Three ways to stay open, reopen or prepare for the future
Three ways to stay open, reopen or prepare for the future
Read our tips and hear how other businesses have adapted to the challenges of coronavirus
The coronavirus (COVID-19) situation has brought unprecedented disruption to the economy, with many businesses forced to close their doors or completely change how they operate.
Some businesses have pivoted to support the coronavirus effort itself – from distilleries producing sanitiser and clothing manufacturers making masks and PPE, to hotels offering rooms to the homeless and restaurants sending food to NHS workers.
For most small businesses, working out how to survive through these challenging times and beyond is no easy feat. To help, we’ve pulled together some ideas on how you could potentially adapt what you do, and five great examples of how businesses have responded to the crisis.
Above all else, the priority for your business must be your health and safety and that of your staff and your customers, so take the time to familiarise yourself with the government’s guidance for employers and businesses before you make any plans.
Social distancing and other measures have severely impacted ‘direct-to-customer’ businesses. It's likely these restrictions will be around for some time, and more and more businesses are transforming the way they provide their goods or services. Doing business in a new way can also help you reach customers you may never have connected with before.
From live-streaming concerts to turning a local sit-down restaurant into a takeaway, here are some ideas on ways you can engage with existing customers or attract new ones.
- Think about selling or delivering your products directly to end customers or online marketplaces – for example, some farmers who normally supply restaurants are now selling fresh produce to household customers
- If you run a pub or restaurant, consider adapting your services to offer takeaways and delivery options, and how you might need to adapt your menu
Ondine, one of Edinburgh’s best-known seafood restaurants, has launched ‘Ondine at home’, which takes the fine dining experience direct to their customers. “We’ve had really amazing feedback and we’ll continue with ‘Ondine at home’ for as long as there is demand for it as we apppreciate a lot of people may be wary of visiting restaurants for some time to come,” says co-owner Karin Brett. Read more
Family-run Bankfoot Inn in Perthshire has transformed from its usual business to selling takeaway fish and chips and off-licence real ale. “We had 186 orders on one Saturday night and I never expected that. We’re literally learning on our feet and thinking about how we can keep customers happy after lockdown,” says co-owner Fraser MacDonald. Read more
- If you provide a health or wellbeing service, make the most of digital platforms to take your in-person offering online – for example, yoga instructors, business coaches and therapists are using online platforms to run one-to-one or group sessions
- As a retailer, you may be able to use online platforms to engage with existing and new customers in innovative ways, such as wine shops offering virtual tastings, bicycle shops running repair Q&As on social media and local high street shops setting up a digital shopfront or using platforms like Shopify and Esty
- Some event organisers are recreating the experience of concerts, comedy nights or even religious services using social media and video conferencing tools to livestream direct to their audiences at home, and it’s even possible to recreate exhibitions virtually
Events and community interest business Connection Crew has quickly pivoted and launched a completely new venture, Stitch, while sticking to the field they understand best – events. Stitch provides virtual environments that simulate the physical exhibition space, allowing exhibitors and attendees to remotely interact with each other and the exhibits. Director, Warren Rogers still plans to reopen the original Connection Crew business as soon as possible, but believes there is a great opportunity to run the two businesses in tandem and reach a wider audience. Read more
- Think about collaborating with other complementary businesses – for example, you may not be set up to sell your products online, while another business may be, but have limited products to sell – this could also help you reach a new group of customers, and make distribution more efficient
- You may want to change your offering to better suit your customers’ lockdown needs, reduce your product range or introduce new products and services that complement your core business – for example, some bakeries are selling flour and eggs while coffee shops are selling coffee beans or providing make-at-home tutorials
More than ever before, digital is playing a vital role in helping businesses to continue operating. By making the most of digital tools and platforms, you can connect with customers and equip your employees to work remotely and communicate easily.
For some businesses, this may be the first time you’ve had to use digital tools. There’s plenty of information available to help you get started online. Our tips on digital skills for businesses are a good place to start, and most social media platforms and software providers offer free guides and tutorials to help you get to grips with their features.
But remember to be vigilant about fraud at all times. Read the National Cyber Security Centre’s small business guide to help improve your cyber security quickly and easily.
Strengthen your online presence
- Think about listing your business in online directories such as Yelp!, Yell, and other industry-specific listings. Set up a profile of your business and encourage customers to leave reviews
- Make sure your customers can find you on the likes of Google Maps, Apple Maps and Bing Maps, as search engines often deliver map results from local searches, such as ‘grocers near me'
- Keep your website, social profiles, directory listings and online map listings up to date with your opening hours and how you’re adapting your services, like offering deliveries.
- Consider signing up to Nextdoor, the neighbourhood hub, to connect with your local community. To support businesses during the coronavirus situation, we’ve teamed up with Nextdoor, so you can let your community know you’re open for business for free1 – even if you don't bank with us. Connect instantly with thousands of verified residents in your local neighbourhood, without needing to build likes or followers
1 Stop Wash, a family-run, eco-friendly dry cleaning business in north London has used lockdown to strengthen its digital strategy and make the most of our Nextdoor offer. “Our online delivery model is ideally suited to the current lockdown restrictions, and Nextdoor offers the most effective way for us to communicate with the local neighbourhood,” says manager Rohit Dhillon. Read more
- Use the audience targeting tools on social media platforms to advertise your business, share useful content, engage in conversations and provide advice – this can help you reach new customers and strengthen your existing customer relationships
- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram all have free guides on how to use their channels to advertise your business, or you could enrol in Google’s Digital Garage for free online marketing training to gain digital skills that can help you grow your business online
- Take the time to review and update your website to make sure it’s easy for users to navigate, find what they need and complete transactions
Stotfold Dental Clinic has used lockdown to develop its online presence and stay in touch with its patients. “The crisis has helped us appreciate the importance of a digital approach and going forward, we’ll dedicate more investment and time to making our website user-friendly, online marketing and social media interactions,” says owner Sesh Rao. Read more
- If you currently only take face-to-face orders or payments, think about offering customers a variety of payment options. The limit on contactless payments was increased on 1 April from £30 to £45 to help people make payments quickly and easily during the coronavirus situation
Digitise your business
- Look into using online software and cloud applications, like Xero, Trello or Slack, to help streamline your ‘back office’ tasks, such as your bookkeeping and accounting, staff attendance and holiday tracking, time management, workflow, and performance management
- Think about using cloud storage providers, such as Box or Google for Business, to manage your data, as this can increase productivity and allow your staff to collaborate more easily
- If your staff can work off-site, explore ways to improve remote working for the longer term – for example, using online conferencing and messaging platforms, virtual team meetings and social activities, and functions such as screen sharing, polls, shared ‘white boards’, ‘breakout rooms’ and collective brainstorming. Barclays Eagle Labs provides tips on boosting creativity between remote teams
If it looks like your business will feel the impact of the coronavirus situation for the longer term, there are lots of ways you can prepare and adapt, even if you can’t reopen right now.
- Revisit your business plan – it’s a good idea to do this at least annually anyway
- Talk to your customers to find out how their needs and habits are changing, and use that information to inform how and if your business could adapt
- Do your homework on how your industry is changing, both locally and internationally, and take a look at your competitors and other businesses in similar spaces
- Explore crowdfunding options or voucher plans so that your loyal customers can support you while you're closed and be rewarded when you reopen
- Upskill yourself and your team through online training courses, especially as many providers are currently offering their courses for free or at heavily discounted prices
- Brainstorm ideas for new products and services you don’t normally have time for
- Sign up for the Barclays Back to Business Programme created with Cambridge Judge Business School – an online programme that you can navigate in your own time, developed especially to help businesses think positively about the future and plan ahead
- Remember to look after your own health and wellbeing as you navigate these challenging times. Barclays Eagle Labs’ wellness hub provides a range of resources on issues like coping with isolation and managing stress, which may be of help for you and your staff
COVID- 19 ‘takeaways’
Fraser MacDonald, co-owner of the family-run Bankfoot Inn in Perthshire, talks about pivoting from hotel and pub to fish and chip takeaway to cope with the impact of the coronavirus.
The 18th century Bankfoot Inn in the village of Bankfoot, Perth had to close at the start of lockdown. “Our Inn’s eight rooms usually make up the bulk of our revenue,” says co-owner Fraser MacDonald. “We’d usually be running at 92% occupancy in April and May, but that’s vanished.”
Seeing an opportunity
Last summer, Fraser and partner Ross Paton trialled a successful takeaway fish and chip menu to cater for the increased seasonal demand. As the lockdown guidelines allow for food delivery and collection, they saw this as an opportunity to offer their newly tried-and-tested takeaway menu.
They advertised the opening of their traditional Scottish fish suppers on Facebook, and had 45 orders on their first night.
Since then, demand has steadily increased, mostly through word of mouth. “We recently had 186 orders on one Saturday night,” Fraser says. “At the beginning of all of this, I would never have believed that was possible.”
Fraser and Ross have also started off-licence sales. “Customers bring their own containers and we sell them our real ale – straight from the tap.”
Steep learning curve
Fraser and the team are still figuring out what works best for the fish and chip shop, and are literally learning on their feet.
The Bankfoot Inn’s old kitchen wasn’t able to cope with demand, so they had to bring in more fryers. “It’s bonkers, but very satisfying,” he says.
They take orders over the phone and have introduced a clearly marked one-way system that only allows three people in at a time while still giving customers the opportunity to chat to each other when collecting their orders.
Fraser says feedback from customers has been really positive. “We’re a big part of the community and people want us to be here as a social hub at the end of this. We’re already thinking about how we can keep customers happy after lockdown in a small, intimate venue. And we’re really hoping we can have a big party to thank them for their support at the end of all this.”
Stotfold Dental Clinic
Stotfold Dental Clinic
Sesh Rao, dental surgeon and owner of Stotfold Dental Clinic, talks about finding advantages in adversity, and how his team is using the lockdown to build relationships and develop its digital presence.
Stotfold Dental Clinic runs two NHS/private dental practices in rural Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, with a focus on implants and cosmetic work. Dental surgeon Sesh explains that, in line with the government’s coronavirus guidelines, the clinic has put all procedures and appointments on hold, except for emergency treatments.
“Although we’ve had to furlough some staff, we decided to stay open for emergency treatments to support our team and reassure our communities that we’re here for them,” says Sesh. “We think this helps build trust in us and shows we’re able to manage this crisis safely.”
Advantage in adversity
Sesh believes that times of adversity can also create opportunities, and the team is using its downtime to reconnect with existing patients in new ways. “We’re putting out messages on Facebook and Instagram, updating our website with information and guidance, and staying in touch with patients, particularly the more vulnerable ones, on the phone.”
The clinic is seeing a positive response to this proactive, more-digitally focused, approach and is still relatively busy with emergency treatments and calls to patients. “We’re even seeing an increase in new clients seeking emergency treatments,” Sesh says.
While keeping a close eye on cashflow is obviously important, the team’s main focus has been on building goodwill to make sure they have a full client list for when they’re able to offer all their services.
A more digital future
Before the crisis, Sesh says that the practice had invested heavily in paper marketing and advertising. The current situation has helped them appreciate the importance of a more digital and interactive marketing style as it allows them to maintain a more personal relationship with their clients and prospective clients, albeit remotely.
“Going forward, we plan to dedicate more investment and time to online marketing, making our website more useful and accessible, and strengthening our social media presence by making it more interactive.”
Sticking to what you know, but virtually
Warren Rogers, director of Connection Crew, talks about creating virtual exhibition spaces online while staying true to the company’s ethos of having social impact.
Community interest company Connection Crew “provides the people-power that get events, productions and exhibitions up and running,” says director Warren Rogers. It’s a 200-strong team with 25% of the workforce either previously homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
At the beginning of the year, 2020 was shaping up to be one of the company’s biggest yet. “The impact of the virus on event cancellations and postponements came as a shock,” Warren says. “We had no idea that we’d be closing our doors in March with no work on the horizon.”
Innovating with speed
Warren recognised that the ‘normal’ exhibition industry is unlikely to start up again for some time, and social distancing will impact how future events are run. The Connection Crew team knew it needed to innovate and diversify its income streams to protect jobs.
“Through our previous work and talking to other similar businesses, we saw an opportunity to recreate the live exhibition experience online,” explains Warren. “Using gaming software, we can turn a 2D website into a 3D virtual space for people to navigate and access embedded content such as presentations, real time calls and downloads.”
Warren and his team quickly launched Stitch – their new venture providing virtual environments and digital services. In essence, they’re able to simulate the physical exhibition space in a virtual environment, allowing exhibitors and attendees to remotely interact with each other and the exhibits.
Upskilling for success
Stitch has been well received by existing customers and Warren is now looking for investment in order to scale up. “We’ve already had some successful client pitches, with more sales and purchase orders starting to come in.”
As a social business, having a social impact and creating opportunities remains central to the company’s ethos. As such, they plan to develop training programmes to upskill people for Stitch roles.
Warren says that while the business has pivoted and launched a completely new venture, they’ve stuck to the field they understand best – events. And, while Stitch looks likely to be a success, they still plan to reopen their original business, Connection Crew, as soon as possible. Warren believes there is a great opportunity to run the two businesses in tandem and reach a wider audience.
“Central to our cause is to ensure we keep Connection Crew afloat to sustain our staff, and this continues to be our core focus.”
Re-imagining fine dining
Karin and Roy Brett, owners of Ondine, one of Edinburgh’s best-known seafood restaurants, talk about pivoting the business to launch ‘Ondine at home’.
Ondine has been voted Scottish restaurant of the year for the past two years, a testament to the owners’ passion for seafood and hard work over more than a decade.
