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How to Pivot Your Service-based Business for the COVID-19 Coronavirus

While it might seem obvious that manufacturers are being called to assist in the battle against COVID-19, service businesses also have a critical role to play. Some service businesses may also find they need to change-up their services, i.e. pivot to fulfill the needs in the market. If you own a service-based business, there are many ways you can make adjustments to match the needs in the current “Coronavirus economy” and deal more effectively with the difficult situation we all now face.

  1. Going Virtual.  If you operate a restaurant, fitness gym or similar business, there are many things you can do to continue operating – providing all caution is used for those delivering or preparing the services.
    • Stream the Experience. Has your fitness, yoga or dance studio closed?  Offer modified live classes online; people will still need the exercise and health, but be sure to account for smaller spaces at home, and minimal equipment.  Schedule these as you would any in-studio class so that you’re giving people the opportunity to make their lives feel more normal.  In addition, you can post recordings of the classes so that people can participate at their leisure. 
    • Consult Online. If you’re a consultant, professional or expert of some kind, you should be able to offer your expertise through telephone, email and web conferencing tools.  A few other things come to mind: If you’re an event planner, consider learning how to host virtual events, since the ticketing, talent coordination and experiential aspects still apply, and yet could be recreated virtually.
    • Communicate that you’re open on a virtual basis. Tell people on your website and social channels that you are open and available virtually, so they know you’re not closed for business.
  2. Packaging an Experience. People will miss you when they can’t attend your venue, so consider ways to bring the experience to them.
    • Restaurant or Café forced to close?  Restaurants can be made into take-out services, delivery services, or even more innovatively, meal kits with directions, like Coco Brooks Pizza!  Perhaps some of your servers can become delivery people (check for commercial car insurance regulations first) if they can drive, and still be able to earn a few tips. Another option is to consider a signature item supplied to grocery stores or through online retailers – e.g. do you make really great home-made yam chips or have your own secret sauce?  Look into producing and packaging these. Attach your well-known restaurant brand to encourage local purchases, and get them into local stores who have e-commerce capability, and are supporting local businesses.
    • Your theatre or venue forced to shut?  Offer gift cards, signature snacks or related items (e.g. branded sports merchandise) through other channels, much like a restaurant would.   If permissible and safe, consider setting up live streaming of events inside your venue and delivering an “entertainment kit” of snacks and products to be delivered to people’s homes.  For example, if your venue is a movie theatre, consider a “movie night kit” with real cinema popcorn and snacks, delivered to the door.  If you have a signature item you usually sell in your venue like real corn dogs, these could be offered to cook at home or hot.  The idea is to build an experience that feels like the venue, and package it to sell as a “phone-in to order” or with e-commerce.  Promote through your social channels or write a news release to send out about it.
  3. Create a product from a service. Do you have a hair salon, nail studio or other high-touch business?  These physical-contact businesses are going to be tougher to modify.  But what about doing everything “up to” the contact part?  If you dye hair, could you create tailored at-home dye kits in your customers’ shades, and provide supplies by delivery with application instructions? It might not be perfect, but it will be better than nothing, and perhaps they will appreciate you more when restrictions are lifted! If you do fingernails, offer touch-up kits or a variation thereof with supplies, colour and instructions.  The key to doing this is to phone each of your customers and make them aware that you’ve put these things together specifically for their needs. Some revenue beats none, and preserving relationships with your customers will be important.
  4. Capitalize on Creative Services.  Creative offerings are important morale boosters right now.  I was impressed to see Dave Whamond, an illustrator, offering free downloadable kids colouring sheets! Musicians and some live-music venues (check out the Station Inn in Nashville) are doing online performances and taking donations for bands and the venue. Photographers can still carry out studio work if they can’t go on site.  Here is the basic idea of how to keep creating:
    • Exploit your archives.  Businesses all over the world are going to be in a huge rush sell online and advertise.  All of these sites will need visual elements like design and/or illustration.  If you are a creator, go into your archives of past work and post it to your own e-commerce site, or offer it to stock imagery or audio sites. Post samples of your work to your social media pages too.  Tag companies you believe will be interested in your work.  
    • Pivot your style. Could you do another kind of photography (commercial products) instead of weddings, for example?  Could you offer live illustration to accompany online conferences? Or if you’re a musician or artist, could you offer private or group lessons online?  There are also sites like Udemy and Fiverr where creative talents can sell their services (and likely some public service type communications – see the government procurement listings at the end of this blog).
