Will the coronavirus affect my local business and Google My Business performance?

With the COVID-19 coronavirus getting a lot of media attention, how will it affect local businesses both on and offline?
will the coronavirus affect my local business and Google My Business performance

The coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is a hot topic right now and quite rightly so. The virus has infected more than 90,000 people worldwide and is looking to turn into a full-blown pandemic if the spread continues.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been less worried about the virus because I feel that the media has blown the severity of the situation a little out of the water. However, I’ll be the first to eat my proverbial hat should the whole of the United Kingdom go into lockdown. At the end of the day, I want everyone to be safe. I also want everyone to be able to continue to live their lives with as little disruption as possible.

With all that being said, I work with local businesses daily, and I know first hand that they’re starting to get worried with what the virus could mean to their revenue. In this article, I want to explain how I feel the virus could affect local businesses (which includes their local SEO and Google My Business performance), and what you could be doing to help reassure your customers and build trust.

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How the virus could affect your local business.

The mass hysteria about the virus is spreading. While the number of recorded cases in the UK is relatively low, the media attention the coronavirus is getting is causing a lot of people to be concerned with their welfare (which is understandable).

If the number of cases grows in the UK, then every business (not just local) will be negatively hit as a result.

But how will the spread of the coronavirus affect local businesses

1) Your customers won’t want to visit your store.

The biggest hurdle your local business could face is the fact that customers simply won’t want to leave their house because of the fear of contracting the virus. 

No customers, no revenue. This is as serious as it could get.

This also means that your customers won’t be on their phones trying to find your local business on Google Maps and other search engines. So, expect to see a reduction in your Google My Business analytics and insights should the virus spread further.

2) Your employees will try to avoid coming into work.

Again, mass panic could lead to your employees just not wanting to take the risk to their health and come to work. This will be seen more for industries which are customer facing and require your employees to interact with lots of different people daily.

3) Your employees will get sick.

It’s almost inevitable that a virus outbreak will cause your employees to get sick. What this means to your business is two things 1) increased workload of the employees which are not ill and 2) the potential for your store to be shut down because it’s at risk of spreading the virus.

4) Supply chains will be affected.

If your business imports a lot of stock from overseas, then you could see a shortage in the availability of certain products. 

The coronavirus outbreak began in China, which is the worlds largest exporter of goods, and many factories have been on reduced operation/shutdown in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

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What local businesses can do to combat coronavirus.

I want to make a note before we go into this list that in no way am I trying to cause panic among local business owners. I think with the right planning and precautions, the effects the coronavirus could have on your business can be minimised.

And now, let’s get on with the list.

1) Create a series of GMB posts which detail what you’re doing to help

I think one of the main things which any local business can do is to be vocal about what they’re doing as precautions to help combat the spread of coronavirus. 

The use of social media and any other digital communication platform are powerful tools which you can utilise to make sure your customers are informed and made aware.

One communication tool you should utilise is the ‘post’ feature within Google My Business. This tool is a fantastic way of spreading your message to an audience who may be interested in visiting your store.

Google My Business posts are 1500 character messages which are showcased on your Google Maps profile page. Each post expires after one week, making them the perfect addition to any local business communication arsenal.

Here are a couple of Google My Business post ideas which you could run to help educate customers on the coronavirus:

  •  Some information on how customers can look after themselves (e.g. washing their hands, reducing the amount they touch their face etc.)
  • What precautions you’ve implemented to help combat the virus (e.g. placing hand sanitizers around the store which are free to use, not accepting cash payments, antibacterial wiping card terminals after every use etc.)
  • Or (if things get extreme) what your operating hours will be if you decide to close your store.

2) Be sensible with staff hygiene and educate them

It goes without saying that hygiene is going to be the ‘make or break’ as to whether the coronavirus turns into an all-out pandemic. 

Let’s be honest, none of us are 100% hygienic, and there is going to be something you do which isn’t clean. Here’s one which I bet many of us share, using our phone while we’re on the toilet.

While it’s unrealistic to expect people to become hygiene gods, it’s undoubtedly important that everyone increases their ‘hygiene game’. 

As a small business owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure your staff are educated and have the correct facilities to remain hygienic in the workplace. If your team choose to ignore the precautions you take, then I believe you have every right to issue disciplinaries.

Here are a few things which you can do to help:

  • Have a team meeting and explain to your staff what they need to do to remain hygienic in the workplace.
  • Get a health practitioner (if you know one) to come into your store to offer training workshops on improving hygiene.
  • Buy antibacterial gels and hand wipes for your employees to carry with them.
  • Create some ‘proper hygiene’ related signage which you can place in your staff toilets, common areas and anywhere your staff may hang around.