Before the coronavirus situation, Ondine’s restaurant often filled its 80-cover capacity with both locals and tourists, but the introduction of social distancing had a catastrophic impact on business.
“Business first began to drop off in January as we noticed fewer and fewer tourists coming from China,” says co-owner Karin Brett. “We knew we needed to take the bull by the horns to survive.” With early indications of a big slowdown in trade, the couple acted quickly to engage with their Barclays Relationship Manager, Richie Paul, to discuss the options.
They have since had to take the difficult decision to furlough most of their staff, applied to the Scottish government for a pivotal resilience grant, and taken advantage of a Bounce Back Loan through Barclays to help pay overheads and supply costs.
Reconnecting with customers
After trialling the concept with friends, Karin and Roy have now launched ‘Ondine at home’, which brings their fine dining experience direct to customers. “We’re currently offering a new three-course set menu with a bottle of wine,” explains Karin. “We’ve invested in packaging and include a recipe card with instructions on how best to cook and serve the food.”
At the moment, Karin and Roy are offering ‘Ondine at home’ twice a week, serving up to 160 people. Customers can order and pay in advance over the phone, and choose their preferred time slot for collection or delivery.
“We’ve had really amazing feedback, with orders growing from 25 to 80 couples in our first two weeks,” Karin says. “We’ve even had to take one employee off furlough to support demand. We’re also selling any excess food via local fish and cheesemongers.”
While word-of-mouth has been their most successful marketing strategy, they have also advertised through Instagram, Twitter, email and their website.
With support from their accountant and Richie at Barclays, Karin and Roy are regularly reviewing the sustainability of their new venture. “We’re now looking into how customers could order online, and working with Barclaycard to support online payments.”
There is still a lot of uncertainty about when the restaurant will be able to reopen, and how they’ll be able to operate while ensuring staff and customer safety. “We’ll continue with ‘Ondine at home’ for as long as there is demand for it,” says Karin. “We realise a lot of people may be wary of visiting restaurants for some time to come.” In the meantime, Karin is keeping in touch with her team on their WhatsApp group and is encouraging furloughed staff to upskill through online courses in food hygiene.
Karin and Roy have also connected with similar businesses dealing with the coronavirus situation. “Every week we have an online catch up with restaurateurs from across Scotland to discuss how to move forward and how we can help each other. We’re all trying to stay as positive as we can.”
1 Stop Wash
1 Stop Wash
Taking digital for a spin
Rohit Dhillon of 1 Stop Wash, a family-run, eco-friendly dry cleaning business in north London, talks about strengthening its digital strategy using Nextdoor, the neighbourhood hub.
1 Stop Wash, a dry cleaning and laundry business located in north London, has been serving the local community for 18 years, but was forced to close its doors at the start of lockdown. Rohit, who joined the family business last summer after graduating from university, says: “It’s been really tough for our family, especially as five of us work in the launderette along with two other employees.”
The family quickly realised the business was in danger of shutting for good, so they approached Barclays for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan. Rohit says, “We applied on the Sunday and the money was in our account on the Monday.”
Building on strong foundations
During the lockdown, the Dhillon family has been providing the elderly and vulnerable with free laundry services and producing cotton masks for the community.
They have also used the time to develop a new digital strategy. Since joining the family business full time last year, Rohit has been working hard to move the business towards an online order and delivery model, which includes a new website and app. “The strategy was proving successful and we were beginning to scale before the lockdown started.”
A local opportunity
Despite being part of the community for almost two decades the business had struggled to attract a significant following on social media. As he planned for reopening, Rohit wanted to let his community know they’ll be back open for business.
Rohit used Nextdoor, the neighbourhood hub, to reach thousands of neighbours for free1 – taking advantage of the Barclays offer. A week before they reopened he added 1 Stop Wash to Nextdoor’s ‘Open for Business’ directory and launched their first ‘local deal’. Within a few hours, lots of people had engaged with the offer. “I’m very excited to see how the promotion plays out,” Rohit says. “I think it’s the most effective way for us to get the word out to the local neighbourhood that we’re back in business.”
Re-opening for the ‘new normal’
In line with government guidelines, the family re-opened 1 Stop Wash on 18 May. They have introduced various hygiene and social distancing measures to keep employees and customers as safe as possible.
Rohit believes the new online business delivery model is ideally suited to the current lockdown restrictions, and is hopeful the family will quickly get the business back on its feet.
However, Rohit knows they will need to adapt their promotional plans: “People are less likely to get their suits dry cleaned now, but I think there will be a greater demand for home laundry, such as curtains or bedding.”
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