Adapting Your Small Business During the Coronavirus Outbreak | A Hume Country Clothing Blog Adapting Your Small Business During the Coronavirus Outbreak – A Hume Country Clothing Blog
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Adapting Your Small Business During the Coronavirus Outbreak

 

The Coronavirus outbreak finds us in an ever-changing unpredictable environment. A scenario that in hindsight escalated very quickly with not much time for us to implement structures that would allow us to try and continue with our business. It has been a huge learning curve, that has found us reacting to something far from our comfort zone. As a country business from the outside we can be seen to be behind when it comes to the technical “know how” that would be useful during this time. We are going to share with you what we have learned so far and our tips on how you can adapt your business during this time.

Tips for small businesses adapting to remote working:

Remote working is when you are set up to work out with your physical work environment, in this case, at home. So far this has been a real adjustment for us here at A Hume. It is never something we have had to do before, and it is completely out of our comfort zone, setting it up was fairly easy as we had the help of our local IT support, Douglas Home & Co, but it has been a real adjustment in terms of management and efficiencies.

How to equip your team for remote working.

  • Assess the work they carry out and what they will continue to work on remotely.
  • Create a list of hardware and IT support required to achieve remote working. Assess the options of what will help the business function/operate but you need to be strict and realistic of what is necessity versus “luxury”.
  • Whilst aspects of our business here at A Hume are web based, which would mean our staff would only require a laptop/desktop and internet connection, we store many of our images on a physical server located in our offices. Given this and the fact that many of the software programmes we use such as Excel, Photoshop and Basecamp are already installed on our work PC’s, we decided to set up VPN access (a private network connection between two points over the internet) and remote desktop access enabling our employees to access our network and work from their own device at home.
  • To set up the VPN we relied on our IT support, if this is not an option for you there are some cloud-systems where you could upload the files you need from your server and access them from the cloud. Examples of these systems are Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive.
  • For remote access our staff required a laptop or desktop, if they didn’t have one, we investigated leasing a laptop from our IT support, or buying company laptops but fortunately we were able to cover everyone with the hardware we had. A cost-effective option would be looking into refurbished hardware if you see it as a short-term solution. Our IT company also helped us set up the remote access but you can follow online guides to achieve this yourself.
  • Using personal devices meant that we also set up temporary managed antivirus to ensure we were not exposed, and we were not vulnerable to cyber security risks. It is important to make sure that your antivirus software is up to date. If you require one McAfee offer a cost-effective, multi-device (pc/laptop/tablet/phone) suite that offers a reasonably good level of protection. It is also quick and simple to install and run.
  • At A Hume, we are used to working with dual and triple monitor setup and therefore we made sure our staff working remotely took their screens home to have this set up and aid their efficiency. Given that most modern-day laptops/PCs can support the use of a second screen via the standard graphics card in place, our team was able to set this up without IT support. Just make sure you transport any screens or devices safely, so they do not get damaged.

 

Top Tip
Country businesses don’t always have the best connectivity, in particular those in very rural locations. There are several things you or your staff can do to check your internet speed at home. Feel free to share this checklist with your staff.

  1. Don’t jump and presume your system is slow due to your internet connection. Simply google “test internet speed” and google will ask you to click a “run speed test” button. If your internet speed is slow then here are some things you can try:
  2. Contact your provider, they may be having issues, particularly with the high volume of people using their internet currently and they may be experiencing problems, they may also be able to advise or help you with boosting your signal.
  3. Reboot your router. Simply switch off, wait 5 seconds and restart.
  4. Don’t restrict your rooter, keep it in an open location, placed properly.
  5. Set up your workplace close to your router, keep the door open if you are in a different room.
  6. Use an ethernet cable to connect your device, whilst this restricts the location of your remote setup you will get faster speeds and free up Wi-Fi for other devices.
  7. If you are sharing the Wi-Fi with other devices like gaming consoles and smart TVs, they can also slow down your connection, if you cannot connect using an ethernet cable maybe those devices can be switched off during working hours.

Creating a designated work space at home is one of our top tips for remote working.

