Online MarketingVirtual Visibility Media

Advice for small & local businesses on minimizing the impact of coronavirus

While we’ve so far been relatively lucky in terms of exposure to the virus in Buffalo, we already experience the negatives effects that come with dealing with the coronavirus. Over this past week, our team has been discussing potential solutions with various local business owners (across industries), marketing experts, and others, to our current challenges. We have managed to verify a solution that allows traditional brick-and-mortar businesses to easily, quickly, and affordably set up an e-commerce website. While the different parts of the solution are by no means new, the combinations will work for many business types and can be put into action immediately.

Additionally, we’ve been brainstorming for a week to find and provide actionable marketing tips that every small business owner can implement themselves (or with help if they prefer) today. As we are all dealing with the ramifications of COVID-19, we must all think outside the box as small business owners, and we must work together to find the best possible way forward for everyone in our community. 

We won’t dive into the coronavirus, how the government is responding, or how people and the economy are reacting here. This is well discussed elsewhere, and we want to focus on the positive actions we can all do to pull in the same direction. As people are sensibly avoiding crowds, it’s crucial that we start thinking outside the box and adapt to new habits in order to help empower and support local businesses. 

We’re a small business ourselves, and are far from unaffected by the consequences of the virus. This is why we hope that the advice and tips we cover below are useful. However, if you have questions about any of our suggestions, please feel free to contact us

The businesses most likely to experience a loss of sales

There is no way for us to predict exactly what will happen in the coming weeks or months. What we did do, however, was look to other countries to see what industries and business types are more likely to be negatively impacted.

From what we can see, the food and hospitality industries are likely to experience the most adverse effects in terms of lost revenue.  Travel and lodging has also been significantly impacted by recent events. However, recreational industries and local businesses in the food and beverage sector are also experiencing hard times. Already, 5 states have ordered bars and restaurants to be closed. In other words, a wide section of mom-and-pop store owners and independent business owners are rightfully concerned at the moment. 

Based on what we’ve seen so far in the US, and in other countries that have declared a national emergency as a consequence of the coronavirus, we believe the businesses we list below and similar business types are likely to experience lost sales in the weeks or months to come:

  1. The food and drink industry
    • Bars 
    • Restaurants
    • Cafes or coffee shops
    • Bakeries
  2. In-person activity businesses
    • Gyms
    • Pilates studios
    • Yoga studios
    • Martial arts studios
    • Dance studios
  3. Spa, beauty and aesthetics businesses
    • Beauty service providers, such as cosmetologists
    • Massage and skincare parlors
    • Hair salons and hairdressers
    • Tattoo and piercing studios
  4. Recreational industry
    • Sports goods
    • Hiking goods
  5. Small shops selling novelties or similar
    • Gift and card stores
    • Jewelry and accessory stores
    • Used book stores
    • Souvenir and decorations shops
    • Antique stores

We want to highlight some advice and solutions that small business owners can put in place themselves. We’ve been focusing on creative problem-solving, and we hope that these options can help you. We’ll cover marketing tactics, e-commerce tips, and provide some links to other resources. 

Local business marketing advice (by business type):

The food and drink industry

We aim to offer some mitigating solutions to local bars, restaurants, cafes or coffee shops, and bakeries. If your business isn’t affected to this degree yet, it’s still valuable to get ahead of the curve whenever possible. 

Most likely, you already have a website set up for your business. Ideally, you also have some two-way communication you can use (such as social media, or even email lists). 

If you’re experiencing a dip in sales, here are some possible ways to mitigate this that may work for you:

  1. Offer gift cards with added value to incentivize patrons to spend money with you while respecting social distancing. This will help ensure some income that would otherwise be lost sales, while guaranteeing returning customers.
  2. Inform people of how you are taking social distancing into account (6+ feet distance between tables, and other measures you might have in place) so they can rest easy, as COVID-19 exposure is through “respiratory droplets” from coughs or sneezes (as opposed to being airborne).
  3. Encourage patrons to buy gift cards or merchandise online. You can take this a step further by creating online competitions, where participants share a picture of their product/gift card on social media to win a free product or discount.
  4. Offering delivery and take-out is, however, the main recommendation as it stands. Especially with limits on how many people are allowed to gather together. Setting up a delivery service through providers such as GrubHub, DoorDash, or UberEats are viable options in Buffalo.

The recent initiative we’ve seen in Hamburg is a fantastic example of delivery and take-out, where the local restaurant businesses got together to find a common solution. The #hamburgcurbside initiative is a fantastic example of solidarity between business owners – encouraging commerce and giving choice back to the people in the community.

In-person activity businesses

As the CDC is strongly advising social distancing of at least 6 feet, it’s proving difficult for gyms, pilates, yoga, martial arts, and dance studios to run activities and operations as usual. While it’s not affecting Buffalo too harshly (as of writing this article), it’s important to be ahead of the curve if there are steps you can take.

