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Entrepreneurs: It’s Time to Fight!

I just watched the National on CBC where they interviewed a woman whose husband owns a moving company. They were in extreme financial stress as her husband’s business had completely dried up from the Coronavirus COVID-19 situation, and they had no idea how they might pay their bills.  She said something along the lines of “There’s nothing we can do.”

Business owners, this is the economic ride of our lives.

We have two choices: Do or Die.

You might really feel overwhelmed, like this thing is totally beyond your control.  And while some of it is, there is always a part of it that is up to you.

Consider this:  The real business enemy here is a large, e-commerce enabled corporation, not COVID-19.  Why?  Because you are only going to lose about 5% of your customers to death from COVID-19.  The rest of your customers are BEING STOLEN by companies like Amazon, Wayfair, Ebay, Netflix and Superstore, who have their online game absolutely aced, and who are currently filling in where you might well have left off!

Now, I do believe that when the call went out to close non-essential businesses, the problem was that everyone closed completely, thinking that it would only be a few weeks. The problem was, businesses only needed to close their store floors!  They could have kept a lively revenue stream going  by phone and online.  And now, while it is difficult to re-open, it is still not too late to reboot within the pandemic guidelines. But businesses must adjust their messaging. 

Compare the opening message on the web pages of these two furniture stores:

A screen shot of a store

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A screenshot of a cell phone

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If you visited these two sites, you’d also notice that only the second business has all their pricing online and does e-commerce sales. This enables them to compete with Wayfair and others! Also stating that their staff is there to take phone calls also helps.  (And aren’t they clever to have home office furniture featured on their home page!)

Before you think this doesn’t apply to your kind of business, read on.

  • Restaurant or Café?  People with limited cooking skills and resources are going to be dying for better meals.  Get deliveries going: these can be prepared foods, or cook-at-home meals.  Get signature product items into grocery stores and other retailers.
  • Retail Store? Yes, you should have gone into e-commerce three years ago, but you can still scramble now…and then call all your customers to point them online.  Consider putting a complete inventory list online (even as a PDF) while you load up your online store. And of course, start offering new merchandise that aligns well with the at-home lifestyle.
  • Service Business?  Offer it online or modify it to fit your equipment.  A moving service can be doing deliveries for all the other businesses going online.  An experiential business can sell merchandise, or one-on-one’s with top people (how about buying an online coaching session with your favourite hockey player, or requesting a personal serenade from one your favourite local singers)?  Tattoo studio? Put your art on other cool merchandise and make an online store.  If you own a salon or spa, you could sell tailor-made hair colour, hair products or accessories. All of this can be done right from your home.
  • Manufacturing?  Most manufacturing businesses have equipment that can be adapted to a range of products.  It’s amazing to see breweries adapt to sell hand sanitizer!  See this blog for a list of ideas and public procurement sites.  The point is to look around you and find out what needs exist, are growing, and will continue despite COVID-19.
  • Stuck? Try something new.  Businesses are based on needs, and as those needs change, so too must the businesses.  Look around to see what people are needing right now.  There is a great tool called Google Trends – it’s free – and it will tell you what phrases are being searched for now (i.e. skyrocketing keyword searches!); …there are always things you can add to your product or service line, because as long as there are people, there are needs!

Moreover, I want you to ask yourself: What are you WILLING to do for your company?  Would you make a lot of cold calls? Modify the products you’re making?  Change the services to accommodate what people need now? Invest some of that overhead you’re saving from lay-offs into upgrading your e-commerce or marketing?  Spend all night inputting every single thing you can sell online into your new e-commerce site?  Would you do these things to SAVE your business from the COMPETITION?  Then you have a shot at survival.

Having had 20+ years in marketing strategy, I rarely see businesses push hard enough. Canada is easy street; we are used to certain favourable conditions, and when things get hard I hear, “I don’t like cold calling!” or “It’s not worth the risk to try that!”   But now is the time we need to show what we’re made of.  If it’s a skill you lack, any expert around will offer you help now, and likely for free, if you just ask. And with up to 20% – 30% unemployment, cheap labour, or even free labour, is everywhere right now. And remember, you can you can learn almost anything for free online!

Remember, your local neighbours don’t WANT to give all their business to these big players.  They want to shop with the good independent businesses that employ their cities and towns.   But if they can’t find what they need online, they will HAVE TO shop elsewhere.

So I ask you to please…

  • Contact all your customers. Start calling all your existing customers to figure out a way you can help them with their existing needs, but in a different way (online, pickup or delivery). Let them know you are still doing business in whatever way you are able to.
  • Get over your fear of cold calling. If there are businesses who can use your services, call them.  The moving company mentioned above could certainly be hunting down local delivery jobs from other businesses because everyone needs everything delivered nowadays –animal feed, fertilizer,  furniture, groceries, and hot meals.
  • Consider offering to pay laid-off staff on a performance basis.  Give them a per cent of what they can sell for you, and let them work at home.  If they want to see you survive, they’ll help make your success happen. I’ve seen staff work for free in companies they believe in, and that can make all the difference.  Give them each a territory and see what they can do to help.
  • Read our two previous blogs for ideas. Figure out how to turn your services or products into something you can continue making money with. And we’re offering free phone consultations now, so just call us if you need help.

Yes, the rules have changed, but the pandemic rules are the same for the bigger players as they are for your business. Those players are ahead, but you can pivot and change faster than they can. It’s time to take matters into your own hands and FIGHT for your customers. 

I look around at this incredible country, and this incredible lifestyle we all have; and for the most part, I see businesses paralyzed by fear.  But now is the time to act, not cower.

So, get busy. Do it from home. Do it in isolation. But please, FIGHT, dammit! Your country needs you!

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Jacqueline Drew
About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."