Coming to the Rescue for Small Business
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, as COVID-19 was spreading rapidly, San Francisco was the first area 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 since January. 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 in these challenging times.
Small business owners have a special place in my heart. As the child of two entrepreneurs, I saw firsthand the excitement, passion, and challenges 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 this: Put the right marketing tools into the hands of these small business owners—and teach them how to use them. The plan was straightforward: Set up and build out social channels, optimize Google My Business profiles to drive local traffic, email existing customers to improve retention, and create mobile-friendly websites.
I started with my inner circle, reaching out to friends and family and their connections with an offer to help them 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 small business we have worked with is the Peninsula Cardinals Baseball Academy, which 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 stay in-touch with current and future customers during a time when in-person interaction has been strictly limited. We have helped them launch Zoom sessions and email marketing campaigns.
All in all, we’ve helped more than 35 small businesses with 200 hours of pro bono digital marketing help over the last six months. We are working with them to prepare for possible future shutdowns and 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 over the country:
#1 Embrace innovation.
Small, local businesses are in a fight for survival—and our expertise and support can make a big difference. We have been doing everything we can to help these small businesses keep the lights on and adapt in these challenging times.
Yet there is also good that can and will come out of the changes we’re enduring and the pivots that are happening. Some of the greatest leaps forward in our history have come from times of intense disruption. Some of the most innovative companies today got their start in the last recession—including AirBnB and Uber, among others.
To start embracing innovation, look hard at your talent and knowledge gaps to consider where the right help can make a big difference. Be willing to embrace a new way of doing business.
#2 Small investments can pay big dividends.
It’s an exciting time to be a digital marketer. We believe that small businesses can use self-service tools and platforms to enhance brand awareness—without a lot of investment. Examples include Google My Business and Yelp profiles, SEO strategies, and expertise for increasing visibility and growing audiences on social media—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in particular.
#3 Let data guide your decisions.
When making these investments, it’s important to track and measure success. Digital marketers can help small business owners understand what is important to measure, creating key performance indicators (KPIs) that can provide insight into where investment yields returns in digital audiences and brand building.
My agency, Jives Media, takes a different approach than many digital marketing agencies. We embrace a data-centric approach to decisions and digital strategy. I see us as a team of superheroes—we can all come together to create badass, high-impact marketing campaigns and solutions that drive real results and keep local businesses thriving.