Using digital to reach your customers quickly in a crisis - Advice for SMES

Covid-19 is forcing everyone to work differently. If embracing digital was always ‘one of those things we’ll eventually get round to’, it will now be top of your list if your customers can’t come to you.

If you don’t have an in-house IT expert, and need to get up and running now, here’s some easy-to-use tools that are free or low cost.


5 min read

1. Keeping customers up-to-date

Social Media

If you don’t yet use social media, now is the time to embrace it. In a rapidly changing situation, pages are quick to update, and customers often prefer these over websites. The main platforms to consider first are:

  • Facebook - If you sell to individuals (as opposed to businesses) and if your customers range across age groups, are locally based and your offering needs a lot of explanation, Facebook may be your best bet. See our guide.
  • Instagram - If you sell to individuals (as opposed to businesses) and are a very image-led business Instagram is a good fit. See our guide.
  • LinkedIn - If you sell to businesses, then you should set up a LinkedIn page and personal account and connect with your clients. See our guide.

Ensure all pages have your Coronavirus statement pinned at the top.

2. Selling or taking bookings online

If selling online for the first time, remember whatever approach you take, you’ll need to consider delivery logistics.

Here’s a few approaches to consider.

Quick route to online selling

If you currently don’t have a website, you may find the quickest route in the next week or so is to use existing marketplaces, such as:

Make sure you check all fees and terms of use and balance the benefit of accessing their wider market, against the costs. And of course, adhere to the latest Government Coronavirus advice on delivery.

Your own online shop

If you want to build an online shop as part of your existing website, then first check if your existing platform offers that functionality as an add-on. The likes of Squarespace, Weebly or WordPress mentioned above do this.

If your current platform doesn’t enable this, then you can set-up a separate online shop and link to it, for example with the likes of:

  • Shopify which, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, is currently offering a free 90-day trial.

Payment processors

Once you have some form of shop online, you’ll still need to take payment from your customers. Payment processors include:

For more information on ecommerce, please see the DigitalBoost Understanding eCommerce guide.

Taking bookings online

If you are supplying appointments or booking slots, and staff are now working remotely, you can get by with a manual system by phone or email initially, but you may soon become overwhelmed. Consider using an online scheduling tool, such as:

  • Appointedd - It's quite a low monthly cost, and they are offering three months free.

3. Providing a service online

The new face-to-face

Video calling and video conferencing are being described as the new face-to-face so you can still see clients and continue your advisory service. Consider tools such as:

Delivering classes

There are many thousands of online classes already out there, however at times like this, people crave contact from those that they know. You might not put on the most polished performance, but live streaming your classes, or recording them for playback later, will be welcomed by your customers and maintain your income. Classes, including music, dance, exercise, martial arts to arts and crafts for adults and children can work brilliantly.

(This can be restricted to paying customers by creating closed groups, and granting permission to individuals to access them; giving details and links to paying customers only; or hosting content behind a password-protected page on your site.)

Quickest tools to look at for this include:

Terms, conditions and costs

Check the small print of any tool before using it to ensure it meets the standards you need for data security and back-up, that you agree with the terms and conditions, and that you have chosen options licensed for business use.

Looking at costs, even with free trials, pricing packages of digital tools can be quite complicated. It’s worth checking:

  • Will payments be taken automatically when any free trial has ended? Diary a week before the payment is due so you have time to review and cancel or continue as you wish.
  • Is there a discount for an annual subscription? This could be worth taking, but given the current unpredictable circumstances, and the need to maintain cashflow, taking a monthly subscription might be sensible just now. Diary for three months’ time to review again.
  • Does the cost change if you have more staff users? Before committing to a tool, make sure you understand the costs if all your staff are using it.

4. Focus on short term

In this rapidly changing situation, the aim is to get things working quickly, as best you can, to get you through the next few months, rather than launching a digital transformation at the forefront of innovation.

If necessary, you can review and put something more refined in place in the next three to six months.

And who knows, maybe this situation will help you discover tools you never knew existed that will change how you work forever.

Remember, if you need to make significant investment in your digital capability, there are government backed digital development loans available for SMEs.

Plus you can access free online and virtual adviser support through our DigitalBoost programme.

Get the support you need right now

You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office

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