Up until the end of December 2019, there were still many businesses steadfastly holding out from having a website, and even more of them didn’t feel the need for any kinds of digital marketing.

Most of these were what we’d class as “local” in that they relied mostly on walk-by custom.

Businesses such as cafes, grocery stores, butchers, really didn’t need to worry about people finding them online, because people found them by the side of the High Street.

Marketing? Meh, not necessary.

Then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed.

For cafes, restaurants and pubs, it was time to shut the doors for three long months of doing no business at all, but local convenience stores had a different problem. They could remain open, but they had to communicate to their locality, telling them that they were still there and explaining what they sold and when they were open.

Local Facebook groups exploded in popularity with people wanting to know what was available and who could supply it.

Many businesses had to completely change their model to survive, with cafes and pubs converting into take-out services and some offering telephone and online ordering with a prearranged pick-up.

Whatever they did, they were no longer able to grab customers as they walked past. Instead, customers searched them out online, and those who had that substantial online presence did well, some even thrived.

The High Street was already in decline, lockdown has made it worse, but I am of the firm belief that a hybrid model is possible, and that with the right digital nous, anyone can bolster their bricks and mortar presence with a robust online offering.

Making the most of post-COVID business

We are nowhere near out of the woods yet, and there are likely to be more lockdowns as local flare-ups of the disease affect towns around the UK. However, now is the time to be making the most of your website.

If you don’t have a website, you should get one.

Some domain registrars offer free website services, and you can even get free hosting from some companies, but these are rarely worth it.

However, spend just £5.00 per month, and you can have robust hosting that will serve you well.

Designing a site is a different matter, but for now, look out for some pre-made templates that suit your business. Just Google for your business type and “website template” and you’ll find lots of free and cheap sites just ready for you to configure.

And to get you going, here are a few things you need to make sure you have on your site:

Opening hours
It goes without saying that you should have opening hours, but make sure you mention the current situation as some people might not realise that you’ve updated them to take account of reduced times/availability.
What’s available
If you have limited stock, tell people so they can plan. If you have a reduced menu, update your menu pages to take account of it you can make a feature of this on your front page.
Contact form/email address
I prefer contact forms; you can get more information from them. For example, if you have an enquiry form, you can ask people what they’re interested in and how they’d like to be contacted. Importantly, though, ensure you get their email address and/or phone number and reply as soon as possible. If you can, send an auto-reply to say “someone will deal with your enquiry shortly”.
Covid-19 update
Put a banner, button, link or text somewhere on the front page of your site to tell people you’re taking it seriously and explain what you’re doing to make their experience as safe as possible. If your website has no information about the current situation and you’re the kind of business that has to deal face-to-face with people, you need to reassure them that you’re doing everything possible to remain safe.

Above all else, now is the time to spend some of your day looking at your site and asking yourself if it is reassuring, if it gives the sort of information people want and if it will help people choose you above all others during these crazy times.

And if it doesn’t, you’ve now got an ideal window of opportunity to make the changes.

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