Why Small Business Owners Can’t Ignore Their Websites During Covid-19

Post by Alison Knott | April 1, 2020

It is not business as usual right now. Small business owners are pausing or evaluating their systems. We’re concerned about how to move forward, make ends meet, and navigate it all without being ‘tone-deaf’.

The fear of seeming tacky, cold, or ignorant of Covid-19 is real and understandable. We want to do right by our community and be attentive to the needs of others.

At the same time, I believe you can be a mindful citizen and still keep your business afloat.

I’ve noticed a trend of small business owners ignoring their websites during Covid-19. Active on social media? Many are, while tumbleweeds roll across their sites.

In this article, I’d like to explore how your website is an important tool you shouldn’t ignore during hard times.

 

1. Your business may not be saving lives, but it can save livelihoods

We’re all concerned about marketing and promotion right now. I was hesitant to write this post for fear as coming across as opportunistic. Then I read marketer Rand Fishkin’s Marketing Right Now Is #$%*ing Hard. Rand maintains that with marketing, we can meet the needs of people in a proactive, human way. The key thing to remember is that “marketing doesn’t mean exploitation”, to use his words. He admits that marketing is hard, but it’s not impossible. And I agree.

Then I attended a webinar by money coach April Stroink about mitigating financial risk during a crisis. During the session, the message was clear: we must continue to press forward as small business owners. A line in the session read: “Cash is the lifeblood of your business. In times of crisis, we must take all measures available to keep the flow of cash in our companies.”

But how do we do that, without being too ‘tacky’? How do we tastefully let the world know we’re still available for business?

By offering value and help. The great news is that service-based businesses are in a unique situation to help through their expertise. And those expertise can save the livelihoods of others.

People may not be in a position to purchase luxury items or attend events right now. Still, they need other services. They have their own business or household to run, jobs to stay on top of and families to keep safe. Counselors, social media managers, graphic designers, artists; they all have skills that remain in demand.

The key during times of crisis is to shift from self-promotion to delivering value. Thoughtful, useful content can go a long way to show the world you care.

Content you can create:

  • A blog post that helps a specific problem your clients are facing in relation to the pandemic. People may not be able to hire you to fix it, but will appreciate the easy access they have to you and your expertise.
  • A specialized ‘Resources’ page. It could contain important government or organizations links. Tools you recommend to reduce stress or gain productivity. Industry hacks. Even inspirational content like book recommendations or TedTalks can be helpful for your audience.
  • ‘Webinar/courses’ page. If you’ve shifted your services from in-person to virtual, why not create a listings letting people see upcoming sessions and even offering a central location for previously recorded sessions. Digital signage blog Sixteen:Nine created a webinar calendar/listings service so the industry could continue to connect online. They also maintain a list of resources for covid-19 PSAs.

Then, put this content through your various social media channels – but don’t just post and walk away. Ask questions in the comments, engage with people that leave comments, and show that you’re here for them. Ideally you do this for posts anyway, but right now it is especially important to be ‘present’ when promoting content.

illustration of various social media icons trapped in a box, yelling

2. Relying on social media alone for communication is risky

To cope, people are taking time off social media to avoid constant pandemic content. They’re muting certain terms and performing other tactics to stay sane. Certainly, I hope you are taking breaks, too!

Thing is, you can’t rely on social media only to tell people important updates about your business.

For example, you may be tempted to do all your updates via Facebook. I get it: it’s easy, fast, and doesn’t cost you anything. The issue is that there are still many users that don’t use that platform. Others may not see your posts due to algorithms.

I also see the trend of well-meaning business owners “half-updating” their site. They stick a message on their homepage that says “Visit our Facebook page for latest updates”. But the user specifically came to the site for information! Don’t make your audience do extra work; they’re already exhausted. This ‘runaround’ may sour their perception of your business in the long run.

Your website should remain an active part of your communications line. If you’re going to post something on Facebook, that should be echoed on your site as well.

Ways you can address important updates on your site:

  • Add a notice bar at the top of all pages. AA Munro Insurance added one to direct clients to a Covid-19 FAQ page in response to a shift in how to make payments. For WordPress, Simple Banner is a fast (and easy) plugin for this.
  • Update your homepage with the same content you’re placing on social media. Usually the most visited page of your site, it should be updated regularly anyway – crisis or no crisis. Update hours of operation, pivoting of services, and other shifts and make them easy to find.
  • Create an ‘Updates’ page. The page doesn’t have to be fancy; just informative and easy for you to update as soon as possible. You can then share that URL out on social as the central space for the latest information. It also avoids scenarios like out-of-date social posts circulating. Techmania, an electronics boutique, added one to cover many aspects of how their online and in-store policies changed. This page also became a platform for their T.E.C.H. program, set up especially for the pandemic. It offers discounts and a faster way for home delivery.

 

screenshot of top bar alter and updates page
On the left we have the alert bar added by AA Munro Insurance. On the right, a screenshot of Techmania’s Updates page.

 

3. People may not be spending money right now, but their needs haven’t gone away

Your phone might not be ringing. Your contact form may be quiet. But the internet is experiencing a 50% increase in usage. Certainly, some of this is attributed to researching pandemic related content. But stop and consider your own internet habits lately. I’m sure you’ve been looking up all kinds of things, many of which were things you were interested before the world took a turn. Or maybe new challenges or needs are coming up!

I took a peek at Google Trends. March still has upward trends for words like “recipe”, “home exercise”, “shopping”, and “business services”. People still have problems that need to be solved. They’re still in research mode, trying to figure out their new normal.

As small business owners, we need to play long game of ‘showing up’ online.

Ways to remain top of mind for people:

  • Review your Google Analytics and Google Search Console data. Find out what terms people are using to find you, what pieces of content they are most interested in right now, etc. Your traffic may still be active… despite what your phone or contact form say.
  • Grow your mailing list through your website. This is a great tactic if you’re still squeamish about promotion during a crisis. Create a short but value-packed lead magnet. It should helps solve a specific problem your audience is facing right now. It doesn’t have to be a giant PDF – it could be something as effective as a short email with 5 useful tips. Place the lead magnet on your homepage as well as other high-traffic areas.Take heart: people are still downloading my lead magnet as often as before the pandemic. While my own contact forms are quiet, people continue to have website woes that need fixing. Need more ideas on how to grow your list? Check out this Work Better Not Harder article.
  • Send out a newsletter. I know, controversial topic. I’ve always been team “emails are more personal than social media posts”. This is because we have expressed permission to reach out to those on our list. What I don’t encourage you to send out is a ‘business as usual’ email. Instead, send something special to let clients know you’re still here and thinking of them. I usually send out a newsletter that contains interesting stats about doing business online. Instead, I sent one filled with funny facts to lighten the mood. Things like how much Canadians spend on chips, the strange world of ketchup marketing and even farting. It was a gamble, but I knew people needed a break from the hardship, while still staying on brand with what I offer.And it didn’t go unnoticed. A client from 2 years ago reached out to me for some work, and I received this lovely Tweet:

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I know these are trying times. I’ve been spending the last few weeks putting up closing notices and creating graphics to help various small business during the pandemic. If you’re feeling overwhelmed on where to take your business next, book a complementary session with me.

I’ve also been giving talks to university students about owning a creative business. “But what are you doing NOW, Alison?” has been the top question. Right now? I’m trying to help. I truly feel that we have the opportunity to do right by our communities as small business owners.

By adding value and being helpful through our expertise, we can hold each other up and weather the storm of uncertainties.