Hey there, Catherine here, and welcome to today’s episode of the Productpreneur Success podcast!
Right now, as I record this episode, it feels like every minute there is a new piece of news or a new announcement or a new rule or shutdown in relation to Covid-19.
It feels like at least a month ago that I recorded my episode about how to survive in business during a recession, yet it was only two weeks.
We’re living through unprecedented times now. Beyond the fact that there hasn’t been a pandemic of this size and scope in living memory, the efforts to contain it are wreaking havoc on our economy.
Whole industries have been brought to their knees, with tourism, travel, the arts, retail and hospitality industries essentially shut down.
Some are becoming innovative: cafes and restaurants open for takeaways and deliveries. Musicians pivoting to online video-based lessons. Events running digital summits rather than in-person events. Places like the Zoo in Melbourne are offering virtual tours or livestreaming what’s happening.
Then there are other industries that are better positioned to survive, if not thrive: health services, technology apps like Zoom video meeting app, and, of course, eCommerce is generally well placed to hang in there.
But even if we do have an eCommerce store, this alone doesn’t mean we will automatically do well throughout this epidemic.
I think everyone will need to be proactive in order to survive, which is what we’re going to talk about in today’s Podcast episode.
But before we dive in, I want to preface this episode with this:
You will notice that I avoid using sensational, negative or other language likely to induce fear or anxiety.
This is entirely on purpose.
I think the more we feed our mind with this sort of language, the more our emotions struggle to remain positive.
And if we spend the majority of our time feeling scared, anxious or stressed, then there’s no way we will be able to make good decisions.
As tempting as it might be to panic, the best thing to do now is plan for the crisis and keep moving forward, because it’s not as impossible as it seems, and the alternative is giving up.
But how do you plan when nobody even knows what tomorrow will look like? You may well ask.
Well, that turns out to be something we do have some experience with. If you were running a business during 9/11, or the 2008 financial crisis, as I was, you know how rapidly situations can change: head-spinningly so.
You’ll also know for a fact that: this too will pass.
So let’s draw from the lessons we learned during those past calamities. Today’s episode is called “Your Checklist: Things To Do To Survive Now So You Can Thrive Later”. And I want to focus on four main areas: stay calm, cut costs, keep marketing and innovate.
Before anything else, it’s critical that you remain calm. There are plenty of things to worry about right now, so don’t put anything else on the pile.
Right now, your focus has to be on keeping the business up and running as best as possible, and if you’re prone to catastrophizing things, it’s easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by the endless churn of the pandemic news cycle.
It’s okay to be scared—most of us are—but in these extraordinary times, we have to summon whatever strength we can to keep things running.
The most important thing, in my view, is accepting that there are a lot of things out of our control. Reaching a point of acceptance here is crucial, because the more we get angry or anxious over what we can’t control, the harder everything will be. Rather than expend precious energy and emotion over what you can’t control, focus on what you CAN do.
There are some practical things you can do inside your business, which I will get to a little later in the episode.
But here’s a few things that I also do myself and recommend to everyone to help you to stay calm.
Like the air safety messages always say, you must fit your own mask first before helping others.
It’s absolutely essential that we take steps to look after ourselves, otherwise we’re no help to our families and friends, or our customers or suppliers.
#1 – be proactive about keeping a positive mindset. I recorded a really detailed podcast a few weeks back about how to maintain a positive mindset and would highly recommend you go and listen to that one if you haven’t already.
#2 – set yourself a routine for work. As someone who has worked from home for years, this is something I’ve perfected over time. I have set work hours, and when it’s time for work I literally dress myself as though I’m going to work, including putting a bit of effort into my hair and makeup.
I realise that seems ludicrous when you work from home, but what I’ve learned from experience, is that if you feel like you’re going to work, and you feel professional, then that’s how you show up. It helps to put me in the right frame of mind to be focused and productive and to give my best efforts for my clients, customers and team.
#3 – take care of your physical health as well, with regular exercise and healthy meals. I know it’s tempting to exist off chocolate and gin right now, but whilst that can help make everything feel a bit better in the short term, it’s not a great recipe for the long-term.
Give yourselves the best chance of staying healthy and having the energy to keep productive. Plus, making time for regular exercise is another way of creating a routine, and with a solid routine in place it’ll really help you to feel like you have some control over your situation.
#4 – adopt some daily activities that help you maintain a positive mindset. I won’t go into a lot of detail here because you can all go and listen to my previous episode all about mindset, which I’ll link to in the show notes.