 

How to manage your team remotely – ensuring motivation and productivity:

  • We had to set up our remote access fairly, quickly and were reacting to the scenario rather than having time to plan for it.
  • Our first step was to identify required tasks to be completed and to then allocate these to the correct staff member.
  • Initially we did not have much in the way of structure but have since implemented timesheets, this allows us to keep track of what tasks are being worked on, what is completed and what is proving trickier than expected.
  • We rely heavily on the team being honest with how long tasks are taking, how software is running and drawing on their experience of the in-office productive level as a guide.
  • Identifying issues has allowed us to address them and fix them so that our team can work as efficiently as possible and get the most out of their time. We have our IT dept on hand to help run checks where things are running slowly but other tricks include the usual “restart”. Making sure that non-relevant programmes/apps are closed and clearing out your browser history and cache if the browser is running slow also helps.
  • We are still adjusting every day to the new set up and coming across better ways in which we can work together but remotely.
  • We recommend setting up a designated work area, where you can concentrate and relate only to work, this is important so that you can switch off when not working and have as much of a work/life balance as possible.
  • Keeping up communication is important so that no one feels isolated and that we can still come together collaboratively to work on ideas and projects and keep our enthusiasm up.

 

How to ensure you get the most out of the communication time you have:

  • Going from being a less than a metre apart to not even in the same room has had a huge impact on communication.
  • We found that we were getting confused and using multiple platforms to discuss the same points.
  • Keeping up communication is important so that no one feels isolated and that we can still come together collaboratively to work on ideas and projects and keep our enthusiasm up.
  • As things are quite dynamic, a focused Zoom team call every couple of days to check how people are getting on and discussing any changes in action has worked well.
  • We are also using Basecamp as a tool to help manage tasks and workflow. We use it to store communication for specific workflows/topics in one place rather than a series of emails.
  • We connect with people who directly affect our work or we are collaborating with so that we are not wasting the time of those it doesn’t serve purpose to – this is over email or phone and is a constant sort of chit chat over the day, discussing tasks, news, and more social aspects – as we would in our normal office environment.

 

How to have a good Zoom call:

  • Download the app to your device – we have been restricted by the fact our PC’s do not have speakers or microphones, therefore we are using Zoom on our tablets and mobile phones mainly.
  • Free zoom has a call cap of 40 minutes, if you want to get the most out of your zoom, I recommend having an agenda emailed out to all participants pre-meeting so that it is structured and uninterrupted.
  • Schedule in advance so there is no delay in starting your meeting.
  • Find a quiet place with a good signal on the device you are using.
  • If the connection is a bit rocky and you’re not needing the video function, then turn this aspect off.
  • For guidance, hints and tips on how to use Zoom visit their resources centre.

 

We have been regularly using Zoom as a team to communicate.


Tips for adapting your business:

Communicating changes:

  • Any changes to your business during this period of time whether that be temporary closures, change of business hours, alternative services, who to contact if required should all be communicated clearly and across many different channels to reach as many relevant people as possible.
  • Put signage in your store to communicate your current circumstances, your operating hours, a contact number for deliveries, alternative ways to shop/use your services.
  • The last thing you want is someone getting to your premises to find out you can’t fulfil their needs and there are many other ways to communicate to save them venturing out.
  • Google my business, is where you can change your opening hours as noted when someone searches for you on google, you can also post updates for people to see e.g. special opening hours. Make sure your contact information is up to date here also so people can get in touch with you easily. If you have had to close your premises and have changed your shop to closed remember to post and say why you have closed and how you are now operating.
  • Update your information on your social channels to reflect any business changes that you also make to google my business.
  • Also use your social channels/website to show any adapted services you may be offering e.g. virtual appointments, how you have adapted your services for a safe environment, how you are currently accepting payments etc. Depending on your business you could create a dedicated Covid-19 page which can be updated when required. This keeps a direct point of connection for customers/users who want to stay up to date.
  • Contact any suppliers so they understand your circumstances, you might be able to work together to benefit your business.
  • Contact local tourist groups you may be affiliated with as they might help spread the word in your area.
  • If you have a mailing list send out emails and touch base with your customers to update them on all the above.