I think the most important thing is that if you’re implementing some of these changes, then it’s incredibly important that you practice what you preach. Lead by example and be proud of the fact that you’re a bonified germ killer.

3) Create signage which informs your customers what you’re doing to reduce risk.

I mentioned signage for your employees, but you can also go the extra step and create signage to place around for your customers as well.

Signage doesn’t need to be complicated, and it certainly doesn’t need to be over-designed and look fancy. Let’s keep costs low here, a single piece of A4 paper which is laminated is enough to get any message about hygiene across to the customers who are visiting your store.

Here are some signage ideas which you could print and place around your store:

  • Customer toilet signage which emphasises (in BOLD!) the importance of washing their hands after using the loo.
  • That payment by card is preferred while the virus threat grows.
  • Where the location of antibacterial hand gel (if you decide to buy them) are located in the store.
  • Information on what you’re doing as a store to combat the disease. This can include how you’re training your staff, how you’re going the extra mile to clean equipment etc.

At the end of the day, your main goal here is to make sure your customers feel safe. Signage is there is a reminder to them of the seriousness of the virus, but you, as a business owner, is going the extra mile to make sure it doesn’t spread any further.

4) Work together with other local businesses in your area

If you’re worried about the effects the coronavirus may have on your business, then you’re not alone. As a small business owner myself, there’s a worry in the back of my mind as to whether the potential loss in revenue for my clients (due to their customers not wanting to leave their homes) may result in them not able to afford my services. 

It’s a scary thought.

It’s important for all small businesses to unite and work together to make their customers feel safe. At the end of the day, if a customer decides not to visit your store because of the risk of getting ill, then I can guarantee that they’re not thinking about visiting your business neighbour. A little collaboration can go a long way.

Here are some ways you can work together with other local businesses in your area to combat the virus:

  • If you’ve created some hygiene policies/signage, share it with other local businesses to use.
  • Team up and educate employees together.
  • If you want to hire a professional to run a hygiene workshop, ask if other local businesses would be interested in chipping in to share the experience.

The number one thing here is not to feel alone. Every local business will be going through the same thing, and it’s essential to keep your business head screwed on so you can think of solutions to any problems which arise. 

5) Don’t panic if footfall drops (because it won’t be because your business is doing something wrong)

Ok, so the drop in customer footfall from the fear of potentially catching the virus isn’t here yet, but it could be on the horizon if the virus continues to spread.

Here is what I would recommend doing to mitigate the risk to your business.

Try to reduce spending.

If you’re looking to update your systems/equipment, perhaps now is not the right time if your revenue may be at risk for a few weeks/months.

Stockpile some products which may be affected by air and sea logistics.

If you’re a business which relies on shipments and products from overseas, then I feel you’re probably the most at risk of feeling the effects of the virus than others. 

We’ve already seen the effects the virus has had on the FTSE 100, and this will cause issues with overseas production and supply chains.

If you’re worried about the virus hitting your ability to refill stocks, I would recommend stockpiling your best sellers, so you don’t get caught out. However, this is going to be a balancing act with what you can realistically afford without causing you to have financial difficulties.

Look at your financial model and understand your numbers.

As I said earlier, I’m a small business owner myself. I know that sometimes it’s hard to keep 100% on the ball with numbers if things are going well. However, it’s essential when uncertainty is in the air to make sure that you know your business numbers in-and-out and what you can risk losing to stay afloat. If you’re not 100% sure, either 1) contact your accountant, or 2) talk to a financial advisor who’ll be able to help.

If you do one thing, DO NOT put your head in the sand and ignore the situation. Realising that your business may suffer a drop in revenue is a bitter pill to swallow, but ignoring what may happen could put your businesses future at risk. 

Plan and make sure your business can survive the dip in revenue, which may happen if the virus spreads. 

6) Talk to your customers

Finally, I believe one of the most important points all local business owners should be doing is talking to their customers more

By talking to your customers, you’ll be able to understand how they’re feeling about the coronavirus outbreak and what you can do as a business to make them feel more assured.

Communication goes a long way, and the more you communicate with your customers, the more trust you’ll build, which will, in turn, make them feel safe in your business environment.

So should we be worried?

The threat of the coronavirus for local businesses is something which shouldn’t be ignored. However, there is plenty which can be done to mitigate panic for you, your staff and your customers. 

Could the virus affect your online Google My Business and local SEO performance? Yes, it could.

Could the virus cause fewer customers to visit your store and buy something? Yes, it could. 

Could the virus be cured and not cause any noticeable issues for your local business at all? Yes, it could.

What I’m trying to get at here is the whole subject around the coronavirus, and the effect it could have on our businesses is something which is going to get more evident as time goes on. 

We’ve already seen large companies being massively affected by the virus, so it’s essential to take responsibility and make a contingency plan now and safeguard your business.

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