COVID-19 has affected us all in some way, but small businesses are really feeling the effects of lockdown. The combination of weeks of shutdowns and the country’s financial uncertainty means it’s taking a big hit. Many of my friends own small businesses and it was heartbreaking to see the struggles they were facing. Even for me as a blogger, I’m a small business and it’s never been this quiet and my profits have never been this low.
But I’m here today to give you a little bit of hope because things aren’t all bad for small businesses at the moment.
Social media is a great way to connect with your customers online, especially if you sell online and don’t have face-to-face interaction. You have the opportunity to build bonds that lead to loyal repeat business. It’s like having a small store where customers mostly stop by to say hello and browse the merchandise. Have a quick chat with them, ask them about their day, tell them about their day, talk about the weather, talk about who they think will win Bake Off, or give them a sneak peek of a new product they’re working on. You don’t have to keep yelling at people to come buy oranges like a market vendor. Social media allows you to sell in a less aggressive way, and we promise you will get better results!
Small businesses can adapt quickly during lockdown
Small businesses may not need to change their products due to lockdown, but they will likely need to change their messaging. Social media is so helpful for small businesses because it’s actionable!
Small businesses can pivot quickly and use social media to instantly share updates with their customers. For large companies, it may take several weeks before sending new messages to customers. Believe me, I know! I have a background in social media marketing and am well aware of how long it takes to put together a campaign and get it approved by a major company.
My background + social media marketing
On a little side note, I previously worked as the UK Social Media Manager at Flight Center UK. I worked there for several years, then left and went freelance, managing social media channels for many major travel brands. I enjoyed this for a while, but I wasn’t really interested in big companies, so I started working with small independent brands, which I really liked.
It was exciting to see how one Facebook update could impact sales. You can share a photo of a cake in a cafe and it sells out, or you can advertise an item on sale and watch it disappear from the shelves. When the hairdresser posts an update that afternoon about a cancellation, she can immediately ask her Instagram followers to fill the slot. When a restaurant shares a photo of the day’s special, she gets 5 extra reservations (or takeaway orders during lockdown!) that night.
I love teaching people how to use social media to increase sales, and I think lockdown is a perfect example of how social media can help small businesses.
Why use social media during lockdown?
Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends are undoubtedly the best way to attract new customers and increase sales. And during lockdown, social media is the next best thing. When we can’t talk to our friends in person, we turn to social media to fill in the answers we get from real-life interactions.
People are spending more time on social media than ever before. Not just because you’re bored, but because we all want human connection and sometimes online chatting is the best way to get it. So when your friends share recommendations on social media, take them seriously.
How do you get your customers to recommend your business on social media?
You can use incentives to encourage customers to mention you on social media. Things like contests and discounts can be effective, such as ‘Share your photo on Facebook and you could win a £10 voucher’. But what’s most beneficial are real, authentic recommendations. For example, a cafe customer might post a photo of their takeaway coffee and cake on Instagram simply because it tastes good. This is what you really want.
The best way to encourage people to do this is simply to be active on social media. When your customers see that you’re active, they’re more likely to engage with you on social media. They’ll tag you in a post if they know you see it and share it, but they won’t care if they know you don’t use social media. Also, if they already know you well through social media, they will know your handle and will find it easier to tag you.
When it comes to your handle (your online @name), make sure it’s simple and easy to remember so people can easily tag you. Consider adding business cards to all sales. Your business card should include your social media handles. This lets customers know how to tag you. If it’s not a business card, you can put it on a napkin, tag, box, or even a handwritten note.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask your customers to share their experiences and leave reviews through social media. People love supporting brands they love, especially when they know that a small shout out on Facebook can make a big difference.
Show your face
One of the reasons we love shopping with small businesses is because there are real people behind the brands. We love it because it’s not a faceless company. Promote it and show your face! We shop with you because we want to shop from you.
People will love it if you put as much of yourself in your social media updates as possible. I know it’s scary, but honestly, it works. People buy from you, so if they know what you look like, they’ll feel more relatable to you.
Most small businesses are comfortable sharing endless photos of their products, but they feel very comfortable sharing photos of themselves, so this can be a big and scary leap. Yes, but just try it once or twice and you’ll honestly see your engagement go through the roof!
Share the good, the bad and the ugly and all the behind the scenes
People are nosy, we all know that, right? But most small businesses are surprised to hear that their customers are nosy and want to know everything about their business. They want to know how you make your products, what your workshop is like, and the behind-the-scenes details.
When we shop at big chains, we don’t see any behind-the-scenes details. Probably because Primark won’t show you around the processing factories in India where their clothes are made, and Sainsbury’s won’t show you around their huge factories either. Because that’s what we don’t want to see. This definitely doesn’t help sales. In fact, you’ll probably stop shopping together.
But if you and your business partner are sewing clothes in the workshop or baking cakes in the kitchen, we want to see it!
