small businesses

As we know, the impact of COVID-19 has hit small businesses particularly hard, with many struggling to stay afloat given the new reality of quarantines and shelter-in-place orders. While none of us can predict how long this crisis will last or how long it will take for federal support to reach all of the hurting small businesses, there are few small steps business owners can take immediately to help them weather the storm in the meantime.

Here are four simple steps I recommend small businesses take today to help them get through this difficult and uncertain time.

Keep Yourself and Your Staff Safe and Informed. First and foremost, it’s vital that business owners are staying up to date by following credible, official sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and local government health departments. These sources will provide valuable information that business owners need to make the best decisions for the safety of their staff and customers.

Remember, health is everyone’s highest priority right now. Follow the guidelines these official organizations have set forth  to ensure your business is doing everything it can to operate safely.

Stay In Touch With Your Customers. Proactively share important information with your customers through a variety of mediums. From email to your website, social media channels, or however you typically reach your patrons — make sure they know the latest and greatest about your business right now. Maybe it’s revised business hours, updates on shipping timelines, special offers, the availability of gift cards, or the measures you’re taking to keep your premise and products safe. Whatever it is, communicate it so people know! This will help to set appropriate expectations from your customers and also help to keep your business top of mind.

Bring Your Business Online. If possible, consider providing your products or services online. Expand your ecommerce presence if you can and think of creative solutions, such as working with companies like Square or Kabbage to offer digital gift cards. Additionally, if you needed to postpone any planned events as a result of the outbreak, consider hosting a webinar or virtual meeting through a videoing conference service. Or perhaps you could organize live sessions on your social media channels.  For example,  Ascendance Studio in Doral, Florida started offering virtual dance classes daily through Facebook Live, or Renegade Racing in Lake Forest California used Facebook Live to provide training tips and show customers how to set up a home gym. These online options allow you to continue your business in a safe way while your physical locations remain closed.

Prepare a Customer Service Plan and a List of FAQs. Don’t wait for a customer question to come in before you figure out the response. Be prepared! This will help you to be responsive and transparent during challenging moments.

Consider drafting templated responses for your emails or set up instant-reply messages with information you expect your customers to be looking for. You can also connect with your customers for free in real-time using Instagram Direct Messaging, Messenger or setting up a WhatsApp Business profile.

Additionally develop a list of questions (and the answers!) you anticipate your customers will ask and post it proactively online. When drafting the responses, be as detailed as possible and provide reassurance.

Having a FAQ and Customer Service Plan in place is helpful not only to your customers, but also to your staff so that they are ready should they receive an inbound question. By helping your team to be on the same page, you’re providing a more positive and consistent customer experience.

This is a challenging time for small businesses everywhere. I suggest following these four steps to help your business during this difficult time, and remember — we might be apart but we are all in this together.

Rich Rao is the Vice President of Small Business at Facebook.

Small businesses stock photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock