4 Tips for Small Businesses Facing Lockdown
In the UK we are facing our second national lockdown, in fact it would be our 3rd if we include the 4 week shorter lockdown we had in November.
When the first lockdown was announced in March I had just made the move from selling vintage and antiques to investing in a large stock shipment from Italy. I had in effect sent all my money off to another country and was now facing the unknown of if, or when I would receive my stock - plus I had no idea how, or if I could continue trading. I admit, I shit myself!
After leaving my ‘good job’ as a Senior university lecturer and turning down (read more on that here), what a few years ago, I would have classed as my ‘dream job’. I wasn’t new to adversity and was determined not to let this set me back. I decided to leave the world of academia after having a breakdown, using mindset, CBT, therapy and mentoring I fought to win my sanity back and set out on the path of entrepreneurship. In CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) we use the word ‘catastrophising’ to explain the human condition of always focusing on the worse possible outcome. In my case I could have let the lockdown restrictions and whole Covid situation act as a trigger for my worry to spiral out of control. However there is a mantra ‘worrying only means you suffer twice’ which I like to bring to mind whenever I find myself with thoughts whirling around my head. There is really no point in worrying about things that might never happen, instead of worrying about the worst-case scenario instead I focus on the best thing that could happen. I admit, often easier said than done but bear with me.
I couldn’t contact my supplier – presuming they were also in lockdown and not able to work, I was scouring the internet for news about the situation in Italy, I had to admit this was a situation I had no control over. So what could I do? I focused on what I could control – in any situation there will be things you can and can’t control. I could control my website, so I updated my blog, took new product images, I took the time to engage on social media hosting lives and making videos. I took the time to talk to my customers more, to see what they wanted from me as a business but also to step into their shoes. In my former job as a lecturer I taught trend forecasting as well as marketing and communication across fashion and design so I do have experience in this – however it is always a lot easier to lecture about and consult on other businesses than it is your own, as you are always too close to your own biz and are emotionally involved.
- Getting inside my customers current mindset
All businesses should have a consumer profile, it is essential to know who your customer is. We need to look how the world is changing, even after lockdown is eased it will have had permanent affect. Looking back to last March we can now see some of these affects. We had to pivot and pivot and pivot our businesses to evolve with the ever-changing climate and now it is part of our full business strategy.
Examples of things that I did included offering different payment plans for our customers. As a Limited company we can offer Clearpay and Klarna, before this we would offer split payments manually via Paypal. I also expanded the option for customers to pre-order items, this requires a lot of trust from customers, which is something we have established from the start as one of our core brand values. The absolute key to business, for me, is to do everything with integrity and so my customers know that if I say you will get your product, you will 100% get that product. I also offered a deposit system for some items on preorder where customers could secure their items but without the need to pay for it for 8-10 weeks. This also helped me with stock numbers, as with new products it can be difficult to estimate demand. Doing this helped customers and it helped me so it works both ways. Overall it was stepping into my customers shoes, seeing what they needed and being able to respond to that.
- Foregoing the usual seasonal retail calendar
Still with the uncertainty over covid and the Christmas season approaching, as a business with long lead times I didn’t want to go all out on Xmas stock as should there have been another lockdown causing delays I wouldn’t have been able to react as quickly as needed. As it happened we faced 4 weeks of lockdown in November – the key Xmas period for retail. With this being in mind I decided back in August that we would have a ‘not very Xmassy, Xmas collection’. They key to this being that if delays meant I didn’t receive it prior to Xmas it would still be a product relevant for retail at any time of year. Had it been Xmas specific I would have been left with stock I couldn’t sell for another 12 months. Being flexible really is key right now and a benefit to being a small biz means we can be hands on, we can jump in and change things if needed and react quite quickly.
- Get Visible
For small businesses especially it is so easy to go into a panic lead free-fall. But there are always positives you can focus on. One thing you can always do, for free, is come on social media, Instagram and Facebook etc and show up. You can make Lives, videos, talk to your customers and show case your products all just for the cost of your own time. Think about the brands you like to shop with, what are they doing? What do you like? Do they show up and showcase their products? How do they do this? What are you yourself responding to? See how you can take some inspiration from this for your business. For example my customers enjoy when I do lives showcasing our products, as an online store product can look flat in photos so videos allow me to bring the products to life along with customers being able to ask questions and get immediate answers. It also allows you to interact with customers and for them to see you as a real person, as a small business you aren’t a faceless conglomerate, let people see that.
- Lean up
This isn’t just an opportunity to promote your biz, but valuable time to take to deep-dive inside your operations. This is a time where we need to lean up, we need to cut the fat so to speak. Go over your outgoings and check you are absolutely accounting for everything going out. Are there any subscriptions you have but don’t use? For example I had a QuickBooks subscription but never used it, it might only be £20 a month but that adds up. The other thing I altered was our packaging, whilst pretty pink bubble wrap was rather fabulous, at twice the price of regular it wasn’t really a necessity. It’s not about cutting corners; it is reviewing where every penny goes and making it accountable.
You can watch the video chat on this topic over on Instagram IGTV @DogwoodLifestyle