The novel coronavirus pandemic has impacted small business owners around the world, suddenly, and regardless of industry. Since ChargeStripe has always been based on helping small businesses accept credit cards in person, we know our customers are likely to be impacted right now by city, state, and national guidance on social distancing and “shelter in place” orders.
Many of us have never experienced anything like the present pandemic in our lifetimes, and while our families, loved ones, and public health need to be our shared priority right now, we know that your business brings you not only income, but purpose, and community.
In the hopes of helping our customers in any small way we can, we wanted to share some ideas for adapting to these changing and challenging times, as well as where to find information on government resources for business owners.
Move business online if you can
Personal trainers, yoga teachers, and other fitness professionals are giving back by offering people free workouts they can do from home, and some are offering donation-based and paid classes and one-on-one sessions as well via Facebook Live, or pre-recorded packages.
Artists and musicians can also use digital channels to share and sell their work, or offer online classes, and accept payments online and by phone. Get creative, and think about what you can do to help your customers.
Here’s what you need to create your own online class or broadcast:
- A laptop with a webcam (most come standard with this), or a smartphone with a camera (and a stand or something to lean it against to keep it still during recording).
- An app to help you broadcast or record. Popular, easy-to-use options include Google Hangouts Meet (free), Zoom (free for sessions up to 40 minutes), and Skype (free option available).
- A tidy and comfortable backdrop. Don’t worry about aesthetics right now. As long as it’s well-lit, and clutter free, you’re golden.
- If you’ve never done this before, you can ask a friend to do a digital test run with you to work out any kinks.
For businesses in the transportation and travel industry, moving online may not be feasible, but you can still stay connected with customers through email and social media (see more on how to do this right below).
If your business is all about adventure and adrenaline, remind people that nature is still open and consider creating a guide for places people can get outside safely on your local trails, or even just sharing what you’re doing to stay healthy physically and mentally right now. Whatever industry you’re in, you can keep your digital doors open.
Offer a discount for pre-paid packages
While we don’t know exactly how long social distancing measures will be in place, we do know that they will end. Some small businesses are offering customers pre-paid packages at a discount so they have business lined up for later and can keep some cash flowing. But honesty is the best policy on this one — if you don’t think you can stay in business through a 2+ week timeout, don’t take on the mental burden of accepting money for services you may not be able to provide later.
Look at your business expenses and trim what you can
ChargeStripe doesn’t have any fees or commitments, so you can rest easy, but you probably have other ongoing expenses that you might be able to reduce or cut temporarily to help lower your overhead. Make a list and decide what’s critical for your business, and what you could go without for awhile.
Companies may also be willing to pause services and retain your account information — set aside a couple hours this week to make some phone calls and send some emails to see what they can do for you.
Government assistance for small businesses
Many countries are making low interest funding available to small business owners to help bridge the gap.
- In the U.S. the Small Business Administration is offering low-interest, long-term loans, and you can stay up-to-date on other government assistance for small businesses here. Stripe has also started offering fast, flat-fee loans you can pay back as you get paid for U.S. customers.
- In the U.K. a package of support, including grants for small business owners, has been put together to support business owners through coronavirus.
- In Australia the government is also instituting assistance for businesses and individuals.
Other countries are offering similar assistance. Check your government’s business division to find out what’s available in your location.
How to communicate with your customers
If you have regular clients or customers and you’ve had to change hours or services, by all means send them an email and let them know how your services are changing as a result of conditions in your location. If they’ve pre-paid for anything, let them know what you’re doing about refunds and rescheduling, and try to be as flexible as possible on that front. Remember that this is a challenging time for everyone, and make sure your message is more about empathy and information than marketing.
Be mindful of your email audience — you only need to email customers you would have been expecting to interact with in the near future. For example, if you run a chauffeur service, email anyone with a scheduled pickup, not every single customer you’ve had over the last 10 years.
Post any changes to your website and social media accounts, too.
It’s okay to take time off, too
Some of us are just not able to work right now or focus on our businesses with kids suddenly home from school, personal illness, or concern or care for family members. We know that for a lot of business owners, being an entrepreneur is a big part of your personal identity, but if you need to step away from your business to prioritize yourself or family, give yourself permission.
Stay safe and be well,
~The ChargeStripe team