2021 began as the year of all hopes and many expectations, after a miserable 2020 that brought down, in the blink of an eye, what so many took so long to build. In some cases it virtually destroyed them, forcing them to close doors; in others it left a massive dent and forced them to fill their lungs with air and prepare for a long freedive that never seems to end.
But, as we come to roughly mid-February 2021, for the vast majority, those hopes that filled our hearts, comforted our souls and populated our dreams, have shattered.
With a new lockdown and highly restrictive measures in place for most of the region’s and the country’s (small) businesses, and with no end in sight, the bulk of the Algarve business community despairs and wonders how to survive.
In the week when most commercial establishments were forced to close, phone calls started to pour here. If in the first lockdown of March 2020 we had the vast majority of clients asking for the suspension of the services they had contracted, now, and with that experience still (too) fresh in their memory, there were very few that told us they wanted to stop working their digital marketing (and have since all resumed it). Online is where everything runs these days and where we all need to be. Permanently. Some reduced their advertising budgets (very few actually) but most have not only told us that they wanted to continue, but asked us what they could do more.
The answer we gave during those first five days of this new lockdown was always the same: communication, communication, communication; exposure, exposure, exposure. More, better, a lot, because we have to appear all the time in that digital world, where we all are now, from our homes.
But if, and from March 2020 onward, all entrepreneurs and small business owners realised that a large chunk of their budget would have to be allocated to their digital marketing; for the vast majority, this budget has not grown or stretched. So, how to do more, how to communicate more, how to appear more, if we don’t have more money to put in Google Ads campaigns or in social media ads and promotions? The answer is simple and its implementation easy (I promise): let’s work on the organic exposure, the one we don’t need to pay for. And, at a time when there isn’t a lot of good news lying around, I have a few to share with you – it will not involve more investment and will be limited only by your imagination. So fasten your seat belts and get ready to take off!
Do you have a website but it doesn’t have an online shop? If you can create it, do it. With the advent of platforms like WordPress, Wix and Squarespace, amongst others, creating a website or adding pages to the one you already have is not necessarily difficult. Yes, if you have the budget for having a professional doing it, all the better, but, as the old Portuguese saying goes ‘em tempo de guerra não se limpam armas’ (which translates roughly to ‘in times of war, you don’t clean the guns [you fight]), so get to work.
Choose a good template that suits your needs. There are many free ones, and yes, I know I said that we would do everything without investment, but if you can spend € 15 or € 30 here, buy one, as it will save you a lot of work and bring you better results. If you are concerned with the integration of payments on the page, think that the checkout does not necessarily have to be the ‘formal’ one you have on a large online store.
Create a page with your products or services where you add photos of said products/ services, a good description for each one, its prices and a button that links to your e-mail address (and before you start saying that ‘that’s way too technical for me’, let me remind you that I’m a copywriter, not a web developer, and if I can do it, so can you. Because, truth be told, it’s just a matter of adding a ‘mailto:your- firstname.lastname@example.org’ link to that button. The user who wants to buy the product sends you an e-mail (or calls you, if you prefer that to be the link on the button), you respond to confirm the order, request payment (via MBWay, PayPal, bank transfer, etc, as previously discussed) and you send him/ her the purchase by mail, by carrier, or deliver it at home, as you prefer/ determine.
And voilà, an online shop, ‘low-cost’ made, so that you can sell even if your doors need to stay closed. The only thing you have to make sure is that you regularly check the e-mails you receive, that you reply to them as soon as possible, and that you meet the delivery (the shorter, the better, of course!) terms and conditions you commit to with your customer.
If you can’t create an online shop on your website, do it on Facebook! It’s completely free and you only need to have a page (and not just a personal profile) on this social media. The principle is the same as the described above for the online shop on your website: photos, descriptions and prices of the products or services you want to sell.
Once again, the check-out can be done in several ways and doesn’t even require you having a website, let alone an online shop in it. You can use, for example, Messenger or WhatsApp (which, if you haven’t already, you should integrate with your Facebook page to help increase and facilitate contacts) and decide the payment method, the delivery, etc, there, directly with the client.
In the US (and for sure in Europe and Portugal soon) it is even possible to create one of these shops with checkout, which allows customers to buy and pay for items directly on the shop, without ever leaving that social media (in exchange for a commission on sales paid directly to Facebook).
