Doing business in the COVID-19 world – A perspective from us at Copy Express

Posted on May 18th, 2020 | Tags: blog, Business, Marketing, Uncategorized

At the time of writing this item, New Zealand has just survived nearly two month of the COVID-19 Alert Level 4 & 3. Like most of you we have had major disruption to our day to day business operation and a substantial drop in income with all our customers being forced to stop work for that time. As we now get back to operating with the level 3 alert status in place, the question is how do we operate now and for the foreseeable future?

While the level 3 alert was only for two weeks, there are still restrictions that are in place for levels 2, and considerations for how you can operate your business at level 1. Another matter to consider is the chance of higher alert levels returning as additional flare ups of the virus take place, leading to raising of the alert level and maybe even going back to level 4. It’s not unreasonable to assume that it will take at least 18 months to develop an effective immunisation treatment. Also assume that it will take many months to roll out this treatment worldwide due to there being a limit of how many doses they can manufacture per month. Finally, COVID-19 is a virus, which means there could be new strains occurring from now on, with the matching lags in development of treatments, just like each year they must develop new variants of immunisations for the flu. So, expect this situation to be the new normal for the next two years at least. So how can a business operate given the environment we now live in?

Online is the new shop front

We’ve been talking about this in our blogs for years now. Your web presents is the first port of call for any customer looking for someone to meet their needs or fix their problem. Now more than ever a customer is going to google for someone who can fix their needs, as they don’t have the time, or aren’t allowed to just browse in a store anymore. If you can sell your product online, you need to have some sort of sales portal setup. What choices do you have if you want to set one up now?

  • A plug and play website
    Companies like Squarespace are the ‘shiny’ end of this option. Ready made websites that you pick modules to match your needs and drop some images and text to reflect your business. The problem is this option is that they aren’t configured for the way things work in New Zealand, so you may find you’re limited by their choices. You also must pay monthly fees for the service which tends to hit you with big extra charges if you go over your chosen plans’ limits.
  • Marketplace Portal
    A simpler option is Trademe or The Market. Here you just register as a seller, upload your offers for people to choose from and wait for people to buy. These portal style systems have the advantage that they take care of all the backend work, keeping things secure and processing the payments. You’re also on a ‘destination’ website. They might not be able to find your business, but everyone knows what Trademe is. The real limitation that you are selling a product, not your business, and unless it’s something that is produced only by you, you’re competing with other companies selling that same thing.
  • Selling through Social Media sites
    We are not kidding; you can do this. If you already have a Facebook page for your business, you can activate a shop section to your page. It will function just the same as a marketplace portal but with your branding all over it. Outside of Facebook, any social media platform can act as a sales portal, make a post about your product and have it link directly to your listing on Trademe. While there are limitations to doing this, it’s good as a stop gap measure to get your business moving while setting in place a more developed system.
  • E-coupons sites
    Sites like Groupon and Grabone have their place in the tools for selling your business. They function much like the Marketplace portal; you list products, they handle the backend stuff. Unlike Trademe you can have multiple sales of the same listing. It also allows you to presell services in the form of vouchers or coupons, meals at a restaurant or treatments at a spa, which a marketplace portal does not allow. The thing to remember is that not only do you have to pay them a fee on everything you sell like marketplace portals but have to list it with a discount as that is the point of the system.
  • Your own sales site
    This will take the longest to setup but gives you the greatest flexibility. Depending on your needs, you could have a specialised portal, the Copy Express website being such an example, or build a standard site such as a WordPress based one and add in sales modules. This takes the most time and money to do, but in return you can customise it to fit your needs exactly.

You’re a service industry not a product one

Most people think that online shops only really work for product sales, not for service style business such as hairdressers, restaurants, or ‘white collar professionals. You might also think that more physically centred jobs, trades like builders, plumbers, repairmen, etc, would also be unable to sell their services via online means. We think otherwise, you can keep your business operating with an online ‘store’ but you just have to think laterally. Here are a few examples to consider.

A restaurant cannot function if people aren’t allowed to congregate in large enough numbers to make opening it viable. Instead you start making up meals that customers can buy. It can be the classic takeaways that people can collect or have delivered. Make up meal bags with instructions with all the ingredients portioned out, semi-food prepared or semi-cooked, the customers just finish off the process. If part of their point of difference is the spices, sauces, etc, then sell bags or jars of it directly to the customer so they can have that taste at home.

A hairdresser cannot run a salon if they are not allowed to be in 1 metre of a customer. Every salon I have seen has high end treatment products that you cannot buy through a supermarket, so it makes sense to sell those treatments through an online store during a no contact time. They will actively drive customers to book appointments now as slots will quickly fill up as soon as people can be in close contact with each other again. They can offer open time slot discount coupons so if people buy now, they get so much off an appointment with a window of three or six months to use it.

