Business ideas in a pandemic: How to thrive during Covid-19

8 ways businesses can pivot out of Covid-19 and not just survive, but thrive.

Coronavirus isn’t pulling any punches. While it’s impossible to say what it means for small businesses in the short to medium term, one thing’s for sure: it’s impact will be profound. The general public being instructed to stay at home poses big problems for many businesses. Equally so, the drying up of supply chains and order books.

However, for the optimists there’s hope. And opportunity.

Now’s the time to put those ideas you’ve put on the backburner to the test. To tool up, dig deep and pivot, if need be. To start a small business at home or get creative with what you’ve already got and what it could be. To show your customers you’re on top of things and show the virus what you’re made of. And, ultimately, do more than just survive.

To help we’ve come up with a handful of business ideas to pull through the pandemic:

1. Sell gift vouchers

Soothe your cash flow woes by selling gift vouchers that customers can redeem in the future. It’s a leap of faith on their part but try to throw in extra value (such as a free drink on arrival, 120% of their value or a special gold card) to sweeten the deal.

Whatever you decide, make sure you shout about it. For example, I’d suggest putting ‘🎟️’ (the ticket emoji) after your social profile and pinning a tweet about the vouchers. Many a shop, theatre and music venue adopted this tactic since it was publish. The good people at Editors Keys used the signal to support independent businesses in their local area.

2. Curate and entertain

We all need cheering up, that’s for sure. Offer your customers a ray of sunshine in these dark times by giving them something to put in their diary. Even better if it has a social angle!

For example, my local cheese shop Love Cheese has started doing virtual cheese and wine tasting. A 5-course wine and cheese pairing experience that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home and livestream with others. So clever it sold out multiple weeks in a row and widened their customer base!

Other examples include quiz nights based on your business’ area of expertise, virtual yoga classes, theatre beamed into living rooms and social media bake-offs.

3. Allow customers to pay it forward

Times like these are full of selfless acts. Help to amplify good by sparking a pay it forward scheme for your core product. In the UK we’ve seen a few such schemes take off, particularly when it offers some respite for the recipient.

Independent food outlets have also allowed customers to purchase meals for those on the frontline. Shambles Kitchen in York recently pivoted to delivery and served up some tasty meals to NHS workers, courtesy of its generous customers.

Books can be considered our maps in difficult times. That’s why hundreds of copies of Matt Haig’s book Reasons to Stay Alive have been donated to strangers via bookshops since the outbreak.

4. Be part of the solution

Consider lending your facilities and expertise to the fight against Coronavirus.

Manufacturers, fashion designers and 3D printers the world over are starting to repurpose their machinery to make healthcare products such as face masks and ventilators. Others are diverting their supply chains to key workers. Distilleries are switching their attention to hand sanitiser. Hotel groups are offering free stays for healthcare professionals. And taxi firms are delivering groceries to elderly customers who are self-isolating.

5. Invest in infrastructure

It may seem counterintuitive, but now might be the best time to invest for the future. It could be a website overhaul and getting featured on free startup directories, maintenance on equipment, a makeover of your retail outlet, upskilling your team, acquiring a startup, starting a sideline (e.g. Buckle & Band) or main thing, or refining the processes you know are a little bit broken. As competitors slow down or pause, you can choose to upgrade and stay ahead of the game.

The future belongs to those that see it coming.

It’s also a good opportunity to step back and think about what tomorrow’s world might look like. Will remote working become the new norm? Will customers want to exclusively order online from now on? Will we ever travel for meetings again? What protective equipment will we need in our homes? Will our grocery shops be larger and more less-frequent? How might exercise embrace the outdoors? And so on. After all, the future belongs to those that see it coming!

6. Go direct (from B2B to B2C)

Many companies are now accelerating plans for a B2C offering to sit alongside their established B2B staple.

Wine merchants, catering firms and wholesale grocers are stepping in now trips to supermarkets less likely and their online deliveries are struggling to cope with demand. Sure, the order values might be lower, but the margins are better and there’s no shortage of demand.

If you’re agile enough to quickly adapt how you prepare, ship and sell goods, you might find yourself exiting the pandemic with more customers than you had going into it.

7. Dinner kit deliveries

If eating out was a sport I’d be Olympic champion. Despite many restaurants being forced to close their doors temporarily there’s plenty of inventive ways they can keep their customers fed.

Meal prepping and dinner kits are them to recreate the magic of their favourite eatery at home. All they need to do is put it in the oven add the final touches. What’s more, if you get your menu right, you can still charge the premium you would do under normal circumstances.

8. Gift additional features

How’s this for brand purpose: Buffer has put in place $500,000 worth of support measures for essential services supporting their community, or customers adversely affected by COVID-19.

It starts with being able to pause your social media software subscription - a nice gesture that allows you to pay more pressing costs first. However, for those businesses that are relying on social media more than ever for their relief efforts, there’s payment holidays and extended 90-day free trials. Buffer also recognises that exceptional times call for extra features, which is why they will upgrade customers that need it, free for the next three months.

Hats off to Buffer for partnering with their customers through this and empowering them to do more.

To all the fellow independent businesses out there, we hope you find a way through these tricky times. Keep safe, stay positive and let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. We’re in this together.

If you’ve decided to take the leap, check out this helpful advice on starting a small business from fellow entrepreneurs.

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