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THINGS TO REVIEW DURING THE CURRENT CRISIS!

Unless you are considered an essential service, or you can do your business remotely, you have been entitled to a few weeks of confinement which has surely been difficult on your finances, your sales, and your morale. I hope you were able to get through this and had access to the various government programs that are aimed at helping small businesses. In case you do not know them and you live in Canada, here is the link.

For many, having a physical location is essential for its operations. An example, my neighborhood bicycle shop. Some cyclists had left their bicycles before confinement to get a seasonal tune-up and now want to get it back for some exercise. A certain part of the process can be done remotely (schedule the appointment) but picking up your bike must be done on-site. It was therefore not surprising to see that the store was opened last Saturday, and customers entered one by one after queuing outside and applying extremely strict hygiene measures. I do not know what the steps were to get this opportunity before everyone else, but they had no choice.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Our Prime Minister, Mr. François Legault, just announced, on April 28, that a gradual reopening for certain businesses was planned. This is good news and we hope everything will go well. Because a return to strict measures is not excluded, should the spread of Covid-19 become problematic again.

This confinement period has allowed many to take a step back and assess their products/services and their operations, particularly with our new reality. I share with you the journey experienced by one of my clients.

This client is in the recruitment industry. Like many, when non-essential businesses closed, her first reflex was to ensure the survival of her business by cutting expenses, including marketing. At the time, most government assistance programs were not yet released. Even if she later admitted that she should not have stopped marketing, it is hard to blame her, especially with the information she had at the time. Her objectives were: to ensure the survival of her business and to try to retain her staff.

So, once she was able to stabilize her business, she went into action mode. We talked about the options and two objectives were identified:

  • How to stay relevant in people's minds, even during this period which is not conducive to hiring or changing careers (difficult to sell your services)?
  • How to adapt your products/services to the new reality?
  • First, we developed a communication strategy adapted to our new reality; let people speak and then write about their experiences. In a context like this, people experience unusual things, they are worried, and they feel isolated. So, having a platform to let them speak and then write about their experiences was, in my opinion, a good idea. We, therefore, developed surveys adapted to the different customers and potential customers types, and we published them on the company's online presence in addition to the different groups that could have an interest. The participation rate was high. We are at the stage of gathering information and writing on the subject. This strategy is undergoing. We are not selling; we are working on brand awareness by providing interesting information and putting the brand on all communications. Our strategy extends the reach and we position the company as "caring" which is a good thing to have in the human resource industry. We are brand building.

    The other item was, how to adapt the company's services to meet current realities? Previously, the company had employers who asked for certain candidates with a specific profile. The paying entities were other companies. The company was not particularly active in the job search market (where the paying entities are the job seekers). But since a large part of workers were at home and they had more time to reflect on their careers, we felt that this segment was a good fit. The company's employees had the skills and experience from the employers' side, so we created thematic virtual group meetings that will take place every week. Initially, this approach will be free to eventually become a profit center once the process is refined. This strategy is also evolving. This entrepreneur was able to adapt her offer to find another type of clientele who needed this service.

    As you can see from this real example, everyone is saying that we must keep up our advertising efforts during this period of crisis. I agree with this, but with two exceptions; is your business in a position to do it and what are you going to offer?

    The first point deals with the financial health of your business. Maintaining your advertising activity by using your reserves and go straight into a dead end is not a good idea. Having a well-known company that must close is not a good business model. But if you have some savings, or you have activated government programs and which give you some leeway to get through this crisis, then you can certainly move on to the second step; continue with your business communications. But first, identify what are the goals you want to accomplish?

  • Do you want to invest in the development of your brand?
  • Do you want to keep your employees?
  • Do you want to continue your commercial activities by adapting, if necessary, your offer?
  • This process is important. As we saw earlier with our example, several things can be "announced" during this period, but it is necessary to make a certain adaptation, whether at the operational level (push online transaction as much as possible), of the message (inform rather than sell for certain companies) or objectives (maintain market share, grow, increase the reach…). Few companies can continue to send the same message as before, in the circumstances we live in.

    Our confinement period will not have been only negative. For many, it was an opportunity to see certain aspects of our business process from a new angle, both in terms of operations and in the management of our employees. Do you need all your employees? One of the first things to do when things go wrong is not to increase sales, but to cut spending. As our manager did for her business in our example. Certainly, depending on your business model, you might want to create employment. If that is your goal, keep going. But I have an entrepreneurial friend who realized the level of productivity of his employees now that they are working from home. Before, a request took a week to fulfill. Now he can have the same request done in one day. There are certainly questions to be asked. Especially when it affects your profitability.

    The same thing with your physical space; is it necessary for your operations? Many companies are realizing how teleworking positively affects the performance of their employees when they stop having to travel every day to go to work. Can you review your needs at this level? In whole or in part? Now? Or are you bound by a lease? Do you own the building? In short, there are certain things to see at this level.

    What about your products and services; can they be sold online? If yes, are you doing it? If your online presence is not yet ready, now is a good time to take care of it. Many tools allow you to do much of your operations online. Here is a non-exhaustive list of activities that can be done virtually.

  • Making an appointment directly on your agenda. Payment can often be included.
  • Videoconference application for meeting with groups or individuals. We listed a few of them in the previous newsletter.
  • Online payment.
  • Chat applications that allow you to interact with visitors to your website.
  • Inventory management applications.
  • Virtual assistants.
  • You can many things for your business to be online. The question is: are you ready? This implies the following question: what can you offer online? During this period, even some healthcare professionals are offering virtual consultations. How can you adapt your operations to minimize the risk of contagion, maximize the safety of your employees, yours, and that of your customers?

    If you are in the service sector, several companies can adapt their interventions to be virtual, either totally or in part. If you sell products, most businesses that have remained open did so online. I just received my Staples order purchased from their website and everything went very well. Everything was done online. When deliveries are not possible, there is the option of store pick up. This is an intermediate option, but you are limiting contact. The companies that will emerge successfully from this crisis will be the ones that will be able to adapt. Where are you with your adapting process?

    If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.

     

    Stéphane Elmaleh-Riel, B.Ed., MBA
    Marketing consultant