As much as experts want to predict how the coronavirus situation will pan out, the truth is that no one really knows what's going to happen. The good news is that there are several things business owners can do to reduce their uncertainty.
1. Act on the outcomes you can realistically anticipate.
Businesses based on in-person interaction already know that customers won’t be coming in for a while. If you don’t yet have a digital means to offer your product or service, consider which products and services are most appropriate to sell online, and then add e-commerce to your website. There are a number of e-commerce solutions such as Shopify, BigCommerce and Squarespace.
While you may want to delegate this to a tech-savvy staff member, both of you should make note of the ways in which online business differs from brick and mortars. With the reduction in frequent in-person connection points, you'll need to go out of your way to engage with your customers via social media and email outreach. Try working with your marketing team to create a content calendar—either an old-school spreadsheet or a tech-based solution like Later or HubSpot—that tracks analytics around your social engagement so you can see what resonates with your customers.
2. Brainstorm with other business owners.
Another way you can deal with uncertainty is to identify other business owners in your sphere who are facing the same challenges you are, and come together to devise solutions to keep the collective group afloat. In particular, experts recommend launching online engagements that preserve the heartbeat and character of a community.
Midnight Market, a Jersey City, New Jersey-based indoor festival that curates 20 food vendors to recreate an open air, international market, did just that. Understanding that they can’t open for the foreseeable future, Midnight Market’s owners rallied their partners to host a "Take-Out Flash Mob," that is, encouraging followers to order takeout from eight participating restaurants.
"It gives them a burst of cash to pay employees, keep the lights on and helps them continue normal operations so they can continue making delicious food for us!" the company wrote on its website.
To create a social distancing appropriate recreation of their event, Midnight Market promoted cocktail recipes that were easy to create at home, live streamed of DJ sets, and shared drinking games. And they're planning another one with a different selection of restaurants.
While no one has all the answers when it comes to COVID-19, taking these steps to improve your own well-being will help you and your business through the long-haul.
3. Cut back on media consumption and get in front of your customers.
Reading COVID-19 news online may increase your anxiety about the situation. Confirmation bias is a psychological principle claiming that people who are already worrying about something will value negative information they find over neutral or positive information. While it’s important to be informed, try to unplug as much as you can and leverage your time to stay in the hearts and minds of your customers.
If you suspect the demand for your non-essential product is going to plummet, use your resources to pivot in a way that builds stronger relationships with your community and customers.
Adenah Bayoh, founder of Adenah Bayoh & Companies, is worried about the survival of all seven of her restaurants.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it’s been rough. We’re open for take out, but it’s extremely slow,” she says.
Bayoh has committed to still paying her employees, so instead of staying home and reading the news, she’s leading a charge to provide free breakfast and lunch to economically disadvantaged community members at her three IHOP restaurants until school reopens.
"Although I'm worried, my strategy to decrease anxiety has been to focus on banding together with others to get through this faster and stronger," she says.
If you suspect the demand for your non-essential product is going to plummet, try pivoting your resources to build stronger relationships with your community and customers. Sam Eitzen is the CEO of Seattle-based photo booth rental company SnapBar. Anticipating major layoffs due to event cancellations, Eitzen decided to pivot and create a new product that also helps out his fellow business owners.
“To save my team’s jobs," he says, "we launched a new concept, Keep Your City Smiling, a gift box initiative that helps struggling small businesses stay afloat. Our clients are not taking photos in person right now, but they do have a way to encourage their friends and colleagues.”
4. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a series of strategies designed to bring awareness to one’s present-moment thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, and to experience those without interpretation or judgment.
Chantelle Kern is CEO of The Italian on Tour, a Canadian tour operator hosting intimate trips to Italy’s hidden regions for food and wine lovers. At a time when Italy is completely closed to tourism, Kern calms her stress by practicing mindfulness. She has a yoga class every day, takes Epsom salt baths, tries out new foods and wines and visualizes her next trip overseas.
“I’m keeping travel in my heart, because this too shall pass and when it does, I will be dying to soothe my wanderlust,” she says.
Most experts agree that the building block of mindfulness is deep belly breathing to relax the body and reduce anxiety. Practice it by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a deep breath in through the nose and feel your hand on your belly move as you inflate your diaphragm with air. Slowly release your breath out of your mouth and repeat.
Body scanning is another helpful mindfulness technique suggested by mental health professionals. Find a quiet place and bring your awareness to each part of your body, one at a time. Pay attention to things like how your clothing feels against your skin, the sensation of your lower body touching the chair, any tension that you have in a body part, etc.
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