But in short – what I do is to keep a daily meditation, visualisation and journal practice, in addition to the other things I’ve mentioned here.
And in addition to that, I feel like it’s worth mentioning: adopting practices to help you stay calm and positive does not mean that you aren’t also a bit scared and anxious about what the future holds.
It just means you acknowledge those feelings and then put them aside rather than dwelling on them all the time.
OK, so we’ve gone through several ideas to help you remain calm. Let’s now talk about some practical things you can do in your business.
How is your cash flow? I suspect that right now, those numbers don’t look great if you aren’t in the business of manufacturing ventilators. And even if they do, don’t wait for things to get bad.
The greatest concern for most business owners, at least initially, is how am I going to pay my bills this week, next week, and how long will this situation last and how long can I last. Of course, this is a very difficult question to answer!
Now is the time to study those numbers hard and see where you can trim any and all fat, and where possible, perform immediate financial triage.
Here are some important steps to take on the financial front as soon as possible:
- Create a cash-flow budget listing with fixed versus variable costs. Fixed costs will generally keep the doors open and must be paid. Create a list of priorities about which ones are most important and try to set money aside based on the timing of when they are due. On this note – I’ll link to the episode I recorded 2 weeks ago – I included a free Cashflow Forecast download to help you with this.
- Analyze cuts to unnecessary costs that aren’t producing revenue or securing key business functions. When you do this analysis, look for things like apps or subscriptions that are nice to have, but don’t get rid of things that are actually generating you income. For instance, don’t be getting rid of your email marketing platform subscription, because this is a profitable revenue-generating expense. If you’re not sure which marketing expenses are actually making your money, now’s the time to learn your way around your Analytics dashboard!
- Reduce staff, temporarily or permanently. Remember, your employees can be one of your greatest assets, and if you cut too deep, you may not get them back.
- If you have physical premises, either a shop or an office, negotiate with your landlord for rent relief. There’s been a lot of media around this and I’m hoping that landlords will see reason that it’s not OK for everyone else to take a hit but for them to keep being paid rent in full!
- Look into the government stimulus packages to see what you’re eligible for. State and federal governments here in Australia as well as elsewhere around the world are rolling out economic support for individuals, employees and businesses to help ensure businesses are able to recover once this virus threat is resolved and we can all go back to normal business operations.
- Find additional revenue sources. Whether this involves pivoting to new products, either essentials like toilet paper, face masks and hand sanitiser, or to other products or services that people will need or want whilst isolating at home. Or, pivot into digital offerings, for example my client Bird on the Hill Designs who makes and sells non-toxic furniture paint, is creating digital workshops to help people who are self-isolating to get crafty and learn how to upscale their old furniture.
- And as a last resort, tap into savings or bank loans to help see you through.
History has shown us time and time again, that the businesses who maintain a marketing presence through a downturn, are the fastest to recover and do well once the economy recovers.
And it will!
If China is any example to go by – the term ‘revenge shopping’ has been coined as customers start spending up a storm now that they’re out of isolation at home!
Here’s what we have to play with:
Firstly, our customers suddenly have a LOT more of their most valuable resource – TIME. If we engage with our audience by creating great content, we can be rewarded with their attention in a way that’s usually very hard to get.
With people spending time at home rather than out and about socialising, the amount of time spent online and on social media has gone UP. So now’s the time to create and share great content online (email, social media).
You want to create content that educates and informs as well as entertains and distracts. Try to keep this top of mind when posting on social media or sending emails to your list, rather than always banging on about COVID-19.
Secondly, we know that more and more customers are shopping online instead of in-store. With essential services like Australia Post remaining open, NOW is the time to be selling on your Ecommerce store!
Don’t forget that life goes on for all of us, even if it’s a different kind of existence, largely limited to the four square walls we live in!
But we still need to buy stuff. We might be more motivated to fix things up around our house, or make our house a more comfortable and uplifting space to spend time in.
Or we might be inspired to start a new creative project. Or we might need some clothes for the new season. (I know I need some new winter pyjamas for myself, so if you sell some nice ladies PJs please let me know!)
There’s many and varied reasons why consumers might need or want what you sell, so don’t be afraid to promote your products and invite people to buy from you.
Just don’t do it in a greedy way that comes across like you’re taking advantage of your customers’ predicament. But I’m confident none of my listeners would do that.
