As business owners across the country temporarily close their physical stores and reduce their hours due to the latest government restrictions, now is the time for retailers to think about expanding the services they offer and future-proofing their businesses.
This is particularly important for small, independent retailers who might not yet have the infrastructure and resilience of some of the larger chains. Hopefully we will not face another crisis of this magnitude in our lifetimes; nevertheless we should do all we can to bolster our businesses against such catastrophic global events should we have to face a similar crisis again.
This will mean different things to different people depending on where you are with your business. You might want to build your online presence, improve your website, brainstorm ways to expand your service offering or update your branding, for example. You might want to focus more attention on your accounts, recruitment processes, marketing efforts or production line. Whatever it might be, here are a few ways you can maximise store closure time to make your small or independent business even stronger going forward.
- Re-evaluate your branding
Good branding is what will take your business from good to great. Now that your physical store is closed, it’s a great time to take a step back and evaluate your overall brand. If you’ve been in business a while, think about who you were when you first launched your business and whether this has now changed. Is your overall brand still an accurate reflection of where your business is now? Does it look tired and outdated and need a refresh? Use this time to reflect and ask yourself the difficult questions.
In an ideal world you want your brand and brand aesthetic to be unified across all of your business platforms and assets. This includes your logo and store aesthetic, the look and feel of your website and social channels, and your longer term vision, mission and values. Building a strong brand doesn’t need to cost the earth: there are many freelance logo designers out there who can help you refresh your visual brand by creating a logo and providing a ‘brand book’ that outlines the colour palettes and fonts you should use across each of your channels and in all written and marketing materials.
As for your vision, mission and values, use this time to think about what inspired you to start your business, who your customers are and who you’re appealing to, where you hope to be in the next few years and how you plan to get there. Write a mission statement that clearly outlines your values and goals. Share it with your team and use it to inform all of the work you do and the way you communicate with customers. You want your brand and approach to make clear to customers who you are and what you believe in.
Go through all of your channels and assets whilst your store is closed and ensure all collateral is unified, on brand and up to date, in terms of both your aesthetic and the key values you’re communicating. Make updates and adjustments where needed.
It might be difficult, but building a strong brand will give your business longevity.
- Boost brand awareness with social media
What’s the point of building a great brand if nobody knows about it? Word of mouth is second to none, but whilst you’re unable to meet customers face to face, one of the most surefire ways to increase brand awareness is through careful use of social media. You can reach thousands of people quickly and easily and measure the impact you’re having, with handy inbuilt tools that show things like engagement rate, click-through rate and which demographics are looking at your content. Talk to customers and other people in the industry by commenting and liking their posts. Look at competitors’ accounts and see who’s engaging with their posts. Follow those people so you get on their radar. Some guerilla work on social media is a great way of building a digital network and enticing new potential customers, particularly if you’re a smaller brand that wants to build an engaged community.
You can ‘boost’ posts with a small bit of cash to reach particular audiences. If you’re an independent jeweller based in Hatton Garden for example, you can ask Facebook or Instagram to put a particular post on the feeds of individuals within a one mile radius of the area. You can also choose which age range you want to target, which gender, and people with specific interests, so you can really drill down and target your customer base.
- Engage with your online community and continue to add value
Once you’ve populated your social media pages with some great posts, it’s time to employ a few strategies to engage with customers online, now that you can’t engage with people face to face. Just because you can’t sell products from your shop right now, doesn’t mean you don’t have any value to add whilst people are sitting at home.
Think about fun things you could do to keep people interested. Why not set up a live Q&A, respond to customer queries on Twitter, run polls to find out what your customers want to hear more about or host a webinar on Instagram Live where you can talk about your particular area of expertise and help educate others who are in isolation?
In recent years it has become increasingly common for business owners to promote themselves as the owners of their business and become the face of a brand. If you’re not camera shy, engaging in conversations online and putting your face to your brand will help you develop a loyal and engaged customer base.
- Experiment with influencers
Engaging with influencers online is also a great way to expand your reach, particularly on a platform like Instagram. Identify key influencers in your sector, follow them, like their posts and find out whether they might like to work with you. This doesn’t necessarily need to cost the earth either. Some micro-influencers will offer a post for free in exchange for a ‘gifted’ item, or might charge a small fee to post about your business. This will help you reach more customers by leveraging the power of an already trusted community voice.
- Consider ways to diversify your offering
A good business strategy is a flexible one, so whilst you work from home, now is the time to start thinking about how you can expand your services.
For example, if your business sells high-end jewellery, could you consider introducing a mid-range collection to make your brand more accessible? Or perhaps you could start offering web-based consultations for people who can’t come into store? If you run a food business, could you offer home delivery or join a scheme whereby surplus food goes to food banks or the homeless? Now’s the time to get your creative hat on and think about what else you can do, so you have ancillary revenue streams and flexibility in the face of another crisis.
It’s all about identifying ways in which you can make it easier for customers to shop with you and use your service. Whichever industry your business operates in, think about how you can go to customers rather than waiting for customers to come to you.
- Identify your weak spots and reinforce them
One of the best things about running a small business can also be its weak point: you don’t have a big team and lots of assets. This is great as it means you can be agile and flexible, making changes whenever you want to and adapting to new trends and situations, without worrying about the impact it will have on a huge team. You need less infrastructure. But in the face of a crisis, infrastructure can be handy to fall back on.
A good way to use store closure time is to look at your processes, accounts, assets and production line. Are there particular weak spots that made you extra vulnerable in the face of this crisis? Are there things you can do to shore up certain areas and make them stronger? Now’s the perfect time to take a step back, look at what you’ve got, and identify areas where positive changes can be made.
By Gary Williams, chairman of Hatton Garden BID