This is an unprecedented situation. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape of small business in a very short period of time. What began as recommendations to use caution in public places to prevent the spread of disease has morphed into restrictions on all types of business and all forms of public gatherings or interactions. From sports teams to concerts, from coffee shops to clothing stores, from restaurants to offices, the world has shifted and business is looking for ways to adjust.

As the fear settles, we must identify the pivot points that will allow companies, especially small business, to navigate the storm without losing their livelihood. So, where to start?

My recommendation … start by talking to your customers. They are very likely to not only understand the extraordinary state of affairs we are in but are even more likely to be looking for reassurances from the businesses they are used to frequenting. Your customers are looking for ways to retain “normalcy” as the situation unfolds. While this is, by no means a solution, it is a way to better understand directly from your clients how to best continue to meet needs in this new reality. A few suggestions to get the conversation started: 

1)     Check-in with your customers – How are they doing?

a.      This is not just an inquiry about general health, though that too, but rather … what is happening with you, the customer? How can my business assist? What’s the “new normal” you are facing and is there a way my business can help?

2)     Give your customers an update – How are you doing?

a.      Your customers want to hear from you too – has your health been impacted? Are your staff all healthy? Have you had to downsize your workers? Let your customers know the good and the bad and how you are adjusting.

3)     Ask what would be helpful – What do you need?

a.      We all have ideas about what may be helpful but it is even more useful to hear first-hand. What would be useful today? What will be useful tomorrow and in the coming days? Can we shift our current model to meet our customer’s needs?

4)     Offer alternatives – Would this help?

a.      The good news is … you’re in charge. You, the business owner, can decide how you will deploy products and services to your customers so why not ask if it will help? Delivery services? Customer service hotlines? Virtual meetings and updates? How can you provide service in this time of change?

Small business is the foundation of the California economy and vital to every local and regional community in which business resides. Small business is also the home of innovation and adaptability.

By talking to your customers directly, you are offering reassurances and seeking support through mutually beneficial solutions. Find out your customer and community pain points and assess your business and its ability to adapt accordingly. What can you provide today and in what form? What will require tweaking and what will require a whole new way of thinking? Before you go “all in” on a solution, get a sense of what makes sense directly from your customers. It will build loyalty, spark appreciation, confirm your commitment to your clients and help you feel empowered in a situation that is overwhelmingly challenging. 

CITC COVID-19 Business Resources

The CITC is here to help during the COVID-19 shutdown with free digital tools, resources, and trade experts ready to assist your small to mid-sized business during these times of uncertainty.

Leah Goold-Haws
Leah Goold-Haws

Leah Goold-Haws is the Sector Navigator of Global Trade and the Statewide Director for the California Centers for International Trade Development (CITD). Goold-Haws oversees a team that works with the 114 colleges in the California Community College system offering trade assistance to companies or individuals in the state of California.