Thirdly, I’ve noticed many businesses stopping all their advertising because they are too afraid to spend any money at all, and as a result the cost of running ads is dropping.
So if you’re in eCommerce, NOW is the time to start or continue running paid ads, especially on social media which is where your audience is now spending so much time.
Next week I’ll be interviewing a guest, Diana from Milkbar Breastpumps, and we’ll be having a chat about how Facebook advertising is working right now. I actually have several clients whose Facebook ads are still converting at really great, profitable rates, despite what’s going on in the economy around us.
And lastly, if you’ve spent any time in my orbit at all, you would know by now that I favour tag-teaming Facebook advertising with email marketing. And that’s never more essential than right now, with email marketing still generating the highest ROI of any marketing channel at 3800%.
Email marketing is a really low-cost marketing channel as well, so you want to get really consistent with your marketing emails to stay in touch with your customers and to generate consistent sales in your online store.
If you haven’t already, email your list immediately to let them know that you are still open and shipping orders, and reassure them about the steps you as well as your shipping provider have taken to prevent spreading the virus.
Other areas of marketing you can focus on with more time on our OWN hands include:
Learn something new or up-skill in an area that will help drive your business growth. Is there a course you’ve been meaning to do?
Work on improving your Ecommerce website. Take the time to implement changes that will improve your conversion rate or SEO (search engine optimisation).
Love on the customers you DO have. What can you do to surprise and delight your customers? Create an amazing experience that they will love to tell all their friends about!
If I can give you hope in this situation – it’s been instructive to watch what’s happening in China right now, as they have come through the peak of their health crisis and the community is now back at work.
Pivot and be nimble. What opportunities are there, right now in the midst of all of this, to do business? What needs can you be filling? How can you help your customers get through this? Examine where the market actually is, what commerce is actually taking place, and figure out where your company fits into the pandemic economy.
For example, one of my natural makeup and skincare clients, Morgan Annie, has formulated an all-natural hand sanitiser that’s safe and effective. Sydney craft beer brewer Young Henry’s has done the same. By all reports, it’s been selling like absolute hot cakes!
Another example is my client I Still Call Australia Home, who sells beautiful Australian gifts for homesick Aussies overseas, as well as to foreign VIPs visiting Australia and to events running here in Australia. Obviously a big portion of that customer base has disappeared, with international travel stopped and events being cancelled. But she’s been able to create some great ‘Lockdown Packages for Homesick Aussies’ to ship overseas, so by pivoting in her product packages and marketing messaging, she’s been able to open up a new area of revenue.
Or the example of my client Bird on the Hill Designs that I mentioned earlier, creating some digital workshops has been a great pivot instead of running in-person workshops in her local area. Not only has it filled a need as her customer base has more time on their hands whilst self-isolating at home, but by moving those workshops online it’s also opened up a broader audience than she could ever sell her local workshop events to.
Or looking more broadly around the market: ResMed is an Australian manufacturer of sleep apnoea machines, who have pivoted to start manufacturing Ventilators – something that our intensive care wards in hospitals nationally are going to need a lot more of when virus infections peak.
We don’t all need to be able to make something as life-changing as a ventilator, though, to be able to contribute to a more comfortable, enjoyable existence whilst we stick it out at home.
So now’s the time to ask yourself how your business, or your business model can adapt to these strange days we live in.
If you’ve never really focused on eCommerce before, then now’s the time to get stuck into it!
New problems really do mean new markets and new opportunities. Take stock of them and think creatively about how you can fit in and take action.
Remember, out of the last economic downturn we had in 2008, companies like Uber, AirBnB, Pinterest and WhatsApp were invented.
And during his period of self-isolation during the Great Plague of London in 166501666, Albert Einstein invented the mathematical system called calculus and the theory of gravity.
The businesses that come out of this stronger are the ones that lean into the economy we have rather than the economy we want. Use any extra time you have to come up with new ideas, anticipate future customer needs, and prepare to hit the ground running once this is all over.
With great adversity comes great opportunity for innovation. The market only stops if we let it.
Now, before we finish up, I want to highlight my free Rockstar Productpreneur Facebook group. This is the place to be if you’re looking to learn more about eCommerce marketing, and would like help and support to master your eCommerce game.
I’ll link to it in the show notes, and encourage you to join if you haven’t already.
Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be running a bunch of free tutorials, with myself as well as other experts, to help you through this coron-ecomony!
Last but not least – if YOU have a burning question that you’d love to have answered on this Podcast, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘PODCAST QUESTION’.