Coming to the Rescue for Small Businesses
The Marketing Batman of COVID-19
“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and make that change.”
Can I tell you my secret?
I’ve been leading a double life since March.
By day, I’m a digital marketer for high-growth startups. On nights and weekends, I’ve been slipping into my secret identity as the Marketing Batman of COVID-19 for small businesses in San Francisco.
The pandemic has been hard on all of us, but it’s been devastating for small businesses. When I saw a beacon in the sky, I knew I could help.
Here’s the story:
In mid-March of 2020, as COVID-19 was spreading rapidly, San Francisco was the first city in the country to issue shelter-in-place orders and shutter all nonessential businesses. At first, the orders were for a few weeks, which turned into a few months.
For a small business, this is an eternity. Survival was on the line. According to Barbara Corcoran of The Corcoran Group, one in five small businesses have shut down over the past year due to the pandemic. There are over 30 million small businesses in the US, employing nearly 60 million people—nearly half of all US employees. I knew that I needed to do my part in helping these small businesses keep the lights on and adapt during these challenging times.
Small business owners have a special place in my heart. As the child of two entrepreneurs, I saw firsthand the passion, challenges, and resiliency of starting and running a business. My parents inspired me to start my agency, Jives Media, and gave me a foundation in business that has helped me in the world of marketing.
When I saw how the pandemic and economic crisis was affecting small businesses, I felt compelled to be part of the solution. Adversity demands creativity, and small businesses throughout the city (and nationwide) were now struggling to reinvent how they were serving customers—and marketing to them. Digital marketing isn’t second nature for many business owners. However, it is what I know best, my superpower, and I had a team of superheroes I could pull together to help.
The rescue strategy was straightforward: Put the right marketing tools into the hands of these small business owners—and teach them how to use them. I realized that we needed to help these local businesses set-up social channels, optimize their Google My Business profiles, and increase local traffic through SEO and targeted email campaigns.
I started with my inner circle, reaching out to friends and family and their connections with an offer to help adapt their businesses to this new landscape—for free. Right away, we started seeing positive signs of growth. We had proof of concept that our strategy was helping these businesses make a difference. Here’s what happened for three of them:
Voodoo Love is a Creole restaurant in San Francisco—a “spot full of soul,” as owner Eva Morris says. Her business was running a dine-in model. “I knew absolutely nothing about Google and Yelp,” Eva told me. We helped her adapt with digital tools to boost her online presence and pivot her business. Since we’ve started working with Voodoo Love, the business’s digital traffic has soared, with 22,000 business views, 17,000 searches, and a 52% increase in website visits. Voodoo Love’s Instagram reach has also grown by more than 700 users. With a new approach to marketing, Voodoo Love is better prepared for the possibility of future limitations or shutdowns.
Another local business we worked with is Soma International, a nonprofit that empowers youth and women through rural learning centers in Tanzania. When your fundraising is upended by a pandemic, how do you keep raising money and awareness to fulfill your mission? You have to shift to a fully virtual model. “When the COVID shutdowns happened, we had to rethink our strategy—and that’s where Jives Marketing came in,” says cofounder Pranay Bhargava. We were able to help Pranay with the right tools to increase awareness by implementing SEO and optimizing their Google My Business listing.
A third local business we have worked with is the Peninsula Cardinals Baseball Academy. The Peninsula Cardinals offers pro-level coaching for athletes ages 10-16. I worked with owner Henry Wrigley to “get the ball rolling” to enhance brand awareness and engage with current and future customers during a time when in-person interaction has been strictly limited. We have helped the Cardinals launch Zoom sessions and email marketing campaigns that has increased retention and new player sign-ups.
Over the last year, we’ve helped more than 50 small businesses with 200+ hours of pro bono digital marketing help over the last year. We are working with them to prepare for a difficult winter ahead. I’m grateful that my team and I are able to help, but the struggle is far from over.
Here’s what we’ve learned, and how these lessons can benefit small business owners all around the country:
#1 Embrace innovation
Small, local businesses are in a fight for survival. With that said, there is a great deal of innovation that can arise when your back is against the wall. We have seen that some of the greatest leaps forward in our history have come from times of intense disruption. Some of the world’s most powerful companies today were birthed during the last recession—including AirBnB and Uber, among others. In order to embrace innovation, look hard at your talent and acknowledge the gaps/needs around you. This will allow you to identify the right service/product and deliver it at the perfect time. Be willing to embrace a new way of thinking and doing business!
#2 Small investments can pay big dividends
Small businesses can use self-service tools and platforms to enhance brand awareness—without a lot of investment. These efforts include optimizing your Google My Business and Yelp profiles, implementing SEO best practices, and leveraging social media platforms —Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in particular.
#3 Let data guide your decisions
When making any type of marketing decision, it is important to measure and quantify your success. Understanding data trends empower business owners to identify what is working and what is not. It is also critical to create a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that can define what success looks like and provide insight into calculating your return on marketing investment.
#4 Add a personal touch
Many businesses are unable to see their customers in-person this year due to local regulations from the pandemic. If you have a direct mailing list, send handwritten notes and personalized emails to customers. This will allow you to maintain and strengthen personal connections. Another idea is to post a compilation video of your staff on social media, thanking customers for supporting your business. These small touches can make a big difference when distinguishing yourself from the competition.
#5 Build trust
Building relationships can take time, especially when you’re trying to build them online versus in-person. But if you want to market your business in the midst of a global pandemic, you have to embrace building and strengthening relationships with your customers online. You can build trust with your customers by putting yourself in their shoes. Stay open, honest, and considerate when communicating with your audience. If you don’t currently have a regular cadence of communication with your customers, now’s the time to start (think email marketing campaigns). When communicating and connecting with customers during difficult times, be empathetic, genuine, and thoughtful. The more you connect with your customers and get a feel for who they are, the better you can connect with them in the future.
My agency, Jives Media, takes a different approach than many digital marketing agencies. We embrace a holistic, data-centric approach to decisions and digital strategy. I see us as a team of superheroes—we come together to create badass marketing solutions that drive real results and keep local businesses thriving.