The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new normal for many—but perhaps few people have seen their lives turned upside down quite as much as owners of small service-oriented businesses. Shutdowns to “slow the spread” forced many businesses to close their doors for weeks, or even months.
Even as restrictions have eased, many in service businesses have experienced declining revenue as customers are reluctant to return to their normal routines. It should come as no surprise that 60 percent of temporary closures reported to Yelp have since become permanent. Even big-name brands haven’t been immune.
Despite these challenges, many service brands have been able to thrive in the midst of the pandemic by pivoting to virtual products. By offering their services in a new format that can be accessed digitally, brands can continue to grow and serve their customers.
No matter what your niche, you can make this happen.
1. Find a ‘natural fit’ based on your current services.
Unsurprisingly, your first move needs to be finding a way to itemize your services that lines up with what your business currently does. Your virtual offering should feel like a natural extension of the services you normally offer in-person.
In an e-book published by Vcita, chiropractor and weight loss specialist Dr. Julie McLaughlin explains, “Classes, events, webinars, online workshops and even telehealth appointments—everything goes virtual. If you’re a beautician you’re probably wondering how it is possible to offer customers online services, but at times like this when customers can’t physically come to your salon, they will be eager to participate in workshops on how to make homemade facial masks and keep a healthy skin routine. See the potential?”
When the link is obvious (such as a fitness instructor offering one-on-one training sessions via Zoom), customers will be more likely to “buy in” to the product being offered.
2. Focus on what will truly benefit your customers.
If you’re having trouble coming up with a virtual product that feels like a “natural fit,” focus on your customers. What needs did you previously fulfill for them that are no longer readily available now that they aren’t meeting with you in-person?
The good news for service businesses is that it is easier to go virtual than you might think. Consider how you can deliver the same (or similar) services as you did before in a virtual space, and the answers will fall into place.
For example, a report from SHRM notes how corporate team-building company TeamBuilding revamped its business by going virtual. Kits for team-building sessions would be mailed to participants before the event, which was then held via Zoom or another similar platform. A quick pivot to a virtual model allowed the company to double its pre-COVID revenue.
3. Actively promote your online services.
Once you’ve determined what your virtual product is going to be, you need to actively start promoting it. Start by reaching out to your current customer base through your email or SMS lists. Spread the word through your social media channels. Your current customers are your warmest leads for building an initial revenue stream for your new product.
Some companies have found success by hosting live streams that give potential buyers a taste of what they can enjoy when they purchase the virtual product. This “free sample,” so to speak, will generate interest and help more people learn about your new offering.
Of course, you will likely need to invest in paid promotion to build awareness for your new product. As a Nielsen media report explains, even during COVID, brands should continue marketing and public relations efforts: “When you take into account that it takes up to three to five years of solid and consistent brand building effort to recover from extended ‘dark periods’ of media, marketers who maintain brand equity by adjusting their creatives…are poised to be better positioned following any recovery, immediate or prolonged.”
4. Adjust your website accordingly.
In the midst of fine-tuning your product and promoting it to your customers, you cannot overlook how you will actually conduct your online sales. In the past, many service businesses essentially used their websites as an online brochure. The website was a good place to get some basic information, but appointment scheduling and payments happened over the phone or in-person.
Now that you will be selling virtual products, your website must be adjusted. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. Many service businesses simply add a Paypal plugin to their site, allowing customers to make a secure online purchase.
The copy on your website should be updated to reflect the availability of online products. You should also add a new page specifically dedicated to making online purchases—whether that’s buying access to a webinar or scheduling a time for a virtual appointment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted just how much service businesses need to be willing to adapt to survive. As you develop a product that meshes your skills and the needs of your current client base, you will be able to continue to deliver value and even create a new revenue stream.