The new year has started with a new lockdown affecting almost all of the UK, and after a tumultuous ten months of trading across many sectors, it's the last thing business owners wanted. With non-essential businesses having had their doors closed to customers since 4 January, we explore six covid-safe ways for businesses to continue trading throughout lockdown.
1. Adding ecommerce to your business website
If you already have a basic website and a captive audience, now is certainly a good time to explore how to add ecommerce to your existing website; having a way for customers to access your products online is a simple step you can take to keep cash flow stable when your physical shop has to close.
One way to achieve this is to integrate ecommerce into your site through the use of a plug-in or extension. For example, if you have a WordPress business website, you can use WooCommerce as a plug-in to turn it into an online shop. Shopify and Squarespace are also popular ecommerce website builders used by many UK SMEs, with both offering free trials before you commit.
There are plenty of online resources available to guide you through how to turn your existing business website into an online shop, no matter which CMS you are using. Once you're up and running, it's also worth investigating how to optimize the content on your ecommerce site so that your products get the exposure they deserve.
2. Creating an online shop on an existing marketplace
Another option for small business owners is to open a shop within an existing online marketplace. With record numbers of consumers shopping online during the first lockdown, promoting your products in an online marketplace is the new equivalent of having a storefront on a popular high street. This is especially true for businesses whose websites aren't generating much traffic - as although the marketplace will take a cut, your products will have far more exposure than if you were selling them on your own website.
Whilst the obvious options of Amazon and eBay are available, there are also other avenues to explore, especially for small businesses selling gifts or homeware, such as Etsy, Not on the High Street or Trouva. And, with items such as plants, gardening equipment and books seeing a vast increase in sales over the first lockdown, several niche marketplaces have also recently come to the fore, such as Bookshop - an online space for local independent bookshops to serve customers.
As such, if you have a niche offering, or are an independent or boutique bricks-and-mortar business reliant on footfall for the majority of your sales, it's well worth spending some time researching the most popular online marketplaces for your target customers. Similarly, there are also lots of local online marketplaces which stock products from independent retailers within a specific area, such as LoveOne or Good Liverpool.
3. Selling on social media platforms
Many small businesses will already have social media accounts set up in order to keep in touch with customers and as a way of promoting their brand image, so it's worth looking into how using these platforms as a sales channel could boost cash flow.
Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have made selling to customers even easier through features such as Instagram Shopping - where customers are seamlessly taken from their Instagram feed to the business' website with just one click.
Facebook Shops offers a similar experience - and at a time when people are scrolling through social media more than ever, it's well worth looking into how social commerce could boost your cash flow and sales figures. It's also a great way to drive traffic to your website and there's always the option of 'in-app' purchases and paid ads too, if you want an extra boost in sales.
4. Launch a Click & Collect or delivery service
Unlike the first lockdown, this time retailers with Click & Collect services are permitted to continue offering this service, although customers will not be allowed to browse or purchase items within their stores.
Many businesses are therefore looking for ways to pivot trading to a Click & Collect model, such as car dealerships and gaming shops. There are plenty of online guides that can help you set up a Click & Collect service for your small business, but a good starting point is to ensure staff serve customers in a covid-secure way when on the premises, and that you have a robust ecommerce platform which allows customers to order online.
Alternatively, many small businesses such as delis and bakeries found that expanding their offering to facilitate deliveries worked well during the first lockdown, especially when it came to supporting customers who were shielding. As such, looking into hiring a business fleet and offering a delivery service is also worth exploring, as it may allow you to engage with customers who are unable to leave the house themselves. For those in hospitality, if you can't facilitate delivery in-house, setting up an Uber Eats or Deliveroo service for your business is also a good option.
5. Pay it forward
Pay it forward campaigns rose in popularity during the first lockdown. They're a great option for any business that offers a service as opposed to selling physical products, such as beauticians or barbers who rely on monthly appointments from repeat customers.
It's an innovative way to keep your cash flow stable during this period, and is fairly straightforward to set up; customers simply pay for goods and services in advance to ease cash flow problems for the local businesses in their community. An example could be a customer paying for the haircut they were scheduled to have in November, in advance of it actually taking place once hairdressers are allowed to reopen again.
Similarly, pay it forward campaigns are also helping to save the struggling arts industry, as creative businesses, organisations, creators and freelancers have the opportunity to raise funds by offering the advance sale of the goods and services that their customers and clients love. There are also several regional campaigns set up to help market pay it forward campaigns, if you choose to go down this route, such as this one from the Mayor of London.
It's worth noting that many businesses that were forced to close during the first lockdown are now considered 'essential' and will be allowed to stay open. With this in mind, businesses that have to close could look into stocking their products with essential shops.
For example, an artisan coffee shop and roastery that produces its own coffee but is unable to open could consider stocking their product with a local deli or corner shop on a temporary reseller basis. The coffee producer could supply a fixed number of units of their product to the deli, with the deli taking a cut. Or, an independent potter who has had to close their physical store might be able to stock products with a local garden centre.
This could prove useful for niche products that have high repurchase rates. By placing that product in, for example, the nearest corner shop, the corner shop gets a wider product range, more customers through the door and potentially extra subsidiary sales too. This is also a good option for those who are part of a strong local community of business owners. It would also work as an alternative for small business owners who have a niche offering but do not want to go down the route of opening an online shop.
Other resources for SMEs during the pandemic
We understand that getting through the pandemic as a small business owner isn't only about sales and cash flow. There's a lot more to navigate, from ensuring your staff feel safe when returning to work to keeping up with changes to the Furlough Scheme. Here are three resources to help you during this time:
1. The Small Business Saturday Virtual tour - This is a great way to access free 1-to-1 online mentoring sessions and daily workshops offering advice to small businesses in these challenging times. It began in Inverness on Monday 2nd November, finishing in London on Wednesday 2nd December.
2. Coronavirus Business Advice Hub - The outbreak of coronavirus has created a rapidly-changing trading environment, with new announcements and measures being rolled out all the time. This content hub features over 60 articles focused around running a UK SME during the pandemic. From articles on supporting the wellbeing and mental health of staff whilst they work from home, to an extensive guide highlighting the financial support available to UK SMEs, it's well worth bookmarking.
3. Free tools to help run your business - From furlough calculators to coronavirus-specific cybersecurity training programs, many tech suppliers and digital companies are offering their services for free in order to help the small business community navigate the pandemic. In this article, Small Business lists a number of tools that have been made available for free to UK SMEs.
If you run a small business and have successfully pivoted your operations or offering to continue trading through lockdown, we'd love to hear from you and share your story. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.