Virtual Communication Strategies to Overcome Various COVID Business Challenges

Virtual Communication Strategies to Overcome Various COVID Business Challenges

A few weeks ago, I surveyed a group of Central Pennsylvania business owners and professionals, representing a wide variety of industries and business models, as to what their biggest COVID-related businesses challenges are right now. I did this to help prepare for a virtual presentation I was creating for my business networking group that I’ve been a part of going on nine years now. Their answers to my Google poll were honest and candid – and they delivered a hard dose of reality. So many of my entrepreneurial peers are really struggling right now. Specifically as it relates to communications and marketing, they are at a loss as to how they can effectively shift to a virtual model while still providing the same services or products to their customers. And even if they can, their customers are hurting with some even going out of business completely.

How do can businesses remain relevant while ensuring their messaging is compassionate to what others might be experiencing right now? This was the question I aimed to answer.

After presenting to my networking group on the topic of “Virtual Communication Strategies to Overcome Various COVID Business Challenges” and receiving a lot of engagement and sparking interesting discussion, I realized this was too important of a topic to not share with a  bigger audience. So I’m sharing a blog version of my presentation with you today in hopes it can help even just one other business navigate the challenging and changing landscape we all face to some degree.

Foremost, I identified there were seven themes among businesses as to how the pandemic has impacted their bottom line and ability to function as they used to just a few, short months ago. Below you’ll find each one and a recommendation for how a business can shift its focus to improve its communication strategy. Which one most closely relates to what you’re experiencing right now?

“My business requires in-person interaction.”

This might represent your business’s main problem if you can relate to the following…

  • I sell goods which must be delivered.
  • I need to be in someone’s home or business to provide my services.
  • I provide personal services (i.e. hair dresser, chiropractor) that requires human touch.

What you can do right now…

  • Remind customers that they are supporting small business. Use this in your messaging on your website, on social media and in your email communications to customers. Thank them (preemptively) for their continued support, now more than ever.
  • Offer credit or gift cards for a future purchase. Maybe you can’t really service your customers like you did before, but things will return to normal. Promote gift cards or “store credit” your customers can purchase now to support you, and use later.
  • Run an offer or incentive to buy now and receive later. Much like the above point, combine this with a buy one, get one offer or 20% of gift cards purchased now. This makes an appealing deal for customers.

 “A large part of my business is dependent upon hosting/attending events.”

This might represent your business’s main problem if you can relate to the following…

  • I host in-home events or attend trade shows/community events to sell my goods or services.
  • I need to be able to visit businesses and interact with their employees.
  • I rely upon in-person business networking events to grow my business.

What you can do right now…

  • A phone call or hand written message goes a long way, now more than ever. We want to feel connected, but Zoom just isn’t cutting it. Go old fashioned and hand write a note to customers you think need to hear from you.
  • Return to existing or lapsed customers with whom you already have a connection. It’s time to dust off your Rolodex (does anyone still have those?) and reengage customers who have fallen off your radar. You have the time to finally dig into this.
  • You get out what you put into virtual networking events. Zoom calls are not everyone’s cup of tea, and they can feel like a waste of time if you don’t think they are as effective as face-to-face. But this is what we have right now and my advice is for you to jump in and make the most out of this new way of communicating. It may be an essential part of your business moving forward.

“My industry is “closed” or greatly limited in the scope of services it can provide.”

This might represent your business’s main problem if you can relate to the following…

  • My hands are tied as to the services I can provide right now.
  • I am not allowed to interact with customers in the way needed to conduct business.
  • Everything is on hold which will cause a big backlog in work.

What you can do right now…

  • Is a few dollars under the table worth risking your brand (or license)? Really consider the ramifications of opening your business against your state or county’s orders. The perception of being unsafe or less than sensitive to circumstances can ruin your brand long-term.
  • Focus on communicating what you can do right now. If your doors are closed, find other ways to remain relevant and top of mind for your customers. Share uplifting or light content on social media and point to the time when you can reopen them and welcome back customers.
  • And use this time to dig into the corners of your own business. If you can’t be servicing customers, how can you service your own business? Maybe it’s time to refresh your marketing strategy, improve your website, or finally create a Facebook page that you’ve been putting off because you never felt like you had enough time.

