Surviving the coronavirus crisis for physical small businesses: Saving services providers (Part 2)

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As we made clear in Part 1, two general categories of business have been hit hard by the coronavirus shutdown: services and non-essential products. Your business is likely already online to some degree — but now's the time to go all in on e-commerce and reach your customers via social media or other virtual means. For physical shops that sell goods, we addressed ways that you can boost sales by going online.

Today we are going to address services, which is a tougher category as some businesses, regrettably, won't survive, and others will only scrape by with massive layoffs, and then only if they can still partially operate. However, this doesn't mean that the owners or disenfranchised workers can't either find alternate means of employment/self-employment or set themselves up to bounce back in the future. We’ll address what the disenfranchised can do in our next article.

The services category of business includes, among other categories:

  • Restaurants (which in some jurisdictions are permitted to stay open just for take-out service)
  • Non-essential healthcare (cosmetic procedures, nutritionists, etc.)
  • Personal services (child care, barbershops and hair salons, gyms, tattoo parlors, etc.)
  • Bars and coffee shops
  • Entertainment venues & galleries
  • Recreational facilities

Let's take the easy categories first.

Restaurants that are permitted to operate take-out only

These restaurants should be able to pull through, provided they have a loyal customer base who are financially able to place takeout orders and the restaurants are able to deliver those orders cost effectively (as customers may not be able to pay much for delivery if their finances have been hit). A key here will be focusing on the local area, making online ordering easy, and redeploying wait-staff for — guess what — local bicycle delivery. Bike couriers may have fallen out of fashion in many countries, but with many jurisdictions wanting to keep the roads as clear as possible for healthcare professionals and emergency crews, it's time they make a comeback. (Maybe you'll need to buy a few bikes for staff who can ride and order your bike-friendly delivery bags online, but this can be done easily.) We expect to see a rise in bike courier services from enterprising individuals in congested cities just to do delivery as a result of this crisis (because if you've been disenfranchised, and you can ride, it's work and a workout all in one).

Consultation-based non-essential healthcare

If you're a nutritionist, psychologist, plastic surgeon, etc. you can still do (some of) your work virtually in private one-on-one sessions. If you're a plastic surgeon, maybe you can't do actual procedures until the crisis is over, but you can consult, queue, advise on any recommended pre-procedure diets or supplements to increase a patient's overall health, and so on. If you're a dentist, in most jurisdictions you can do emergency procedures, and do consultations over the phone to monitor a patient's condition.

And if you're a nutritionist or psychologist, use social media and online forums to build your personal profile now that everyone is stuck inside and on their diets or trying to avoid stress-eating as a result of isolation anxiety. In the former case, advise them on diets rich in vitamins and minerals known to boost the immune system and fight off flu viruses in general. In the latter, give people tips for coping with the daily anxiety to help them get through this crisis. While you should not unduly profit off the crisis, it’s OK to make a living — and, in the words attributed to Winston Churchill, you should never let a good crisis go to waste!

Now let's move on to the not-so-easy categories.

Personal Services

If you're a salon, tattoo parlor or spa, you're shut down. And there's nothing you can do about it. You'll likely have to lay off your staff (and pray they can get some of the COVID-19 funding that various jurisdictions offer) and hope there is something in an emergency loan package for you as you may not make your rent otherwise. If you have enough in the piggy bank until a loan comes in, you have a chance to make it. But only if the customer base comes back.

To that end, your only hope is to remain front and center in their minds. Just like personal trainers, nutritionists and psychologists can provide tips on getting through the crisis physically and mentally healthy, salons can provide clients with fashion updates, tattoo artists can offer advice on selecting the right tattoo, and spas can give tips on home remedies that clients can use for skin care until they can return to the spa.

You can also build a sense of community by organizing a charity drive for a local food bank or medical center. And if you build this community, and you're really hard-up for cash (as that loan can't come in fast enough), you can tap this community to buy gift certificates now (at a discount such as 20% off) for services later. (While it's not ideal to build up debt from your customer base, if it's the only option, and your customers are willing to pull you through and come back to you when all this is over, why not?)

Entertainment Venues

This comes down to whether you can get enough people, socially distanced for groups of more than X (where X depends on jurisdiction), into a room to put on a show that you can livestream and collect payment for. If so, you can potentially stay in business, and your entertainers can potentially stay afloat!

If you are a theater, time to start booking comedians, one-person monologue plays, plays with a small cast like "Waiting for Godot", small bands, and so-on. Hire a couple of camera people, a soundboard specialist and a livestreaming guru, then space them out throughout the facility, and go, go, go (If John Oliver can do his show by his lonesome from a small room in his house, certainly you can put that space to good use and do PPV livestreaming. It shouldn't be the sole domain of the WWE). Bars, pubs and other venues big enough for live shows — take note. This might be your only option for survival!

And finally, the hard categories.

Local Bars and Coffee Shops

If there's no way for you to get into the take-out game, then your options are few and far between, if you have any at all, and you might soon be among the COVID-19 disenfranchised. The sad reality is that without appropriate government help, some of your businesses will not survive and you will be among the disenfranchised (and you need to read the next article in our series).

Private Galleries and Recreational Facilities

The options for running a private gallery or recreational facility are fewer and farther between than local bars and coffee shops.

Hopefully some of your funding is coming from charities or trusts or government funding sources, because, if not, you'll literally be relying on donations to get you through this. If you are a gallery, start putting virtual tours online and ask for donations. If you are a recreational facility, start hosting livestream workout sessions, home exercise advice, and related information online for donations. Anything will help.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, survival of some businesses will require moderate to large layoffs until the physical business is able to reopen, adding to the large number of COVID-19 disenfranchised already out there. And while times are bleak, there are still options for them, if they are willing to make a temporary career change and/or get very creative (and, of course, go after any funding available to them in the interim — it's a dire situation and no one can fault you for survival).

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