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Coronavirus and small business: What’s the impact? Can digital help?

Digital Marketing + Business
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It doesn’t seem to matter what sector you work in, talk of the coronavirus and the impact it has has on everything from our health to our economy (and even Corona beer), is at the forefront. There are (aptly) viral scare mongering articles circulating, while deniers of its veracity and, indeed, even its existence, are doing the rounds in equal measure. Then there is the arguably more realistic flow of information somewhere in the middle, asking us to understand that while it is likely not the end of days for humanity, the virus is having a tangible effect on our day-to-day lives, and the bottom line for business owners. 

We’re staying in our lane. We’re not medical or global finance experts; we are a local small business, working with local small business. Coronavirus is having an unmistakable impact on business and the Australian economy, and while there is never value in leveraging from tragedy (it shouldn’t be forgotten, lives have been lost), the relationship to the epicentre of trade, China, means this virus is more than just a medical issue. Livelihoods feel at risk, and people are seeking solutions. For so many, digital is the troubleshooter. 

At this point, large scale loss is pure prediction (albeit considered prediction). Wall Street Journal’s report on coronavirus estimates a projected loss of $1trillion in global output. Their findings are based on the very real closure of China’s manufacturing, exports and consumption. And, of course, the power of perception is strong with talk that even more offshore factories are closed, closing or housing infected goods. This is where the domino effect forges south, trickling through large corporations, mid-level companies and, yes, even small local businesses. 

So, how hard is the coronavirus hitting small business’s business? 

It’s not immediately measurable, and it’s best to not get too dire too quickly. However, there has been enough concern to warrant some state governments taking actions to support small business. For example, QLD government’s Advice Support, specifically directed at small business owners, navigates through the effects of coronavirus, beyond managing employee mass hysteria at a clickbait article on Facebook. It helps with business mentoring, financial workshops, industry support and health advice. The move is, at the very least, telling small business owners that if their companies haven’t been hit yet, it’s considered to be on the horizon. 

The businesses hit most are (or will likely be) those who have manufacturing and/or export/import ties to China. While the obvious big brands come to mind for this, local small business can be equally hit, and with less financial wriggle room to ride it out. Recently, Professor of Finance at New Jersey Institute of Technology cited the areas he feels will be hit hardest: tourism and travel, supply chain disruption, flight to quality. Saying, ‘The real impact of where it’s going to affect the economy is supply chain. China is the factory of the world, and those factories are being shut down in order to contain the virus and slow down the transmission of the virus’. Tourism and travel for business (as much as leisure), supply chain demand in terms of (waning) trust by consumers and the literal shut down of factories, and the ‘flight to quality’, regarding investor fragility as they look for safer options. 

This, however, does not mean anyone needs to be taking unnecessarily extreme financial measures, nor feel they’re going to fold any minute. But, taking steps to better secure yourself through the outbreak (of the virus, or the fear of the virus; when perception is everything, it doesn’t matter which), can keep you and your stakeholders steady.      

How can digital steady the effect of coronavirus for businesses?

The ripple effect of the virus is nuanced and there is no one fix. However, using your digital platforms can counter hysteria, add transparency and help you understand better how the virus is adjusting your consumer’s behaviour. 

It’s time to get hyper with your social listening. 

An anecdote: recently, we saw a post by an acquaintance who had recently purchased subscription toilet paper by philanthropic toilet paper company company, Who Gives A Crap, because her local supermarket sold out of the product. She presumes because of a widespread belief that factory closures will reduce supply, and people are stocking up. She immediately shared this on social media. She also commented on their facebook, thanking them for having the service. WGAC will now see that their products are in demand, and can manage accordingly. Conversely, local supermarkets can do their digital research and focus on educating their community about the realities of their supply, whatever that may be. 

Use digital to reach out to your consumer base and clear up, educate or inform them of the truths, the myths, the misconceptions and the rectifications your business is making in response to the effect of coronavirus. Taking advantage of your digital platforms will allow you to connect with your consumers is going to get your message out faster and more efficiently than any other means. 

This means:

  • Send out an EDM if required

  • Post regularly on social media platforms

  • Keep up with your social media management and answer the queries of your consumers

  • Take stock of the comments and questions coming through and take that onboard for the processes and running of your business

  • Use the speed of digital media to keep up to date with how coronavirus (as it pertains to your business or industry) is being presented to the public.  

Coronavirus is hitting Australian shores and we can expect to see tangible changes in how we live life, do business and interact socially. The best we can do is manage what is in our control and remain level headed about the information we consume, and be responsible with the information we share to our consumers. The beauty of digital is its availability to all businesses, whatever the scale. Take your available digital means, fight back as a small business and let it help you navigate through the outbreak. After all, it may have done a lot of things so far, but it has yet to break the internet.