Everyone is affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; however, we know that many small businesses such as camera retailers are feeling particularly vulnerable right now. Whether you are a brick-and-mortar retailer that’s temporarily closed your doors or an online business that’s experiencing a spike you weren’t anticipating, what follows are some important next steps to help stay in business.
Staying Connected during the Pandemic
If you find yourself in need of inspiration and encouragement, don’t hesitate to reach out (virtually) to your community of fellow entrepreneurs. Most in your communities are feeling the same pain that your business is. Try to set aside some time to share a few stories, trade information about what’s working well and also build a stronger sense of camaraderie with your peers.
It’s also important to stay connected with your customers and supporters. The photography community is a tight-knit one. Here are a few ways you can do it.
• Keep folks updated. We exist in a very specialized, very enthusiastic industry; there are plenty of people out there who want to hear from you. Consider adding a sign-up form to your site as well as sending regular e-mail updates to keep the conversation going with your customers, fans and friends. Not only does this help you keep folks in the loop about any changes to your hours or product availability, but it’s also a great way to let them know how they can support you during this difficult time.
• Strengthen bonds with your community. Right now, a lot of people are adjusting to new daily routines. For some, that means working from home; for others, that means taking care of (or homeschooling) their children. Giving them creative photography challenges, like Mark Comon of Paul’s Photo does, is a great way to keep customers engaged; they might also thank you for the release.
• Step up your social media presence. Figure out ways to make people smile on social media; ask them to upload pictures of their pets, or of their families doing fun things around the house or in the kitchen.
There are a variety of ways businesses can respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, but be pragmatic and resourceful. For your business, this means being cognizant and considerate of the real impact on your customers. Consider your relevance to the situation; don’t try to force fit your brand into places it doesn’t belong. You can also reach out to your audience (by creating a survey, for example) to find out what they need—and what you can do to help. If people can’t come to your business in-person, think about creative ways you can bring your business to them. For example, create a series of online classes to help them enjoy their photography passions while they have some extra time on their hands.
Perhaps, consider home delivery of your rental cameras. Of course, you should take the right precautions; however, offering customers equipment to try might help them pass the time and gain a new appreciation for photography.
You can also encourage your customers to upload their images to your website (if you have a portal to do so). The Imaging Alliance has a #realcamerasrock Instagram page that is full of thousands of amazing images and welcomes everyone to upload to it.
Steps You Can Take Today
Even if you’re not able to operate your business as normal right now, there are still things you can do to help navigate all of the uncertainty and set yourself up for success in the long-term.
• Obviously, selling online is your best opportunity to retain some lost revenue. This is the best time to offer great deals like free add-on accessories.
• Offer one-on-one instruction on virtual platforms like Zoom or WebEx. You can charge for this; however, offering free advice now may pay long-term dividends in the future.
• Recognize your customers’ financial situations. Many are out of jobs for the first time. If possible, offer interest-free financing or other financial incentives.
• Have your staff upload online photography suggestions (or courses). This is a great way to connect with your customers during this difficult time. It’s also a way your employees can keep their enthusiasm and exhibit their individuality by talking to customers about what they love about photography.
• Companies like MailChimp (whose website formed the basis for many of these suggestions) offer ways to keep in touch with your customers. Already have an online shop? Explore their integrations directory for options that’ll make it easier to sync your audience and save you from having to manually import your newest customers each time you need to send out an important message.
Deal with the Unexpected
Alternatively, maybe your business has experienced a dramatic (and unexpected) increase in online traffic and sales as a result of recent events. For you, it’s about being strategic in your response and understanding how you can continue to meet the needs of your customers.
• If you’ve got a product that’s been particularly popular, consider setting up social media ads to boost awareness among your existing customers—as well as brand-new audiences.
• Are you seeing increased traffic to your website because the content you offer is resonating right now? Be sure to capture that data so you can use it to make informed marketing decisions (while staying true to your brand) down the road.
Be Visible Online
With so many folks confined to their homes, many people are spending more time online. Focus on creating meaningful content that resonates with your audience. Be sure to consider the context as well as timing. However, not every message is appropriate for every channel.
Here are a few examples of the types of content you could create.
• Plan social content or drip campaigns that provide audiences with a look at the human side of your business. This could manifest as a weekly “meet the staff” feature that introduces folks to your team; or a behind-the-scenes look at how you make your products.
• Send a postcard or e-mail to let your customers know you’re thinking about them and can’t wait to see them again. While you’re at it, you can even plan ahead; create postcards to welcome new customers when you’re open for business again.
• Instagram Stories is also an interactive way to connect with your audience. Try posting a few to show off your upcoming products; discuss your plans for the coming months; or just chat about how you’re doing.
• If you’re knowledgeable about a certain subject and you’ve always wanted to share what you know, now’s the time to start organizing your ideas. You could create a downloadable guide, an e-book or even a series of helpful (and SEO-friendly) blog posts.
• Think of ways to make people smile. There is not one person right now who couldn’t use a chuckle to help brighten their day. Hold a contest each day on your Instagram account with a different hashtag; give assignments that will make people laugh.
Look to the Future
If you find that these (or any other content opportunities you’ve discovered) resonate with your audience, consider adding them to your long-term marketing plans. Any strategies you put into place now will only make your business stronger on the other side.
I’d like to thank MailChimp for the basis of this article that was posted on their website. They are an excellent company with tremendous outbound communications products, many of which we use in our business.