If you’re experiencing a dip in sales and member visits, here are some possible tips that may work for you:

  1. Be personal and promote the sale of merchandise through your online store to your loyal members and customers.
  2. Pick one of your more simple and affordable courses and create a straightforward 15 minute (per video) online course that goes through how your clients can do this on their own. The core element here is to ensure that the course is very affordable and accessible to a wide array of customers. Not only can this help your business, but it helps promote healthy activities while people are encouraged to stay at home. 
  1. Encourage patrons to buy gift cards or merchandise online. You can take this a step further by creating online competitions, where participants share a picture of their product/gift card on social media to win a free product or discount.
  2. Create a social media hashtag that customers can use to demonstrate their support for you and your local business by sporting your merchandise.
  3. Promote the sale of longer-term memberships with a discount, incentivizing members to support their club and studio through testing times. 

Spas and salons

Similar to in-person activity-based businesses, the spa, salon, and beauty business sector might experience drops in sales. While we don’t want to cause alarm, we know that other countries have taken to extreme lengths and fully restricted the ongoing operation of businesses in this sector (Norway, for example). 

This is why we want to examine possible ways for beauty service providers like cosmetologists, massage and skincare parlors, hairdressers and hair salons, and tattoo and piercing studios to market themselves and find ways to recover potential losses in sales. 

  1. We recommend that you focus on promoting products you sell through your website and social media, to encourage greater spending through your store even while people are being encouraged to stay home.
  2. Encourage patrons to buy gift cards or merchandise online. You can take this a step further by creating online competitions, where participants share a picture of their product/gift card on social media to win a free product or discount.
  3. Focus on a personal message and promote the purchase of gift cards that provide additional value (discounts, coupons, etc.) as a show of appreciation for supporting your business during tough times. 
  4. Create an option for your customers to prepay online for services.

We know a cosmetologist and beauty service provider in Norway who did just that. Andrea, who runs BeautyLooks.no, is offering her clients an additional $50 value to any gift card purchased while her store is temporarily closed due to government restrictions in Norway. We asked to hear what she experienced, how she dealt with it, and what came out of it:

“Luckily for me, I have so many fantastic and loyal customers. Through social media posts and my website, I made it possible for my customers to purchase gift cards where I offered an additional $50 to whatever sum they purchased, I also made an option to pre-pay for treatments and eyelash extensions, and more. In their support of me and my business and the local small business environment, I now know I can keep the business going, and that I have customers waiting once the government ban subsides and I can again say that BeautyLooks is open for business.”

Andrea Elise Hemmingsen, BeautyLooks, Norway

Recreational industry

While the sporting and hiking goods stores are not especially likely to experience a loss in sales due to government restrictions, people are starting to avoid leaving their homes to shop unless absolutely necessary. 

If that is the case for you, we do recommend promoting yourself and your products in a way that appeals to your audience. For example:

  1. While sporting events and tournaments are canceled or postponed, it can be worthwhile to promote your sports apparel or equipment by demonstrating it in use for home-based workouts. Self-quarantine or not, people can still stay in shape and remain healthy by using your products.
  2. Encourage patrons to buy gift cards or merchandise online. You can take this a step further by creating online competitions, where participants share a picture of their product/gift card on social media to win a free product or discount.
  3. Apparel and footwear may be the best products to promote during this time, making sure that shipping is a key selling point (again, social distancing is a major concern at the moment). 

Small shops selling novelties or similar

For brick-and-mortar stores that sell gifts, cards, jewelry, accessories, used books, antiques, decorations etc., the biggest issue might simply be that people are wary of spending time in public places unnecessarily. This means that industries that depend on their customers browsing the shelves for longer periods of time will no doubt be experiencing a drop in sales. 

Some marketing tips and general advice would be to:

  1. Make good use of your website and social media to advertise your products and display them easily so that people can take in what you have to offer. The more visually interesting you can make the experience, the better.
  2. Highlight any potential shipping options you may have, or if you can’t offer to ship products, set up a buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) solution. The important aspect is to ensure you highlight how you’re taking social distancing into account while providing your products to the people that love them.
  3. Social media competitions where people demonstrate their support and love for your products can be equally useful for your businesses as those in other categories. Any incentives you can offer to further encourage your customers (coupons, deals on gift cards, etc.) will be extremely useful.

Before moving on to other sections and e-commerce tips, I want to highlight that these marketing tips are fairly general. We have great faith in their usefulness, and we think that they will be very helpful in encouraging your customers to remain loyal and supportive. That said, different brands and products do demand different messaging. 

For example, if your products are highly specialized luxury goods, discounts may not be the way to go. It’s unfortunately impossible for us to guarantee a digital marketing route without knowing exact details about your business and brand. If you’re thinking that you’re “just a regular store, offering regular products” you’re probably doing yourself a disservice. Every business has something that makes them stand out and a unique approach that deserves consideration.

If we didn’t list your business above, or If you would like some free advice, please don’t hesitate to give us a call or send us an email

Empower your business, encourage your customers

In times when people are legitimately concerned about public spaces and enforcing personal distancing, the natural solution is to find an e-commerce alternative. This empowers your business to complete sales while encouraging your customers to support local businesses through hard times – while reminding them that they can still enjoy familiar activities. 

