COVID-19 is first and foremost a human crisis, requiring companies to protect their people. Amid this human impact, companies are also coming to terms with the impact of the pandemic on their businesses, in particular small and medium size enterprises.

The pandemic will be hitting small businesses the hardest. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) reported that 42% of surveyed SMEs depend solely on face-to-face contact for the majority of sales.

COVID-19 might be the game changer that pushes us all into the digital revolution, digitizing services, and forcing us to shift to digital business models.

Although there are many more pressing issues, such as ensuring elderly parents are safe or balancing home schooling, while managing a business and a remote team (I am in the thick of all those things), challenging times also present opportunities.

Here are some concrete strategies to engage your customers via digital channels and potentially create new revenue streams.

Extend Traditional Offerings Online

We are all in a crash course in engaging the “always connected” consumer. Can you uncover opportunities to deliver personal experiences from a distance or think of a virtual offering that adds value to your traditional products and services?

Think about short tutorials, webinars, or virtual events. My kids’ soccer club piloted online streamed practices last week, as are many of the fitness gyms. This provides some sense of normalcy for everyone, social contact and of course, physical activity. But the business benefit is that they might have uncovered a new revenue stream and new target market that prefers virtual, on demand services.

Go Cashless

In response to the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending that consumers limit the virus' spread through microorganisms on cash by buying online. If your focus has primarily been on your physical bricks and mortar presence, it's a great time to boost your ecommerce presence (or plan for one if none exists). See our tips for supercharging your e-commerce presence.

The global shift toward online shopping could not only create a boost for small businesses, but also feed a longer term uptick as new online customers will continue the behaviour after the outbreak subsides.

Digital-First Customer Experience and Support

Make online, texting and social media the primary channels for your customer interactions. This is easier to scale than managing phone calls. Now would be a perfect time to implement or expand Chat options on your website such as Facebook Messenger.

Engage with Video

If you aren’t already, create short videos. Engage daily or weekly with brief 2-4 minute video messages that you can record from your phone in the comfort of your home. Experiment with live video, using Instagram Live and Facebook Live to share content on subjects of interest to your audience.  Let’s not forget staff and remote workers: send them video messages rather than mass emails or leverage teleconferencing tools such as Zoom, which are now critical to sustained operations.

We are seeing a forced, rapid scaling up and reinvention of processes as almost everything shifts online.  While the economic downturn will likely force small- to medium-sized businesses to delay spending earmarked for technology infrastructure, it is critical to re-think your business for the digital age. Identify your weaknesses and look for ways to create value via new digital business models. Digital operations is, and will continue to be, the “new normal”.  Our ability to adapt and innovate both as individuals and businesses is more important than ever.

About the author

Isabelle Perreault

Isabelle is the Founder and CEO of Differly. She has spent her career helping business leaders understand the major drivers of change and helping them survive and thrive in a digital economy. She brings deep expertise in business transformation, corporate and business model innovation and go-to-market planning.

For over 20 years, she has been helping leaders in a wide variety of sectors develop and deploy human-centric, tech-enabled growth strategies. Passionate about entrepreneurship she also serves as a business coach to Startups with several incubators. Prior to launching Differly, she led one of the first Digital Transformation Practices in Canada and was head of Digital Strategy and Marketing for the Ottawa Senators, NHL Hockey Club.Isabelle is Chair of the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau Foundation and a champion for women entrepreneurs.

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