In just 3 months, the COVID-19 outbreak has turned the world upside down. People’s behaviours have changed, and governments have applied strict restrictions. It’s no surprise then that many small businesses are struggling.
At tasjeel.ae, we’ve built our reputation by supporting small-to-medium-sized businesses in the UAE. We’ve helped you build a strong digital presence in the good times, and now we want to support you through the challenges ahead. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive list of 10 COVID-19 survival tips for small businesses.
1. Stay Up to Date
With the situation changing day by day, it’s never been more important to stay up to date. But there’s a lot of fake news out there about the COVID-19 pandemic – and the government’s measures to control it. You can avoid this by choosing reputable news outlets and official sources of information:
The Gulf News website now includes a category dedicated to COVID-19 news.
The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention has created a COVID-19 information centre – a must-read for employers who care about protecting their staff’s health.
Finally, the UAE government has published this detailed guide to explain the steps it is taking to support businesses and the economy.
2. Plan Ahead
With the situation changing so quickly, it can be challenging to plan ahead, but it’s also vital. Instead of reacting to each new crisis as it happens, try to anticipate problems in advance. Start by asking yourself a few key questions:
Will I run out of stock?
What if my supplier closes down?
Does my business have enough cash to cope if our income drops?
How can I prevent infections in my workplace?
What if my team members can’t come to work?
What if I’m ill myself?
Try to put in place alternatives to cover each problem that might come up. For example, if you’ve always used one supplier, open a trade account with another supplier as a backup. If you’re worried about cashflow, ask your bank about the option of a short-term loan.
Follow the official advice to prevent infections, and ensure you have temporary replacements available for key team members. If you’re ill and can’t get to work, do you have a reliable internet connection and webcam – or will you rely on phone calls? The plans you make now could have a big effect in the weeks ahead.
3. Reassure Your Customers
Whether your business is still trading or not, it’s vital to reassure your customers. If you are still trading, make sure everyone knows about it! With so many businesses closed, your customers might just assume you are too. If you’re closed, explain why – and reassure your customers that you’ll be open for business as soon as possible.
You should also explain any changes you’ve made to your business. For example, if you normally run a store but have switched to home delivery. Or if your operating hours have changed. Explaining everything clearly will avoid disputes.
Regular customers are especially important right now – their loyalty could help you survive this crisis. As well as telling them about changes, be sure to thank them for their support. Above all, try to sound positive and reassuring.
4. Stay Reachable
Make sure you stay reachable. Communication is key at this time, so take some time to check that your website, letterheads and emails all include up-to-date contact details.
If your shop has had to close, be sure to add signs to explain this clearly. You could also direct customers to visit your website or contact you directly with any questions.
Chat apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are a great addition to phone and email. They make it easy to answer questions or deliver live support.
5. Get Social
If possible, explore alternative ways to stay in touch with your customers. This might include creating social media accounts. If you don’t already have a social media presence, then this could be the time to take the plunge!
Embracing social media will ensure your customers don’t forget about your business. Even if you’re closed, this situation won’t last forever. Staying at the front of your customers’ minds could lead to more business when you reopen.
A more ambitious option would be adding a blog or news section to your own website. In the short term, this will allow you to keep customers up to date. Longer term, a blog could become a valuable part of your marketing and SEO strategy.
6. Reassure Your Employees
It’s not just your customers that deserve reassurance. Your employees are probably just as worried as you are. You can avoid doubt and gossip in your workplace by communicating clearly and honestly about the situation you face.
Remember to stay in touch with anyone working from home. Keep your employees informed, and this will help them feel like they’re still part of your team.
Try to avoid making staff redundant. Explore ‘softer’ options first – like short-term leave and reduced hours. Be sure to explain the importance of these options as a way to protect jobs. This will help staff understand that you’re all in this together.
7. Use Your Contacts
If you have contacts in your local business community, then this could be the time to use them. Small business owners are already showing how flexible they can be by creating new partnerships. Even competitors are finding ways to work together to deliver their services more efficiently. This is especially important for ‘essential’ businesses that customers can’t go without.
Some professional trade associations are launching support schemes, or offering advice relevant to their sector. Online forums are also a great resource in times like these, offering practical advice and inspiring ideas.
8. Use Your Time Productively
If your business slows down over the next few weeks or months, try to use your time productively. This could be a good chance to get things done that you wouldn’t usually have time for. It’s also an opportunity to make changes to your business that will deliver long-term benefits.
Extending your bricks-and-mortar business to sell online could be easier than you think. Last summer, we published an easy-to-follow guide to help entrepreneurs build a new online business. If you don’t already have a website, now could be the perfect time to create one. If you have free time, you could reduce costs by building your own website.
Of course, you might already have a website. In this case, why not use your time to improve it and boost your search engine rankings? Our top SEO tips for small businesses will help you understand the subject better.
9. Follow the Rules
The restrictions applied are to fight COVID-19 might seem extreme, but they are there to save lives. We all have a part to play in fighting this pandemic, and following the rules is the best way to do that.
Taking short cuts is dangerous. Businesses that break the rules risk fines, prosecution and bad publicity. You could also put yourself and your team at increased risk of catching COVID-19. Following the rules might mean losing money, but the danger of breaking the rules is far worse.
10. Stay Positive
Even in the worst of times, it’s important to stay positive. Remember that many businesses in the UAE have survived global threats like the 2008 economic crisis, as well as regional threats like wars in the Middle East.
Not every business will make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, but many will. And when the crisis passes, the stronger businesses that survived could benefit from less competition and a surge in consumer demand.
However you’re planning to adapt your business to survive, we would like to wish you good luck and, most importantly, good health in the weeks and months ahead.