[POLL] How Local Marketers Are Dealing with the Business Impact of Covid-19

Local Search Clinic with Dan Leibson
26 March 2020
Local Search Clinic with Dana DiTomaso
1 April 2020

Covid-19 has undoubtedly disrupted the local landscape – shuttering many businesses worldwide, and changing ways of working for those staying open.

We wanted to find out the challenges our users have faced over the last few weeks, but more than this, we needed their advice. From changing priorities, to keeping up client comms, and learning new skills there are many things local marketers can do now to prepare for life post-lockdown.

But, while productivity is beneficial, it’s also important to remember that these are unusual and frankly scary times, so the best advice is to please prioritize your physical and mental health above all else.

Below, we have collated the challenges faced by respondents to help us understand what our users are facing. We have also picked out 25 of our favorite pieces of advice from local marketers working in businesses, agencies, and as freelancers. We hope you find our community’s messages of positivity and proactivity as inspirational as we did.

Thank you to the 325 BrightLocal users that took the time to share their experiences and advice with us. Your thoughts are instrumental in making sure we can be as useful as possible over the coming months. If you had any further advice, please let us know in the comments.

What’s the impact on local businesses?

Many countries around the world are seeing lockdowns in action, with non-essential businesses closing or changing their working practices to help keep customers safe. We asked users working in local businesses to tell us how they have been affected, and what they expect to happen to their business in the near future.

Some areas are still seeing restrictions come in, but at this relatively early stage, the main ways respondents report being affected are losing customers (35% of respondents), shutting up shop (27%), or pausing marketing (8%). A quarter hasn’t seen any impact on their business yet.

Local businesses will have a very different experience over the coming months, with niches and locations seeing alternative levels of change. Below, we have collated some of our favorite advice from local business users of BrightLocal – we hope it gives you some idea of the challenges faced by businesses worldwide.

Tips from local businesses

Focus on the customer

Ramp UP marketing for customers that may still be going. NOW is not the time to stay silent and fade away, just to start marketing efforts later that would need more budget when restarted because they’ve stalled.

Get really good at providing online and phone customer service! Be clear in your messaging about what your store hours and policies are moving forward.

Rethink priorities

I’m spending my time working on my website/SEO and social media as I usually never have time for those two. I think this is the perfect opportunity to turn a sour situation into a productive one.

We’ve completely cut our marketing budget, but have still continued working on projects that we can do at virtually no costs: link building, cleaning up NAP issues or claiming listings.

Do maintenance on your website and social media accounts, do research on how you can improve their business so when you come back you come back stronger

Face the future

Be patient and creative in your spare time. Learn new skills, spend time with your family, clean that room that you didn’t have time before. Read that book that you left behind years ago or that one that you’ve been thinking about reading and you didn’t have time! This is the time to LEVEL UP!

Cut costs, and cut them much quicker and deeper than you can first imagine. Then immediately start planning for the future. The middle ground (next 3 months) is unknown, start planning on your business for reopening.

Take stock of what you have, take care of yourself, show support for your family, friends, and community, and plan for a future that will come. This too shall pass…

What’s the impact on local marketers?

The most common impact felt among freelance and agency respondents is seeing clients pausing marketing efforts, with a further 23% losing or expecting to lose clients soon. It’ll come as no shock to see marketers losing local business clients during this downturn, but for many, these changes will only be temporary.

We were so pleased to see a great many marketers focusing on helping their clients through their difficulties – working together to ensure local businesses can come out of this as strong as possible.

Local marketers working in agencies and as freelancers may see some slowdowns, but our users have some great advice on what can be done.

Tips from freelancers

Keep information accurate

Update your Google My Business business description to include any updates relating to the business impacts/changes of Covid-19, including updating opening hours. Update websites and communicate through social media so people do not need to make unnecessary trips.

Provide full disclosure to the client base whether you’re open or closing. Local businesses, really all businesses, are the leaders of our communities. Politicians can be ignored, but a business owner provides a sense of security to the public. Our job is to provide positive honest information that gives our communities hope for a fearless and productive existence.

