special business hours at the bottom of your profile. Just click the pencil icon next to the existing hours to amend swiftly and customers will know that you’re definitely there to help them.
- Regularly check for new GMB features that Google will continue to implement throughout the pandemic and amend your profile accordingly. These changes are designed to help you navigate the crisis but you have to be proactive to pay attention to prompts and take the appropriate action.
- Update your menu and product listings to reflect your current offering – for instance if you’re a takeaway business offering the mother of all munchy boxes, make sure that potential customers know all about your latest lip-smacking menu. As well as updating your copy, add enticing new photos too.
- You should use GMB posts to introduce new offers, information and service updates to your customers – these last for 14 days and include an eye-popping photo. Google has also been enabling businesses to publish specific Covid-19 posts – these don’t include a photo and are text-only, but the evidence so far is that they remain for longer than regular posts and also appear in organic search engine results.
Funding and Finance
Your next step is probably seeing how you can save and raise money in order to consolidate your current position, build a website and migrate as many of your physical services to digital as possible.
You might already be accessing timely funds like the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, but there are many other regular sources you might be able to tap into in the longer term too.
For instance, you can apply for expert advice up to the value of £5000 through Innovate UK, apply for the Regional Growth Fund or receive up to £150,000 through the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS).
There’s also a wide selection of grants and funding available through government agencies at regional and local level – you can search for relevant financial support here.
Building Your Website
Once you’ve secured some finance, your next move is probably investing in a decent website that looks fantastic, is easy for customers to use, is reasonably simple to maintain and is optimised for SEO and mobile use.
This doesn’t have to be as expensive as it sounds, but when it comes to websites, it’s generally best to get the best you can afford first time – the expense of having to migrate all of your content to a new site a few years down the line because you original site can’t cope with new business demands can easily eclipse the cost of investing a little more in a futureproof site to begin with.
A basic five page website is probably sufficient to get you started, but you can seek advice on the right platform – for instance WordPress is pretty easy to maintain yourself and countless plugins mean it’s pretty easy to adapt whenever necessary, but if you’re focusing on selling directly, perhaps a dedicated eCommerce site like WooCommerce is preferable.
Depending on the nature of your business, a prominent and simple online booking form could be a good idea. You’ll also need the right type of SEO content to make Google and customers love it, but more of that later.
Adapting Your Website For Covid-19 And Beyond
Some of the above changes also apply to your website, although provided you’ve got a flexible platform and savvy web design, you have a lot more leeway on how to make them entirely on your own terms. Here are a few changes you probably want to implement:
- Communicate all changes and updates straight away. This includes opening hours, and every new type of availability you are offering – like restricted use of physical premises, contactless payment, video consultations, call and collect, and no touch delivery.
- Let customers know about changes to product availability and the possibility of unexpected delays – this type of transparency builds and maintains trust at a time when it’s at a premium.
- Inform customers about extra precautions you’re taking with sanitation and safety – we can’t emphasise enough how absolutely vital reassuring customers is at this time. If you’re reopening a physical store for the first time in months, existing and new customers need to know that their health and wellbeing is paramount right now, and that you’re also taking care of your own staff.
- If you’ve been able to help a charity during the pandemic, or perhaps are continuing to do so, let customers know. You’ll need to get the tone right, but there’s no harm in letting people know in a non-judgemental way that when times are tough, you’ve not lost sight of the big picture in your community and society.
- Rejig your maps so that they show delivery radiuses, not just postcodes – unless you’re a postman, you might not be familiar with where the boundaries of certain postcodes are. However, a visual representation of a delivery radius lets customers instantly work out whether they can use your service.
If your website isn’t set up for eCommerce, now is definitely the time to consider including an online inventory of products and if possible, enabling online orders. Even if your physical premises are reopening on a restricted basis, the online sales facilitated by enabling ecommerce will mitigate against some of the decreased footfall you’ll inevitably encounter in the coming months. Several eCommerce platforms are available, but Shopify is one of the best – it’s used by over 800,000 businesses around the world.
Stick To Your SEO Guns
We know that you’ll be looking at all areas of your marketing efforts right now in order to make savings.
And while it might make sense to pause or even abandon campaigns that, for instance, are directing customers to physical premises that will remain closed for the foreseeable future, don’t completely abandon your organic search marketing efforts. Here’s why:
- As you know, effective SEO is a long game but it can be the firm foundation that your firm needs to navigate the new environment. If you ditch your SEO work entirely (whether onsite optimisation or building offsite links), you’ll disappear from results when customers need you most.
- By maintaining your pre-covid SEO levels as much as possible, you’ve got a higher baseline to bounce back from, meaning you can ramp up your efforts at just the right time.
We know it’s hard, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to SEO – stick to your guns and you’ll capture high-intent customers and maintain visibility while your competitors are having to start from scratch.
Create Content That Helps Customers Cope With New Challenges
You’ll need to adapt your content marketing too – here are a few ways to get started:
- Conduct a content audit to assess which of your assets have performed well and those which you can omit to make way for fresh content. Perhaps you can resurrect a piece of evergreen content that performed well historically, by upcycling it so that it’s more timely? Just be sure that the tone of this type of content has to be adapted for the current time – for instance, certain humorous metaphors or turns of phrase which were previously innocuous could be deemed as offensive.
- Check social media platforms, browse Reddit threads and dig deep on social listening tools like AnswerThePublic to develop a human-centred and data-led approach to developing new content. There’s nothing wrong with subtly promoting your products and services, but do this in a way that provides potential and existing customers with more value than ever.
- Listen to what your customers need and create content accordingly. This might mean sometimes diversifying your content to include topics that aren’t directly related to your offering, but address a pressing need in your community or clientele, or framing content that promotes your offering by directly addressing why and how it’s helpful to customers right now – spell out exactly how helpful your content is in the title and intro so your audience knows why they should spend their time engaging with it.
- Repurpose some of your content as eLearning materials and courses – if you’ve published a series of explainer videos or blogs promoting your offering, think about repurposing this content as a free eLearning course. Adapting the material won’t be onerous and customers benefit from educational material that’s commercially effective, expert and authoritative.
- Use your social media channels to keep two-way conversation channels open. Be sensitive when it comes to modulating the tone of your messaging and observe the conversational conventions of each channel, but let your contacts know you’re there for them and here to help – whether it’s with (a limited amount of) free advice and educational resources or products and services.
So here you have several ways that your local business can bounce back with digital marketing – choose those that suit your business best and they might help you weather the storm.