As mentioned above, customers choose to shop with small businesses because they know that each sale benefits them personally. We shop with small businesses because we love the idea of each item being handcrafted just for us. We don’t want items that are mass produced in processing factories. We want our items to have personality and a story behind them.
Share your story
When it comes to each item having a story, be sure to share your brand story!
I love learning the stories behind the small businesses I shop at.
A really great example is a beeswax wrapped saree. She posts her personal story on Instagram and how she came to make beeswax wraps. You can read it here.
After reading it, I felt like I knew Sally a little better, I felt more invested in her business, and I was interested in seeing how her business develops. Ta.
It can be hard to know what your story is when you’re halfway through it. Most people don’t see the wood for the trees and have a hard time identifying “their story” unless something significant leads them to that business. But everyone has a story, so try asking close family members and friends to help you identify it.
The best place to share your story is on Instagram Stories, where you can save it as a highlight so new followers can see it as soon as they find you.
Share your USP
To help you stand out from your competitors, share your USP on social media regularly.
If you create beauty products using all-natural ingredients, highlight your USP by sharing photos of those natural ingredients. Many small businesses share finished products, but sharing the unique ingredients that made your product is what really makes your company different and interesting to your customers.
Tips for accommodation businesses
I know that many of the people who follow me come from the travel industry and run small businesses that deal with vacations, glamping, and other types of lodging. The lockdown has hit these businesses hard and we know it hasn’t been easy.
My main tip for these businesses regarding social media is that you don’t have to deal only with lodging. Yes, I would like to see the view from the bed, sofa, and window. But when people stay in your villa, they’re probably not there for the bed, but for the surrounding area. So let’s use the lockdown as an opportunity to share more about our local area and give people that feeling that will make them say ‘yes, I can’t wait to go there as soon as the lockdown is over!’
If I share too much, aren’t I showing my customers how to make my product?
We understand that many small businesses are concerned about oversharing on social media and giving away all their trade secrets. You may want to be selective about what you share, but don’t worry. Most of us know that we can theoretically make our own delicious coffee, but we still want to go out and drink coffee. I have a great coffee machine at home, but I still occasionally go to a local cafe for coffee. So you don’t have to worry about showing your customers how to make coffee. Customers already know they can make their own coffee if they want to. When they buy coffee, they’re not just buying a drink, they’re buying an experience they can’t get at home.
You don’t need perfect pictures
If you’re holding back from posting too much on social media because you’re worried that your photos aren’t perfect, we want to remind you that photos don’t have to be perfect. People are shopping with you because you are a small business, and unprofessional photos really emphasize that.
Of course, you don’t want really bad photos, so here are some tips…
A few quick and easy photography and video tips
- No need to go out and buy an expensive camera when you can take great photos with your smartphone
- Good lighting is important for taking good photos. For best results, take photos with lots of natural light whenever possible. This may mean setting up your photoshoot near a window or outside, and possibly moving all your equipment to a brighter area.
- Create a Pinterest board for photo inspiration and don’t be afraid to copy the photos you love. You can learn a lot through copying, as you can see the exact camera angles, props involved, lighting, and editing techniques being used.
- If you’re creating a video and you’re new to it, here’s a tip. Do not move the camera. The main reason why video footage looks amateurish is when the video is shaky, jerky, or the camera moves unnaturally. It’s very easy to deal with this problem by just not moving the camera. Whatever you do, put your camera on a shelf or tripod and don’t move it.
Tips for network marketing businesses using social media
I asked some people on Instagram for their social media tips for network marketing. To be honest, I have never been in the network marketing business before. Not sure if you’re being sold a product or a dream?
If you’re selling a product, you need to show that you’re an expert. If you sell beauty products, you need to be a beauty expert. You wouldn’t buy a car from someone who didn’t know much about cars, and you wouldn’t book a trip from someone who didn’t know much about travel. So, no matter what you sell, be sure to show that you are an expert and that you really know what you are talking about.
It’s also worth showing that you’re making sales. If you want people to sign up for your MLM, don’t be afraid to show off your sales because you want to show that this is a profitable business for you.
I’m scared about being active on social media – what if people use it to complain?
I’ve worked with several companies that are nervous about social media because people can use it to leave negative reviews. That’s true. People can use social media to leave negative reviews. But to be honest, they try to share their negative opinions with their friends regardless. At least if they share it with you on social media, you’ll see it and have a chance to resolve the issue.
Complaints don’t have to be a bad thing. Complaints are customer feedback and an opportunity to see your weaknesses and think about what you can do better. If you’re getting a lot of complaints via social media, it’s not the social media that’s the problem, it’s the product.
People will talk about your business, and social media gives you the opportunity to listen in on the conversation.
My final tips for small businesses using social media during lockdown are:
Don’t just share photos of your products. Of course we want to see your products, but the magic really happens when you share behind-the-scenes photos. Let your customers into your life and make them feel a real connection to you. If they feel connected, they are more likely to support your business.