Usually, there’s no one size fits all solution for struggling businesses.
But over the last six months since the pandemic hit, there’s one theme that turns up time and time again, and it’s this: go digital.
According to associate professor Joël Le Bon from Johns Hopkins University, “sales changed more in the past five months than in the past five years,” as digital tools are becoming essential for businesses around the world.
It takes a little ingenuity to make in-person services work for you online, but it’s totally possible! Below are 7 creative ways to jumpstart your business during the pandemic, using digital tools for more customer engagement during this difficult time.
1. Avoid cancellations with some digital scheduling mojo
Everyone’s schedule is crazy right now. People are cancelling meetings left and right, leaving service based business owners wondering whether their full schedule will translate into real income. So what’s the solution?
Find a digital scheduling tool to help you out. Depending on which one you go for, it can let clients see your schedule online, and make it easy for them to reschedule if necessary. People often cancel bookings with the intent to reschedule, then never do. Giving your clients an option to reschedule their existing bookings means you’ll avoid those cancellations.
Let your clients know what their meeting options are right off the bat. If you can offer the option to meet remotely via zoom or other videoconferencing platform, definitely do so, and let them know.
What you need: a shared calendar, online scheduling service, or bot that lets clients see your schedule and book or reschedule their own appointments.
2. Keep your clients up to speed with solid communication strategies
People are more comfortable with what they already know, and the pandemic is creating a sea of unknowns. You’ll stand out if you make sure your clients get timely policy updates so they know what to expect when they walk through your door. Use email campaigns to let your clients know:
• Your current hours of operation
• Any new services you offer, like home delivery or new products
• Links to scheduling in-person or zoom meetings
• Extra health precautions you’re taking during the pandemic
• How you’re helping your employees manage
• New policies in place that clients need to follow (eg wearing masks, staying home when unwell)
• Special offers on existing services
Right now, emails are tough to write. Fortunately, you can find a lot of templates online to help you write them—or opt for email campaign software that includes them. Bonus points for software that includes design templates so you can craft a visually branded email, too.
What you need: email marketing software that lets you send emails to your entire customer contact list (ideally with templates).
3. Entice new and returning clients with special offers
Your regular clients might be struggling with money right now, and hesitant to book too far in advance. Offering them a discount on a series of meetings or a package of goods and services helps get your clients to commit to a larger purchase, while rewarding them for their loyalty. This type of discount also helps new clients become loyal clients.
For example, a personal trainer might offer a 10% discount on a series of five workouts plus a nutrition evaluation. A business coach might offer a series of meetings to create an online ad strategy. Whatever you decide, just make sure you know your profit margin before you create the discount, so you don’t end up losing money!
How does technology factor in? Making it easy to buy your package of products and services online. When you announce the news that you’re offering a special discount, include a link in your email campaign so your clients can take advantage of it in one click.
What you need: an online payment solution that shows both the regular price and discounted price so clients can see their savings (and click through to purchase as a result!).
4. Solve cash flow problems with package offers
The benefits of package booking are twofold: while it’s a bonus for your regulars, it also helps secure your income—which is especially important when your business is still responding to and recovering from the initial crisis. Make sure at least some of your discounts are volume discounts, encouraging your customers to buy goods or services in bulk .
Knowing you’ll get money from future services is great but having it early is even better. With money from package bookings, you can reinvest it in your business with marketing campaigns to drive in new traffic, or keep your cash flow healthy and pay your bills on time. If nothing else, you’ll collect interest on the money that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
What you need: an online checkout service that allows you to sell both individual sessions or items, and discounted packages of several sessions.
5. Pique your clients’ curiosity with email campaigns that work
So, you have all of these great new products, services, or discounts to offer your clients. How do they find out about them? Email drip campaigns are a great way to keep your clients’ interest and could be particularly beneficial if you no longer have a storefront or another tangible way to stay top-of-mind.
Email marketing campaigns take a little finesse, but the payoffs are worth it—especially if you can craft emails your clients want to open and read. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when developing them:
• Write a subject line that makes your audience want to open the email
• Make it easy for your subscribers to unsubscribe or change their email address
• Customize emails for different demographics or lead types
• Keep it short (but also interesting!)
• Include educational content alongside promotional content
• Keep it simple by directing your reader towards one relevant link or call to action
This can help revitalize your relationship with both existing and dormant clients, as well as being a platform to showcase your new products or deals. Just keep in mind that any content should also add value or entertain your readers.
What you need: make sure your email software also includes a drip campaign feature, so you can plan to roll out your emails in tandem with your new discounts.
6. Sell gift cards that earn you dollars and data—up front
Like package bookings, gift cards are another way to both get money up front and retain clients. They’re also a way to diversify what you have on offer and can give your sales a boost on holidays. If possible, you could even create special gift cards for upcoming holidays (a “Mother’s Day Special” spa package, for example).
How do you sell gift cards in a pandemic? Digital gift cards! They’re a cheaper, low-contact alternative to physical gift cards that give you an opportunity to collect data on your leads. You can include links to them in your email campaigns, and they give your customers an easy way to give someone else a gift while keeping their distance.
Some customers have also been known to buy gift cards to help out businesses that are struggling. While it’s not exactly something you can count on, it’s worth noting if you have a loyal customer base.
What you need: a payment service provider that offers options for creating digital gift cards.
7. Tap into new markets with a few extra online offerings
Speaking of diversification, another great way to do it is through courses, ebooks, and online events. Not only will you increase the variety of what you have on offer, but they can allow you to tap into new markets as well. Ebooks are also a great source of passive income, and online courses and events can increase customer loyalty by strengthening your rapport with them. In the midst of a crisis, a friendly face is always welcome!
You can also up-sell existing products or services, or cross sell your courses and ebooks with each other—for example, at the end of your course, you could send out a link to your ebook, or your event could help promote services you offer.
However, keep the selling to a minimum, so your clients don’t feel bombarded with a sales pitch. Your primary goal should be to add value, not to up-sell. This is another thing you can promote using email marketing campaigns, with a link to your course, ebook, or or event.
What you need: it’s a good idea to invest in email marketing software that allows you to incorporate a call to action button right in the email.
Don’t know where to start? Here’s a tip: start small
If it all sounds daunting and you don’t know where to begin, here are a few first steps to help you get started:
• Make note of one of the above steps you’d like to try
• Do a little research into different types of software that you could use to do it
• Sign up for a free trial if you can. That way you can experiment with creating what you want and see if the shoe fits before you buy it.
Keep in mind that if you want to try more of these in the future, it’s a good idea to look for software that incorporates multiple features you want. But as long as you’re using free trials, you can keep trying until you find something that’s just right.
And remember: keep on keeping on! You’ve got this!