And when we say Facebook Shop, we also mean Instagram! Facebook tells you exactly what to do and how to do it, and even offers free training courses for you to learn how to manage and make better use of these resources. Of course, it will also try to convince you to pay for advertising on those platforms (and, most of the times, it’s money well spent, depending, obviously, on the type of business) but you don’t have to do it. Don’t forget that in this case, as in the ‘page-shop’ on your website that we talked about before, being watchful is essential, since response speed is crucial and on social media expected to be ‘to the minute’.
Finally, but not least important, are the photos you use in your shop (well, everywhere you showcase your products or services, to tell you the truth), so invest time in taking good ones, well lit, and then well edited, because we eat with our eyes first and if they are not attracted to what they see, it doesn’t really matter how good what you sell is. These days, there are a large number of free image editors online that practically do that job for you. I still prefer a good graphic designer, but we agreed we were going to ‘go about this for free’, and therefore, alternatively, Fotor, for instance, is one of my favourites.
If you already use social media, use more (if you don’t, start immediately!). Increase the frequency with which you post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or even TikTok, because every time you ‘say something there’, you get closer to your audience (be it the customers you already have, the potentials who don’t know your brand yet, or those who already know it but haven’t purchased anything from you thus far). And don’t just talk about your products and services – share relevant information related to what you do, interesting news or articles, videos, photos or memes that cheer us up, make us (if only momentarily) happy and help keep hope alive and spirits up (don’t forget that we are all in the same boat and there is no one indifferent or not being affected by the situation we’re living – making someone smile is always a good thing!).
Remind them that even though your office or shop door is closed, you can still serve them and explain them how. Try to reach new audiences, people who don’t know you yet (and no, I won’t say you should pay to do it because that’s what I promised today, even though, I’ll say it again, it is money very well spent, in the vast majority of times).
Having a company and belonging to a region’s business community, means just that – that you are part of a community. So use that and suggest partnerships to other local companies that may be, in some way, complementary to yours (the old ‘together we are stronger’ motto). Let’s say you sell outdoor furniture, for example. Why not get in touch with one (or more) real estate agency in your area and offer to regularly share their posts on your page in exchange for them publishing yours on theirs, for instance? Have you ever thought that this will benefit you both? It will increase the number of times you communicate with your audience, offer them possible complements to what you do or sell, varies the topics you talk about (although always staying close to your business sector) and you will reach an audience (that of the other page) that is not yours and where potential customers may be; and vice versa for the other company.
Share knowledge. Write about relevant topics related to your sector, answer questions about pertinent issues that your customers have already asked you (probably even more than once), explain how you do what you do (and don’t forget to always add a link to your website or social media). Don’t be afraid – sharing your knowledge will not ‘rob’ your customers from you, because there is no DIY that will beat the work of an experienced professional.
What you are doing is showing that you’re good in your area of expertise, that you understand and master your business, and that will add confidence to your brand. Take those texts, articles, whatever you want to call them, and post them on your website or blog (if you have one) and on your social media. But don’t stop there – send them to newspapers, magazines, blogs, or other industry/ speciality publications. If the content is good, valid, relevant, there will certainly be those who want to publish it and in doing so, you’re not only creating brand awareness, but also working on the SEO of their website through link building (one of the most important ranking factors for Google, which will boost your organic online exposure).
Digital marketing works, it really brings in results. But, as in so many other things, there are no miracles, you really have to do something, because just being online (or going online) and praying to the internet gods ‘to appear’ will not work. Forget the ‘I’ve always done things this way’, that’s over. Challenge yourself to do them in new ways, experiment, test, find out what works here and now for you, for your brand, for your company. Refuse to give up, no matter how tired you are (and we all are).
In challenging times like these, how can one survive?
The question is pertinent, essential, and the answer is not easy. There are no magic formulas and to say that each case is different, and that everyone will have to reinvent himself in some way, sounds like a commonplace (and frankly somewhat disrespectful for those who risk losing everything they have built). But, as cliché as it may be, the truth is that the solution will be something along these lines – reinventing does not mean ‘changing everything you do’, but rather adding (creating, imagining, inventing) new manners of doing what you were already doing but in a different way.
So be creative and do not discard an idea before trying it, absurd as it may seem; for in times like these, creativity and the ability to let your imagination run wild will be your greatest allies.
And yes, for some, it will be the end… For those go my thoughts, a deep respect, my solidarity and the hope that they will be able to reach a better future (whatever it may be) and better times, soon. For the others: let’s roll up our sleeves and go for it. We are quite a few, in a unique and profoundly different region, and together we will be able to reach ‘tomorrow’.