A builder might not be able ‘sell’ products, but they can sell their time. Encourage customers to book now and prepay for materials so the builder can buy them ahead of time to make sure they have the stuff they need when they start the job. They can offer an online consultation; all you need is a couple of cellphones and a video chat app to do the preliminary inspection to help cut down time when it comes to the onsite one. Offer discounts on labour costs for prepayment, so to lock in customers ahead of time so ensure a steady flow of work to keep operating when there is a lower alert level.

You’re not sure if you can setup an online store for your business

If you’re not sure if you can setup your store or what you can sell, there are plenty of people who can help you. Copy Express is one, after all you’re reading an article about doing just that. We can give you even more information and even start the process of setting a store up. Another source of help are your local business groups. Every chamber of commerce has guides on how to do it, lists of people who can provide the services you need, help you pool resources with others help all of you get through. A lot of cities have suburb-based business associations too, so have a chat with them on how you can get things started. Here are the points we recommend you think about when you start the process.

  • Keep it simple to begin with – You don’t need to pay for construction of a full sales system on your website. If you have a business Facebook page, then turn on the store function. If you rather keep it local, use Trademe or The Market and put links to your account on your website and social media pages.
  • Start small – Don’t try to list everything you sell at once. Pick no more than dozen of your most popular products (not counting sizes/colour variants if that part of the product) as your starting point. Easier to manage your stock and to gage how popular products are as online sales so you can see which the ranges are to expand as you grow that side of the business.
  • Allow for reduced profits on what you sell – Remember you must pay a fee for every item sold through a portal to the portal owner. Different systems charge different rates, and the fees/rates change depending on the number of sales you make every month. While you could increase the price to compensate for it, you’ll end up competing with your own physical store and any other seller who sells online at the retail or cheaper price.
  • Coupons and vouchers work best for services – Generally speaking, services have a lower percentage of physical cost to price, than physical goods. This gives you more room to not only offer a discount but absorb the fees that the coupon portals charge. I’ve often seen many businesses offer 30-50% discounts on a package or service, which to me makes me wonder what the product is really worth for that big a discount. For a lot of businesses it would be smarter to only do 15-20% discounts but offer more options or a longer valid time frame.
  • Get your shipping sorted – Before you start shipping you better have a courier account sorted. They all have the options of either prepaid bags or shipping tickets. Make sure you have understood how the weight and delivery rules work. If you don’t, you will get extra charges that will eat into your profits.
  • Manage your stock closely – Nothing annoys customers more than wanting to buy something and it’s out of stock after they have paid for it. Not only will you end up having to refund the orders, with the extra bank fees, but you still must pay all the processing fees of the portal too. The customer will also likely leave a negative review, which will hurt your reputation and deprive you of sales. Many sales portals allow you to limit the number of units you can sell when you set the listing up so it will tell customers when they sell out.
  • Feedback is king – An online store lives or dies on the feedback that customers give. The thing is that most customers only leave feedback if they are annoyed about something. A good practice is to follow up the orders when you’ve seen they have been delivered by a phone call or at least an email to check that the goods arrived okay and that they are happy with the service, this way you can encourage them to put feedback on your store to show how good it is and you are.

What if you can’t sell things or services because what you do

For those few businesses which feel they can’t set up a store front, because of the nature of what they do, here are a few things you can do during the high alert level times. The goal is to keep your business looking busy and productive. Why? Because a busy business is a popular business and the most popular businesses are the ones that are most likely to attract new customers. What can you do to appear busy when you’re not?

Hit the social media pages and post training or explanation videos about what you offer. Set up a blog and put articles about subjects related to your business. This has the dual purpose of not only showing that you’re an active business, but it gives you resources you can point people to answer those questions you always get asked. (That’s why Copy Express has this blog and we write four articles a month for you to read for free.)

Put posts that link to interesting websites/videos/articles that relate to your business in some way (but won’t take customers away from yours.) If you don’t feel up to the task of writing articles or creating videos, then become a curator of other people’s work. Put an excerpt of the item on your page/post, give a reason why you linked it, and even give comments about the item if there are points you want to explain in more detail or contradict.

Create templates or guides that customers can download. Depending on your business, having handouts, guides, and templates that customers can download for their own use. Again, it’s adding tools that are useful for your own business, reduces the amount of time you have to ‘explain the basics’ and gives people things to help them get prepared for when you do meet them.

Why do all of this? The simplest reason is that the more active your social media and website is by having new content, the more ‘interesting’ it is to the search engines and the social media sites. The greater the interest the higher you get listed or more likely you get shown, all of which improves your businesses chances to be seen when someone is searching for that type of business.

This has been an overview of what you can do to operate a strong online business ‘store front’ in this new complex world, no matter what type of business you do. Of course, you will be wanting more information on how to do this. Having a read of the other items we have on this blog is a good starting point. You also can contact us directly to have one on one meetings (online of course) to get the information and guidance to suit your businesses personal needs.