The unexpected pluses
Well hasn’t this been a crazy ride? Bushfires affecting the country and hitting our region and then a world-stopping pandemic with only a moment to catch our breath in between. If your business is still chugging along, you should be proud. If you’re struggling, don’t give up.
One of the advantages of running a microbusiness in regional Australia is that the community wants your businesses to grow. If microbusinesses fail, we all suffer.
Support for local businesses surged during self-isolation. Within Port Macquarie, a website promoting local restaurants went up in record time so customers could see who was trading and who was delivering. Facebook groups supporting businesses had active discussions and calls for help.
But how are members of Micro Business Forum community faring?
To dig deeper into the impact the past six months have had on our members, we spoke with three MBF members who shared how their business changed during COVID-19, what they learned and the positives that came out of it.
Traditional sales tools helped Alison
Alison Carroll is part of a small group of distributors throughout New South Wales who sells Turmerix and educates customers on the benefits of the popular anti-inflammatory supplement. As a distributor, Alison is faced with a unique sales challenge – she can’t sell her products online.
Without a website, Shopify store or Facebook page to sell her product, Alison has to be creative. For almost four years, Alison has found success in local markets.
But when bushfires and then COIVID-19 shut markets completely, Alison’s primary source of sales came to a fast halt. Pre bushfires, Alison set up her stall at 8-10 markets a month throughout the Mid North Coast. Every weekend, she packed her car with product and gear, hoping for big crowds.
Before the bushfires and pandemic closed the markets, Alison knew she had to create a database. Since markets are fickle and weather dependent, she made sure she collected names at each market and used a monthly newsletter to strengthen relationships that would lead to repeat sales.
With markets shuttered for months, she knew she couldn’t rely on her monthly newsletter alone, so she picked up the phone and called her customers to see how they were doing.
“I’d been treading water during the crisis, so I decided to call my customers. I quickly realised how important this personal touch was to them.”
The phone calls didn’t result in immediate sales, but Alison knew from the conversations that she was strengthening the relationships with her customers that would lead to future sales.
It should also be mentioned that Alison’s customers don’t have to reorder through her. They can buy on the Turmerix website directly. So for Alison, relationships are vital.
Her monthly newsletter was an effective sales tool, but the phone call that she wouldn’t have made before COVID-19 made such an impact on her business that she will continue doing so even after the markets reopen.
To contact Alison for more information and to order, email or call her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 6582 3479.
Embracing the digital age became apparent for Liz
Liz is a professional development and business consultant who frequently travels to present to a roomful of students and business professionals. Although Liz was keen to fully embrace the new wave of digital conferencing, her clients not as confident with technology struggled.
The pandemic caused a sense of urgency to help the training providers she supports quickly leap from classroom-based teaching to various online alternatives. Transitioning to online learning may seem straightforward, but for an educational institution, it’s a massive undertaking. It impacts how courses are structured, delivered and even marketed. For the training organisations Liz supports, there was the challenge of managing competing priorities.
The unknown of how the virus was going to affect our lives and for how long, made it difficult for Liz’s clients to determine what changes to make.
When students and employees were required to work and study from home, those who were comfortable with platforms like Zoom barely missed a beat. Other organisations who were reluctant before COVID-19 realised the urgency to optimise courses and online distribution became a priority.
“Clients have come around to online learning as a matter of necessity. They’ve had to focus on their current infrastructure and how courses are advertised.”
Liz admits that not all topics are best suited for online delivery, but many classes are just as effective if not more in a virtual classroom. Leadership discussions on personality profiling and communication styles are more challenging to offer online. But the majority of topics that Liz teaches like “Running a Successful Home-based Business” translates well to an online platform.
Now that her clients understand the necessity to digitise learning, Liz has been working diligently during the coronavirus restrictions to finalise her material and prepare it for online learning. She is hopeful that the advantages of digital platforms for delivering high-quality content will allow her to reach more students. It saves everyone time and money, and in the end, allows Liz a few fewer business trips to Sydney.
Liz is looking forward to the extra time she’ll save from travelling to focus on more innovative ways to offer her services and more value for her clients.
To learn more about personalised training solutions or public speaking coaching, contact Liz at email@example.com or 0400 778 807.
The importance of modern marketing gets a boost for Veronica
Like Liz, Veronica’s clients realised the need to modernise once the pandemic hit.
Marketing is tricky for small businesses. We all know we need it, but we’re reluctant because we assume it is time-consuming and costly. But when a crisis exposes holes in our marketing efforts, we take notice.
The impact the bushfires had on local businesses meant Veronica and her team at Vermilion Pinstripes were coaching business owners on marketing through a crisis. So when COVID-19 hit, recovery efforts were already in motion.
As client’s needs turned from one catastrophe to the next, she had to slightly adapt how she helped her clients. For Veronica, the impacts of COVID-19 meant moving programs and trainings along faster. Backburner projects came to the forefront because her clients needed to refocus their marketing energy to survive.
Veronica was able to shift her focus quickly because she anticipated what was to come. She didn’t wait until the virus spread to Australia, she started making changes as soon as China shut down (which was two months ahead of Australia). Veronica moved their workshops to an online platform and accelerated webinars, monthly online happy hours, free marketing tools, and a Facebook group to support clients.
“The pandemic pushed me to trademark my Modern Marketing Framework, and it made my clients understand the importance of being agile.”
She was able to guide her clients with a focus on communicating visually. Videos and written communications became the focus. To meet the needs quickly, Veronica partnered with other specialists to get the work done efficiently.
Marketing during an emergency, whether it be internal issues or a world pandemic is similar. We need to be agile and have a structure in place, so when a crisis hits, tweaking our efforts to fit the situation will lead to survival and success.
Veronica is looking forward to helping more businesses find their path to happiness.
Moving forward: A five-minute activity
Before the COVID cloud lifts completely, now is the time to write down what you’ve learned. Although we can’t imagine forgetting what life was like during this time, we will. We’ll forget about the two per person limit of rice and pasta at the grocery store or how we didn’t know Sunday from Thursday. We’ll be back to busyness and life as usual soon. So grab a cuppa and jot down a few thoughts.
What did you learn?
What do you wish you had done differently?
What saved you?
What advice would you give others?
Take time to reflect and learn from what we’ve experienced. I like the exercise of writing a letter to someone who will one day take over your business. Should a global crisis of this magnitude happen again, what words of advice can you impart?
From the financial side of your business to customer relationships, marketing, work processes, technology and online efforts, what did you learn? What did you do well? What do you wish you had done more of beforehand, and what did you learn the hard way?
We may have taken a few steps back in 2020, but there is more reason to believe that this experience will propel us all forward.
If you have a business topic you’d like to know more about, have a story about your business you’d like to share, or want to become a member, please contact our Membership Secretary at Micro Business Forum
Written by Jody Carey
Jody Carey is a Port Macquarie-based content writer and MBF member. She shares her background in corporate marketing to help businesses build relationships with their clients through written communications like websites, blogs and case studies that focus on the customer experience.