How to stay connected through the COVID-19 outbreak

30th March 2020

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The implementation of a national lockdown with rapidly escalating fears over the vast and unavoidable impact on businesses across the country has left business owners at a loss for how to stay connected with their communities. Coping with a mixture of shell shock and panic, as well as the loss of control, it can be hard to know what to say, and when to say it. 

Here are our best tips for staying connected when your world has been flipped on its head, and  people are looking to you for leadership (while maintaining social distancing rules!).

Start talking

Don’t get too attached to any one plan of action: make the best decisions with the information you have, and when things change, keep ‘em moving. But, once you have a plan (at least for now) start communicating with the people affected, immediately.

Stay connected to your employees

The key is to communicate your plan in a personal and sincere way, and then be prepared to patiently explain further, and answer questions. Here are some tips for dealing with this potentially volatile situation:

  • Concentrate on your delivery and body language – be firm about the decisions you have made, but be human and compassionate. 
  • Try to cover all the major points of employee concern, upfront – think about things from their perspective, in detail beforehand. This will also demonstrate that you have considered all angles before making some tough decisions.
  • Stay calm and confident throughout – help reassure and assuage panic where you can.
  • Be open and honest – no sugar-coating or making promises you can’t keep. Everyone knows that things seem dire right now, so there’s no point in denialism.  

If you’re lucky enough to be able to restructure your operations and work remotely, you’ll need to cover a few things:

  • Implement a signed work-from-home agreement: what are the new expectations on each employee? What deliverables will they be responsible for, and in what time frame?
  • Set goals as a team, and schedule regular online meetings to touch base in different ways throughout the week – the structure will also do wonders for overall mental health.
  • Brainstorm with your staff, across departments: how can you improve your product or approach to customer service? Which business structures or procedures need remodelling? Now is the time to talk with employees that you don’t usually interact with – their perspectives could be revolutionary. 

One of the more optimistic fallouts of this tragedy could be stronger partnerships: people tend to remember how you treated them when the chips were down. Remember that you don’t need to have it all figured out all the time, either – just say you’re still working on it, and take suggestions where feasible.

Communicating with your customers

The public knows that small businesses are hit hardest by the lockdown – you’ll likely be blown away by people’s support and understanding, just from being transparent and sensitive to the impact on others. Here are some useful online tools for staying in touch over this time.   

Although there are many small businesses that have had to cease all activity, some have reinvented their product in order to still trade. If you’re able to offer any kind of service or value to your clientele, make sure to shout it from the online rooftops:

  • Do you already have social media pages for your business set up, and are they looking spiffy? Could you generate some new content for these pages? Have a look at Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram analytic tools, to get an idea of where you want to improve. 
  • How about your website? Could it do with a make-over to better embody your brand persona and captivate your audience? Check out Google Analytics to better understand how your website is being used by actual visitors.
  • Do you have a mailing list, newsletter or loyalty program? You could use the contacts to reach out in creative ways. 
  • If you don’t have a loyalty program, think about launching one (over digital platforms) to help stimulate sales – perhaps combined with a voucher or special deal for after lockdown. A simple mailing list with a carefully targeted marketing plan is an invaluable investment for any small business.

If you use a Point of Sale system, they often also capture customer information – if this data is used carefully and thoughtfully, it could prove a powerful resource for new leads.

Whether or not you’re able to make a single sale over lockdown, every business can use this time to deepen their customer connections, by sharing what they’re going through and using this time constructively. We tend to forget that we are part of the economy that is being reshaped – we can mitigate the effects of this disaster, by helping each other stay afloat and keeping as much of the economy active as possible.

Re-connecting with your network

Reach out to your network, provide support and take help where it’s offered. Actively open a conversation with the people who normally support your business, and reach out to those who you feel you could help – even if it’s just for some camaraderie. Communicate with your suppliers, partners, and contractors as often as possible: 

  • Find ways to help one another and spread useful information
  • Share industry-specific ideas and innovative methods of coping with the crisis.
  • Ask for some assistance when you need it – talk to your suppliers about extending credit terms, check with your bank or credit provider on what they’re offering right now, and even tap into wealthy friends and family if you can. There are also relief measures being put in place to help SMMEs, and popular crowdsourcing initiatives to try. 

Advice from a mentor might steady you in this time, or you could reach out to us at Yoco – we’re working hard to provide meaningful support and helpful resources.

People find lifelines in unexpected places, and businesses thrive when they are plugged into the community around them. Don’t let your business become as isolated as you feel – stay committed to nurturing your network!

Life after lockdown

After ceasing physical operation for three weeks (at least), many entrepreneurs have no idea what they’re even hoping to come back to. Nobody knows what the economy will look like, or how much the world will have changed. Chances are, we’ll all need that same entrepreneurial spark of creativity and enthusiasm that we used at the very beginning. The sooner we can accept it, the sooner we can start to tackle it. For now, let’s work on maximising what we have, and stay connected and positive – we can come back from this stronger, and there will be life after lockdown.

Do you have any advice or tips to share on how to stay connected with your community during national lockdown? Share them with us in the comments below.

Marijke Makomba

Marijke is a freelance writer and subeditor. She has a BCom Economics and Law degree from UCT, and a diploma in Digital Content and Copywriting from Red and Yellow. Once upon a time she was a chef-entrepreneur, but since selling her restaurant, she has been pursuing her lifetime fascination with storytelling. She loves to play her cello, read books, and eat tiramisu.