Over half of the US small business owners from the latest Goldman Sachs survey assumed that they wouldn’t operate over three month of lockdown. While some businesses tend to be more flexible and easy to go online, the others more traditional (as cleaners or event organizers) are under the threat of extinction. But even though your business might not be an ideal model for online presence, there are still some options to try during pandemic in order to keep business afloat.
Personal services are somewhere between these two points mentioned above. But while it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, successful cases of how gym owners, educational services, and self-proprietors of small offline businesses around the world seek and find non-trivial ways out of the lockdown. Straight to online!
In this article, I’m going to give you a COVID19 survival tool kit for small businesses. If you are one of the personal service providers, check this out. I am going to give you a set of simple and almost-free tools that will allow your business model to make a 360 pivot to go over these hard times.
Watch out! The business AID is on its way
In my overview, I’m going to cover the aspects of a business that can be easily digitized with minimum efforts. Those are:
- Sales and marketing;
- Communication platforms;
- Online education platforms;
- Payment processing.
For each category, I will list and compare 2 really simple tools that you can integrate into your business on the go. And don’t forget to share your options and lifehacks in comments. Let’s go!
Sales & marketing
To start online, you need to build your website and post information about your business on the Internet. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Google My Business – those are the most popular sources where you can easily get in touch with potential customers. You can also go through the debris of theme forums and classifieds (like Craigslist) or partner with other businesses. Don’t forget that all your efforts won’t go in vain, even if you won’t start getting a waterfall of sales at once. This is still important for SEO (we strongly recommend you to read our SEO guide for newbies), which is a kind of free advertising on search engine results. To learn more about boosting your online sales, read our article with a minimal tool kit overview.
In the meantime, let’s talk about building websites from scratch. Whether you need just one landing page or full-geared online shop, our options will suit you the best.
Wix has a reputation for the most affordable online-platform for building sites from scratch. It’s very easy to use, nicely designed, and can be launched in a moment. The monthly subscription starts at $13 and depends on the features included. If you hesitate – just check their wonderful templates!
What I like in Weebly is their native drag-and-drop user interface that allows me to build uber-custom designs according to my needs. What you will like is the ability to create your web page for free. Except you won’t be able to add your domain. Domain-attachable options start at $7, which is pretty cheap for such a good service. Weebly is powered by Square, so if you receive payments via this processor, that would be a valuable integration for you. Moreover, if you use QuickBooks or Xero and regularly import transactions from your Square account, don’t hesitate to try Synder, which will streamline this process.
Ok. So you moved your sales and marketing efforts into the online field and started to get your first clients from the Internet. What’s next?
You need to start delivering your services!
There is no actual difference whether you are having a 15-minute consultation with your potential client, free webinar for 50 attendees from different parts of the world, or an individual training session (if you are a yoga teacher or a fitness trainer, for example). We won’t mention here obvious alternatives like Google Hangouts and Zoom, but instead, list some affordable options most suitable for personal services.
Webex is fine both for crowdy webinars (up to 100 participants!) and 1-on-1 sessions. The free version has the only limit – up to 40-minutes meeting per session. Subscription plans start at $13.50, which is a really good variant when your business is mainly built on personal communication. Features worth mentioning are as follows:
- Calendar integrations;
- Share web-based multimedia content;
- Q & A, polling, and Raise Hand features;
- Interactive whiteboards for collaboration.
Skype is a worldwide messenger with a long history, still loved and used by its users. But not even most dedicated of them know that it as well can be used as a conference tool. While Skype Meet Now supports conference mode, I find it most suitable for 1-on-1 conversations. The main advantage of the service is that your customer doesn’t need to install the app or have an account in the messenger. Just create the link and share it with the client. Skype Meet Now killer features are:
- Record your call and save it for later review;
- Share your screen whenever necessary.
Online education platforms
Your business can be based on personal education, training, or consultations. Maybe it includes any other personal service that can somehow be moved online. Let’s take the beauty salon as a good example. Even though it’s a global lockdown and there is no need to be irresistible, people at least have to follow the habit and keep in shape. So why not launch your beauty course? While you are sipping your homemade mojito, the course will be sold online. Just check your payment balance from time to time.
So, you decided to gather your knowledge, pack it into a unique course, and… You need to distribute it somehow. Here come educational platforms that provide you with a comfortable infrastructure of serving your online course and delivering it to the customer.
If you already have a dedicated group of customers or a well-built brand, Thinkific online course platform will be the best option for you to start building your educational product. There is a free plan to try getting into the nitty-gritty details of the platform and the cheapest plan starts from 49$. To my mind, Thinkific is the best candidate to begin transforming your services into an online education format, as it provides countless value for money. My top list of Thinkific features is:
- Multiple integrations with the service: website-builders (WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Virb etc.), payment processors (PayPal, Stripe), email communication (Constant Contact, Mailchimp)
- Profound course creation features:creating courses with any content type, embed 3rd party tools and sites, quizzes & surveys, student course reviews and discussions;
- Advanced marketing tools that allow you to build custom marketing campaigns: from SEO to affiliate program
Udemy is a marketplace for course owners (aka instructors), which offers tons of educational materials on a variety of topics: from personal growth to mastering your bonsai skills. The most crucial advantages for you are:
- It is free to use. You are charged only once your course is sold
- It’s super popular and there is plenty of traffic there. So if you are just launching your educational project and you are not sure about the success and audience – try Udemy. That is a perfect point to start.
Bad news is that with popularity comes competition. It is really hard to beat the other players on this field. On the other hand Udemy provides instructors with a bunch of marketing tools to help you stand out with your course.
The last but not the least is the question of payment. Companies which are currently receiving online payments have significantly more changes to overcome the crisis.Once your service or product is sold it’s time to receive funds. We strongly advise you the following options as they are complementary.
My choice goes to Stripe as it charges just per transaction (with no additional fees), allows to receive payments from all over the world and also can be easily integrated with a plenty of third-party systems. Stripe ideally fits business models based on recurring payments, such as online-education, fitness and health, box retailers and etc. The weak spot of Stripe is that you can’t create invoices with it’s help, which limits you from active management of cash flow. But here comes the next option, which perfectly eliminates this drawback and complements Stripe.
Synder is a web-based app which is powered by Stripe and allows users to create invoices both in QuickBooks and inside itself to receive payments from customers. Moreover, it automatically records detailed transaction data into your accounting system, which improves your reporting transparency, keeps you compliant with the law and prepares you for seamless reconciliation.
You are now fully geared to conduct your business online. And this will cost you not more than 100$ per month. Just go step-by-step, carefully implement tools we mentioned and keep on going through the crisis.
As you know almost each crisis is an opportunity. Maybe COVID19 lockdown is the best moment to pivot your business model and scale it after everything ends. What tools do you recommend for digital transition?