The other day, a local small business owner gave me about a dozen reasons why he wasn’t re-opening his restaurant. Not one of the reasons had to do with health. He complained about costs, worried about being sued, was frustrated with the city, didn’t trust his customers, and on and on. I’m not sure his business is going to be here next year. There’s always a reason to do nothing, but if you want your small business to survive, doing nothing is not an option.
Communities around the country are slowly re-opening for business, and that means opportunities for your small business. But you need to be creative and step-up your marketing. And you have to do that soon.
Sure, your income took a bit hit because of the shut-down. And sure, the state of the economy is uncertain. But remember that a challenged economy also presents opportunities. A large share of Fortune 500 companies started in recessions. Why? Because customers—like you—look for new solutions and better value for their money. They’re more open to change. When times are tough, smart small business owners and managers discover opportunities among the obstacles.
During the shutdown and recent slow re-opening, I’ve seen a tale of two types of small businesses:
the “take charge” type. Examples:
- An eat-in paella restaurant. They kept their kitchen open for take-out but also got creative. They devised “make-it-yourself” at-home paella kits and pre-made cocktails in mason jars. They even sent their take-out paella home in a real paella pan. They didn’t say “what about the cost of our paella pans?” but instead came up with a solution: require a deposit. Business was so good that they’re going to build a second kitchen just for take-out.
- A local coffee house. Their business disappeared overnight. So, they started marketing heavily to their customers and through their app—selling and delivering groceries and specialty bakery items. They even put up huge banners in front of their locations. They now have a branded website just for those groceries and baked goods.
- A high-end Indian restaurant. When their city said they could take over parking spaces in front of their restaurant for outdoor dining as part of a summer pilot project, they quickly (overnight!) built an inexpensive platform, added inexpensive lights and moveable barriers, and were packed with customers within days.
the “it’s too expensive and too much trouble” type. Examples:
- An extremely popular café that didn’t offer take-out, gift cards, or any kind of pre-pay program to enable customers to buy from them during the shutdown. They still haven’t re-opened even though their town now allows outdoor dining, and they have a huge outdoor area which, even in good times, is their main dining area. Instead, they are forlornly running a “go-fund-me” program to try and survive.
- A small French restaurant that remained closed (no take-out) throughout the shutdown. Their town, too, has a summer pilot program allowing them to take over the parking spaces in front of their restaurant, but the owner won’t spend a dime unless they get a two-year commitment from the city first.
Of course, you can’t just make a change—you have to market, market, market. There’s a long-recognized rule: in down economies, companies that maintain (or even increase) their marketing emerge healthier than companies that cut back their marketing.
So now it’s time to increase your marketing, not cut back. Yes, I know that’s a tall order when your bank account may be low and every single penny counts. That means you need to find ways to market that are effective in achieving your goals while watching your bottom line like a hawk.
Today’s economic downturn is unique. The entire country, the entire world economy, was hit at the same time. Everyone knows that what happened to any individual business was no one business owner’s fault. That makes customers more understanding of your situation—and more willing to help you out by buying from you, especially if you’re offering something that is new and meets their current needs as well as how you served them in the past.
There’s always a reason to do nothing. But nothing isn’t going to help you revive, survive, and thrive in your small business.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2020
This article originally ran in USA Today on June 17, 2020