  5. Share Your Technical Skills.  If you have technical skills (in addition to likely having consulting capabilities), you may also have some specialized equipment or software.  Consider whether it can be employed in other ways.  For example:
    • Loaning Tools and Equipment. Allowing for sanitation procedures, your tools and equipment may be vital and in demand.  Post your skills and equipment to social media groups in your community (e.g. community Facebook page) and/or promote it through sites like Kijiji, and watch to see what people are looking for. Or contact businesses who may be in need and offer your services.
    • Pickup and Drop Off.  Another alternative to face to face services is having people drop off things that need repairing instead of your going to their homes, ensuring sanitation procedures are strictly followed.  Some of the things you used to do for free could become new services (e.g. you’re an IT company that fixes printers for free sometimes…maybe that’s a new service for companies operating from home?). This can also work for retail stores that have closed, if they have a service or repair component to their businesses. This might be the one aspect they can continue to do through a drop-off service.
  6. Lean-Down. Do you have more than you need?  Consider each asset you own, and ask whether it is truly adding value to the bottom line, or if it’s extraneous. Have leftover laptops now that you’ve laid off staff?  There are people working at home who will need those now, as many computer stores are closed. Have extra office furniture? Sell it – home offices are going to need furnishings right now.  Have extra office space, or even parking spaces?  Sublet, sell or renegotiate your lease, or re-work it to handle your new “drop-off and repair/service” business.
  7. Real Estate or Hotel Space.  We are very happy to see that hotels are looking to let out additional space to people who are homeless, or those who need to be isolated.  Hotels can certainly become a part of the Coronavirus solution instead of closing up altogether.  We encourage hotels to see the procurement links at the end of this blog if they do not know where to access these opportunities in the public sector.  Food and beverage offerings can consider our recommendations to restaurants; using cook-at-home meal kits, hot meals, or signature items properly packaged and sold as products.  There are many hotelier-specific blogs online to assist you through COVID-19; we encourage you to consult them.
  8. Support related businesses.  As a service business owner, you no doubt have a network of vendors and customers you’ve worked with over the years.  You may have an office supply vendor, or a food vendor, or an IT supplier, or you have customers who are businesses or facilities.  Some of these will have current spikes in demand, and be in need of extra hands.  If your business has had to completely close, and you need work, look to those businesses close to you, to see if you or your staff can assist them in any way, virtually if possible, through roles that capitalize on your expertise.
  9. Try Looking for Public Sector Gigs. During the COVID-19 crisis you may already be offering something that is capable of helping your community (delivery, transportation, etc). If so, this means there is also the option of looking domestically and globally for public procurement requests. In other words, governments aren’t just seeking products, they also need services.  The following services are currently being procured on Government of Canada and World Health Organization Websites:
  • Guard / security services
  • Nursing services
  • Food services
  • Laundry services
  • Accommodation maintenance services
  • Personal services*
  • Transportation
  • International and Local Consultants
  • Facilities Rental / Leasing/Maintenance
  • Conference Organizing
  • Printing, Publishing and Bookbinding Services
  • Cargo Transport, Warehousing and Storage
  • Project Management
  • IT Services
  • Evaluation Services
  • Technical research activities
  • Translation, Editorial, Proofreading services
  • Medical services
  • National immunization campaign
  • Training and Development

If all the above doesn’t work, there are still two more things you can do, that while not necessarily making you money, will make a difference in the long run:

  • Catch up on Professional Development. If you’re in a service business that is difficult to operate without contact (e.g. you’re a realtor), you may want to look at the time as a gift.  All the times you said, “I don’t have time to learn about social media, post blogs, or write my book” are now a completely different story.  Dive in and master some of these things so that when the market turns around, you’ll be a level ahead of where you are today.  We specifically recommend boosting your expertise on using e-commerce effectively, as everyone is in the same boat with this crisis, and those who do it better will still be making deals! (Who is making even more money now? Amazon – but most people would rather support a local business, if that business made its offering available online somehow!)
  • Just plain help. Help your neighbours get groceries, pick up prescriptions, and spread your talents any way you can; just keep yourself useful and busy. At least if you cannot make money right now, you will be making friends, and contributing. Which can also pay off when searching for a career or restarting a business down the road.

Before we go, here are some more useful links for service-based businesses interested in pursuing the public-procurement route. If you need any further assistance or ideas, we are offering free virtual consultations to help businesses being hammered by the Coronavirus. Just contact us today!

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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."