 

Setting up an online presence:

  • If you don’t already now is the time to set up social media pages. Depending on your business this may allow you to continue to take orders, communicate and quickly shift your physical business into the online world.
  • You can also set up your own website quickly and cheaply so that you can direct people to your site via your communication channels using ready-made platforms. It doesn’t need to be the most technical website but if it allows you to keep some form of business going then it will be beneficial in times like these.
  • Today there are lots of ways to create a quick and simple online presence. However, remember that creating an online presence will not immediately bring traffic or sales. It is an additional area initially to publish content that can then be promoted via social media, email, word of mouth etc.
  • When looking to find the right route for you, think about what functionality you need in order to get started. Check the provider can do this and look to see how it works and if you or people in your business can make it work.
  • Hosting companies like Go Daddy and LCN have web builder options within their offering. Wix, Squarespace, Shopify, WordPress all offer various web builder solutions. Wix is drag and drop, Squarespace is in-between, and WordPress generally requires having some code experience/web technical experience.
  • You can host virtual appointments very easily and it doesn’t need to be technical either, all you need is a device with a camera as does the customer. You can use Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Facetime, Skype, all for video calls so you can show people around your merchandise. If this avenue appears to be working for you and your customers and you need to look at creating time slots, you could look at google calendars or booking systems like

 

Look at adapting what you offer with regards to products and services.

 

Can you adapt what you offer? Services? Delivery?

  • Robbie Pringle Fresh Food Produce in Hawick have drastically changed their services. Before the Coronavirus outbreak they were a Butchers with some meats, ready meals, fresh bagels and grab and go lunches. Since the outbreak they have stopped the grab and go lunches as they are no longer required and are now focusing solely on ready and frozen meals, fresh meat, catering for the vulnerable and delivering these to the doorsteps of their customers. They have adapted quickly, reducing their shop opening hours with people being encouraged to stay at home and are now offering delivery slots which they didn’t do before and having designated days for specific towns in the Scottish Borders. They have investigated what produce people are struggling to get in the supermarkets and have sourced them so they can supply the demand. Their positive and dynamic approach has proven to be a real success during this time.
  • Hunter’s Butchers and Delicatessen in Kelso have also followed a similar route. Due to Government guidelines and having to close their brasserie, they assigned their chef to catering ready cooked meals. They continue to use local suppliers for produce such as artisan breads and tomatoes, and are also offering a pick and mix option with no minimums for hard to get products like flour and sugar, this encourages customers to only buy what they require and supports an important supply chain as they continue to use other local businesses.
  • G Harrow & Son Home Bakery in Hawick quickly sourced a contactless payment machine, so they do not need to deal with cash and customers don’t have to use chip and pin. They also started a delivery service, they created menus and uploaded them to their social channels. The delivery service relieved any pressure on their small shop premises and meant they could supply those unable to leave their homes.
  • Mainstreet Trading Books, Café, Deli & Home in St Boswells have created an online book subscription. You pay a fee and get a book a week for 6 or 12 weeks delivered to your door, available for children’s books too. They send you a reading survey and then ship you books that they think you will like. Within a week of having to close their shop they opened an online store, which they promoted via their social media channels, gradually adding books to the site and now including some non-perishable deli items. They carefully selected products and launched “care packs” which are very relevant to the current scenario.
  • Local Kelso restaurant Lemon and Thyme are now offering a meal delivery service, available on Fridays and Saturdays. They Launch their weekly menu on Facebook at 6pm every Thursday, take pre-orders and pre-payment and deliver when required. They have also taken up the role of providing meals to those in need in the town, the elderly and those who cannot leave their homes.

 

Can you offer pre-order and advanced payment instalments?

  • With time on peoples side now would be a great time to offer a pre-order option where they can pay up in instalments and receive what they have purchased either when normality has resumed or when it has been paid in full.

 

Naturally it’s a new world for everybody, in these challenging times we have found people more accepting of working together to get through this and understanding it is bigger than any one of us. We hope you have found this post useful and if you know of anyone else who would benefit please share it with them also if you have any helpful hints or tips from your experience so far we welcome you to share them with us.

 

 

 

 

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