 “My customers are reducing or eliminating their services at this time.”

This might represent your business’s main problem if you can relate to the following…

  • My customers are hurting and needing to cut budgets.
  • My customers have put a pause on their work during these uncertain times.
  • My customers are closing their doors entirely.

What you can do right now…

  • Push back (politely) with alternatives to outright reducing or eliminating their business with you. Don’t roll over and let customers walk out on you. Offer creative alternatives for how you can still be of use to them.
  • Negotiate favorable and flexible terms for payment. Slow cash flow is better than no cash flow. If a customer needs more time to stretch out payments, but it means you retain their business, then have that conversation!
  • If they close, what similar businesses remain open that you may be able to help in a similar capacity? If one of your customers pulls out, there are others who are still searching for products or services you offer. Be proactive about finding them and marketing to them.

 “My business is based upon relationships and that’s not easily replicated virtually.”

This might represent your business’s main problem if you can relate to the following…

  • Email and Zoom calls aren’t effectively replacing face-to-face interaction.
  • It’s harder to get my customers’ attention and find time to connect virtually.
  • I don’t have an effective means to reach new customers virtually.

What you can do right now…

  • People are getting more and more used to virtual interaction, are you? Practice will get you more comfortable and have video calls feel more natural. Start with friends and family, and even practice the technical features of video conferencing on your own time.
  • So your customer is busy this week, what about next week? Get a date on the calendar no matter how far out. If a customer declined a catch-up call, ask them to offer an alternative date and time. Don’t let no be the final answer.
  • Directly ask for a customer’s preferred method of virtual communication. Maybe they’re avoiding connecting with you because they really detest video calls. Offer a phone call instead.

 “My business or my customers’ businesses have needed to swiftly pivot in a new direction.”

This might represent your personal problem if you can relate to the following…

  • My business has had to change at a neck-breaking pace to address new customer needs.
  • This new business model feels unstable and unsustainable long-term.
  • Things are OK now, but what about when this well becomes dry?

What you can do right now…

  • Ride the wave, but come to solid ground soon. You need to find your new normal just like everyone else. It’s not sustainable to work in a reactive and chaotic environment forever.
  • If this becomes a long-term shift, how must your business adjust? Many businesses will not return to how they functioned pre-COVID. Strategically map out your plan for how your business model must shift permanently.
  • Constantly be looking for new revenue opportunities even if things are OK for now. The tides can shift at any moment and you’ll be glad you have a plan b, c, and d in place.

 “Business aside, I’m angry/confused/concerned about the future.”

This might represent your personal problem if you can relate to the following…

  • I’m worn out by what I see on the news every day.
  • I don’t see an end in sight and fear this ripple effect will continue for months, years.
  • Even if my business is OK now, I don’t think I can sustain this much longer.

What you can do right now…

  • Limit your consumption and sharing of media. The hard truth is that where we are now turning to feel connection can cause even more anger and frustration.
  • Fact check, and take everything with a grain of salt. There is more going on behind the scenes than we could know. Resist jumping to extreme conclusions about what’s going on with our health, government, education, and businesses. Allow yourself to process information slowly and rationally.
  • If you feel compelled to take action, do so in a way that uplifts and helps. And this could double as some good PR for our business. Win-win!

I realize not all of this (though helpful) advice comes as good news. It can cause more tension and fear among businesses who realize the levity of what the world is facing now and indefinitely. Most importantly, remember this. Sixty five percent of companies in the Fortune 1000 were started during a recession or depression. This includes brands like Disney, IBM, Standard Oil, FedEx, Whole Foods, Apple, Microsoft, and many more. If they started under such challenging circumstances, your resilience and determination as a business owner and skilled professional should give you every confidence you will not fail, so long as you keep changing and trying new strategies.

Do you resonate with one or more of these business challenges right now? Or do you have another that needs helped solving? I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below!

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