What to do when your business is shut down

I originally wrote this in March of 2020, when many U.S. states imposed mandatory shutdowns. Today you might not be closed because of a pandemic, but the same concepts apply for any major shift in markets and consumer behavior.

If you’re in business long enough, you eventually experience a time when you’re dead in the water. Due to circumstances outside of your control, paying work is slow or non-existent.

You could spend this time grinding your teeth or sitting in your recliner, or you could embrace the constraints and look for opportunities. Here’s what you can do during a shutdown to get ahead.

Don’t rush to spend money

Your income has mostly disappeared, but there are a lot of bills to pay. Cash is the lifeblood of your business, which means this is a bad time to jump into new and untested advertising mediums.

This applies to lead generation websites too. If they’re calling you, it’s probably because their usual customers are canceling. Why would their regular customers be leaving? Because they’re not getting enough work either.

When business is slow it’s especially important to make sure you’re keeping track of every dollar you spend, and only spend where it’s bringing you results.

Listen to your customers

Your customers want different things now, and they fear different things too. You might be working with the same people, but their lives have changed just like yours. The messaging that worked before the change is out of date and out of touch.

Update your website to address those new desires and concerns. Have your customers lost their jobs? Show them your financing options. Are they concerned about disease transmission? Talk about how you’re keeping them safe. Are they looking for a new service or experience? Explain how you’ve adapted to the circumstances. If your website is difficult to update, get a better one.

This applies to more than just your website, of course. Your ad campaigns, Google My Business details, your Yelp page, your social media profiles all need to reflect the new messaging (assuming they actually brought you work in the first place).

Talk to your customers

Whether you’ve been in business for 2 years or 20 years, you have past customers. These are people who liked you enough to give you money once. That makes them much more likely to do it again.

If you have 100 past customers, you can contact each individually. Start with your favorites and go down the list. Let them know you’re checking in to see if they are OK. Ask if they need anything.

If you have over a few hundred customers, one-to-one communication is more difficult. Instead, send a message to their email inboxes using Mailchimp. Don’t try to get fancy with formatting and graphics. Just send a personal email, from you, explaining how you’re able to help them during this time.

Pre-sell your services

You might not be able to produce right now, but you can still find people who will want your help. Use this opportunity to build a backlog of projects. Remember, no one else can work either. You’ve got extra time to understand the project and communicate why you’re their best choice.

Do a video call with your prospects to discuss the project and create an estimate. Explain to them how the delay will work. Ask about their priorities and offer alternatives. Talk about value, not cost.

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