Pause all paid advertising if you are closed. Keep working on SEO and local as much as automated systems allow

Don’t stand still

Now is a good time to tackle major website updates or other larger digital projects. Get out ahead of your competition while you have time to be more thoughtful.

In down markets the most successful companies do not stop marketing, they push it. When everyone else is cutting back, it’s the perfect opportunity to move forward.

We are working on keeping our clients calm and crafting announcements and content for them to be posted about how their seasonal/regional hours will be affected.

Put comms first

It’s a really important time for communication with your customers to let them know what’s happening. Even if you’re carrying on as normal because you work from home anyway, it’s a good idea to let your clients and potential clients know, otherwise they might assume you’re not.

Client relations is more important now than it was before (and it was pretty damn important before). No matter what kind of business your clients may run, they’re going to need a friend right now. A lot of my client work in the past two weeks has essentially just been lending them an ear so they could vent their newfound worries and frustrations. Not only does this help give them peace of mind, but it gives me a chance to re-examine their situation and identify new pain points, which can then be addressed with a specific strategy. This kind of relationship rarely just happens–I’m lucky to have clients that treat me like one of their own because of the rapport we’ve developed over time–but the chaos caused by Covid-19 may be a great opportunity to start building those bridges and taking those client relationships to the next level (which can take your business to the next level, if you play your cards right).

Tips from agencies

Keep the client relationship alive

We recommend keeping calm, kind, and in contact. The worst thing that could be done is panic. Everyone is scared and the future is murky at best, but if we stand strong and craft messages of acknowledgment and hope, then the customers and clients alike will bounce back from this time of uncertainty stronger and more profitable than ever.

Stay in contact with clients even if they’re not paying at the moment. I’ve had several email and Linkedin messaging threads that have turned into interesting conversations during the quarantine that we’d have never had otherwise. I think the relationship after the virus is no longer a threat will be stronger and clients will be open to more services that I offer.

Get creative!

Take the time that you have been given as an opportunity to engage in deep thought and brainstorming of how to improve your business post-Covid-19 and make a list of 5 initiatives and plan them out on paper.

Do what you have to do to help your business survive, first and foremost. In terms of marketing, now is a time when a lot of people are at home and will be in the research stages of the purchasing funnel. Now is the time to boost your brand presence and optimize your website. Yes, leads will be low now – but hopefully, customers will remember who you are and what you do when this is over and a sense of normality is returning.

If you do not have much client work, now is the time to do all of the things for your company that you have been putting off until you had time. Update your website, create those SOPs, improve your sales process, look for contractors, and if this is a big blow to you, figure out ways to prevent this big blow from ever happening again.

Keep visibility front of mind

For SEO, would you rather come out of the lockdown further down in the SERPs or higher up in the SERPs. It’s a good time to gain ground and be ready for the strong upswing when the market comes back.

Keep going, there is a decline in searches and such but the little business that is being generated is worth fighting for. Our clients need to remain at the top so that when this does blow over they will be in the best position to climb back up.

Right now is the time to continue marketing as it will be beneficial when all this is over. It is an especially good time to work on SEO and local SEO as the benefits of this work will be felt in the future.

Keep up with social media posting and engage with clients who are sitting home and spending a lot of time on digital devices.

Focus on you

Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Concentrate on learning new skills and diversifying your services.

Take this time to evaluate your situation. Maybe now is when your innovative ideas can be implemented. Was it time for a big change anyway? Just do it!

In this tough time, we want to help local businesses and marketers get through this the best they can.

Take a look at a message from our CEO, Myles Anderson, for more information on the steps we’re taking to help local marketers right now – starting with a weekly roundup of the news and resources available to local marketers. We’re also running a weekly webinar with a leading local SEO expert to answer your local marketing questions – check out our webinars page to sign up!

Do you have advice for local businesses or marketers facing disruption from Covid-19? Let us know your tips in the comments below!

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