We recommend enabling some form of online shopping for your customers. For example, even a simple step like making it possible for customers to browse your products online to decide what they’d like to purchase before arriving, can be very helpful while people are actively trying to minimize their time out in the open. 

Do you need to set up an e-commerce website as soon as possible?

In order to help you decide whether to set up a website with or without e-commerce, we’ve created the flow-chart below that we hope is both useful and informative. Whether or not you’re looking for any direct assistance from us, we hope the chart below will help you take actionable steps that benefit your business.

As you can see, there are plenty of great alternatives that can make it easy for you to sell your products. For example, Wix or WordPress with WooCommerce are affordable, straightforward alternatives. 

However, when it comes to ease of use, quick approval, and immediate e-commerce website setup, we strongly recommend BigCommerce and Shopify. By far, these two are the easiest e-commerce platforms to start out with. Additionally, we’ve verified that they work very well with the other solutions we recommend further on in this article. 

Out of these alternatives, the most affordable way to make any website capable of e-commerce is likely Shopify Lite for $9 per month.

Should you need any additional help, you can contact us here or email us by clicking here (this will open your email application), and we’ll help you as soon as possible. 

For example if you’re among the CBD stores that have recently set up a brick-and-mortar store in the Buffalo area, you should take extra care when setting up your e-commerce store. You’ll need expertise we can’t offer. We recommend getting in touch with Tasker Payment Gateways for CBD e-commerce setups. They’ve been helping business owners in various industries, like CBD, for close to 20 years now. They have plenty of expertise and experience in setting up ideal solutions that will work for you. 

Diversify what you sell and how you sell

If you run a bar, restaurant, coffeeshop, salon or spa, or in-person activity based business, we would recommend considering expanding what you sell.  While some of you no doubt already have some apparel and additional merchandise you sell in store to promote your brand, others might not.

We recommend finding a way to bring your brand forward and sell physical products that can be delivered, such as t-shirts, caps, hoodies and similar. While focus on cutting costs is a powerful drive right now, ensuring new sales and incoming funds is crucial – we don’t know how long this situation will last or how severe it may end up becoming. 

Practically: How to sell and deliver merchandise safely with a quick set-up

There are two ways you can sell physical products through your e-commerce store and ensure that your customers receive their products. You can either offer a BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store) solution, or set up delivery to the customer’s home. 

BOPIS is a great way to make it easy for your customers to browse your products on your e-commerce store and buy the products online, all in the comfort of their home. Then they can easily pick up the product in store without idling – making it easier to practice social distancing and make logical precautions. However, delivery is still a viable option. 

Even if you worry about a lack of experience or knowledge in handling e-commerce shipping, there is a simple solution:  fulfillment. 

We spoke to the team over at Tiny Fish Printing in Rochester about how businesses that don’t usually sell apparel can offer delivery. As they offer options for 100% made in America custom clothing and printing and have served businesses since 2007, we considered them the natural starting point. 

Antonio Esteves, Co-founder and President at Tiny Fish Printing, gave us his thoughts on what we can do to positively affect the situation we’re currently facing:

“My primary business advice is that people cut costs where they can and look for any opportunity to service a need. It’s okay to ask for support, and with the sweeping quarantines, online sales are a great way to achieve that.

It can be as simple as a bar or restaurant logo on a shirt. In times like this, people want to support in any way they can, so as a business, it’s essential to give them avenues to do that.” 

Another great piece of news is that Tiny Fish Printing will be able to provide you with various products to sell, while also offering fulfillment services. This means that they can ship your products directly to your customers when you integrate their software with the e-commerce platform you use.

If you need help setting up your e-commerce store quickly, and need fulfillment or BOPIS help, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll handle everything we can within 24 hours, and liaison with you and put you in touch with Tiny Fish Printing for merchandise creation or fulfillment if you need it. 

Additional useful resources for small and local businesses

I hope the information we provided above is useful to you and truly helps you manage the difficult times that are likely to be just around the corner. We did consider setting up affiliate profiles with the various providers we recommend, but decided against it. The importance of trust is critical at this time, and we did not want anything getting in the way of you trusting the verified solutions and services we recommend here. If you find you do need help setting anything up, we’d of course greatly appreciate it if you choose us as we will help you set this up immediately and affordably. However, the greatest and single most important thing right now is ensuring that everyone in the local and small business community can access the tools they need to empower their business. 

We’ll also continue reaching out to experts in the coming days to gain more expert insights, which we will add to this article. 

As a final note, we want to underline where our expertise ends: we’re not health professionals and can’t provide guidelines on what steps to take in terms of minimizing the spread of the virus – we’ll simply refer to the CDC website below. We also cannot provide expert HR, tax, loan, or legal advice. 

This is why we wish to outline some expert resources below:

If you have other resources that you’ve found helpful, please send them to us at contact@virtualvisibilitymedia.com so that we may add it here. 


Christoffer Sørensen, CEO & Founder

I’ve had the same goal ever since starting VVM. That is to make SEO and digital marketing affordable and easy enough for anyone to have a value providing website.

However, time is our most valuable resource. This is why we focus on making it the easiest task on your to-do list.