10 Marketing Tips and Ideas for Small Businesses Sheltering-in-Place

Bridget Randolph / 9th April 2020 / Comments: 2 / Digital Strategy

What Small and Local Businesses Can Do While Sheltering-in-Place

As “shelter-in-place” directives are rolling out across the country (and the world), it’s a difficult time for small and local businesses. Many local business owners rely on foot traffic and local customers. Even if they are classed as “essential” businesses, income uncertainty within local communities and efforts to practice social distancing are making it impossible to continue with “business as usual”.

Here at Wheelhouse, we’re focusing on helping our clients identify ways they can pivot and develop new business opportunities in response to the near-universal impact of this situation. And we wanted to share some of the top tips and ideas that we’ve seen small and local business owners finding helpful to sustain their work during this time.

1) Promote gift card sales in lieu of in-person products / services

While a number of businesses aren’t able to remain open due to the nature of their products and services, gift cards can offer a way for customers to support the business without compromising on social distancing or a shelter-in-place order.

If you offer gift cards currently, consider how you might be able to feature this more prominently on your website, your social media presence, or via an email blast. If you don’t currently offer gift cards, this might be a great opportunity to start!

And if you’re in a position to offer a special deal or discount (like “get a $100 gift card for $90”), that can provide even greater incentive for your regular customers to continue supporting your business now.

2) Update your Google My Business profile and share GMB Posts with updates about revised opening hours and changes to pickup / delivery options

For local businesses, Google My Business can be an important channel for driving visitors and sales. Keep your customers up to date with changes to opening hours and any special options you might be offering like curbside pickup or home delivery, especially if this isn’t something you normally provide.

You can also use a special type of GMB Post (the “COVID-19 update” post type) to help surface this information even more prominently.

Use the “temporarily closed” feature to indicate if your business has shut down during this time. Keep an eye on this – if you are actually an essential business and remaining open, double check that Google hasn’t automatically assumed that you are temporarily closing.

If you do close your business during this time, don’t take down your website, as this can cause you to lose rankings with Google and other search engines when it’s time to open back up! Instead, simply update your website with a prominent banner or similar feature to let customers know the business’s status, and limit site functionality (for instance, disable cart functionality) to avoid customers trying to purchase when you’re not fulfilling new orders.

If you don’t currently have your GMB profile set up (or haven’t updated it in a while), this is a great time to make sure that you actually have one and that it’s up to date with photos, reviews and the most accurate information.

3) Run a (paid) online workshop (or series) in your area of expertise

While some business owners and entrepreneurs regularly run online workshops and trainings as part of their usual offering, most of us are less familiar with this type of event. But with in-person activities shut down (like yoga classes and non-essential shopping), this can be a good opportunity to expand your audience and find ways to share your knowledge or skills with others from home.

There are some obvious examples of course: virtual yoga classes, online therapy sessions, and conference call college courses are pretty straightforward examples of how to take in-person offerings remote.

But even if your product or service isn’t normally something you offer in a class format, there might be opportunities to pivot what you do (and what you know) and make it accessible to customers in a new way. For example, if you own a craft store or make skincare products, you could teach a class on how to make something simple at home (for example, “how to knit a scarf” or “how to make your own natural face scrub”). If you have a hands-on business like a massage studio, offer a workshop session demonstrating easy home exercises or self-massage techniques that your clients can practice at home.

Or maybe you have a skill or hobby that isn’t your primary business offering, like doing fun makeup or reading tarot cards for friends, and you can share something related to that instead.

Offer the class for a fee or make it a free YouTube series to raise brand awareness.

4) Promote or pivot products and offerings that can be useful for at-home or work-from-home needs

Think about your customers (and potential customers) and how their needs may look different now that they’re spending their time at home. Focus any promotions on products or offerings that would be useful and / or improve the at-home experience.

For example, a personal trainer or yoga teacher could offer a product or workshop sharing easy 5 min exercises to do when you need a break from your desk, or short daily workout videos that are family-friendly, for parents and kids to do together. A bakery owner could offer call-in ordering and curbside pickup for breakfast muffins and takeout coffee, with a special discount before 9am. An electronics store might offer a promotion on monitors, wireless mouses and keyboards and webcams, to help people transition to remote working.

Ask yourself, what do I need right now as I’m spending more time at home, and how could I provide that or support others in this experience?

5) Update your content to reflect changing customer needs and over-communicate with customers and prospects

This could be as simple as tweaking existing ad copy to reflect the current situation, or more complex depending on your business and customer needs.

For example, if your business is considered essential and remaining open, using masking tape marks on the floor can help shoppers practice safe social distancing. Providing wipes for carts, signage reminding customers of the latest guidelines, and information about cleaning and other protocols the store is using to keep employees and shoppers safe are all good ways to make customers feel supported and protect your staff from unnecessary risk.

6) Focus your efforts on top-of-funnel activities (if you can)

If you have some cash reserves and are able to sustain your business without prioritizing immediate revenue, this can be a good time to focus your attention on top-of-funnel marketing. For example, Facebook ads can be a great tool for building an email list, and cost-per-lead is relatively low right now for lead magnet and list-building ad campaigns. You can start to grow your target audience now, so that when things settle down, you’ll be ready to move forward with launches and other product offers.

Another way to use this time for growing your audience is simply through creating new content. Blog posts, videos, being a guest on podcasts, running or participating in a free online summit – these are all great ways to build brand awareness and provide value to customers who may currently have less disposable income than usual and are stuck in their homes feeling like they have nothing to do.

Make sure you set up retargeting for new content so that you can continue to reach the new audience that you’re building with this content.

7) Identify opportunities to leverage your skills in new ways

Do you have skills and offerings that you can leverage in different ways than you have before? There may be an obvious pivot for your current products that is in line with what is most needed at the moment, for example: a custom cake bakery that doubles down on selling bread since that keeps getting sold out in supermarkets; a tailor shop that shifts to making masks instead of other sewing work; distilleries who are making hand sanitizer.

There may also be less directly related ways that you can leverage your existing skills to create new business opportunities or offer support to your community, such as: local restaurants offering free or low cost meals to families in need; musicians sharing a free concert from home via Facebook Live and receiving donations via Venmo; authors reading children’s books on IG Live; or hairdressers offering private hair cutting lessons via Zoom.

8) Support your local community (if you’re able to)

Local and small businesses are often an integral part of the local community. By looking for opportunities to support your community during this time, you are solidifying that relationship and helping to sustain the local economy (and even building morale).

If you’re not in a financial position yourself to donate your support, it’s okay to ask the community to help. A great example here in Washington is the local businesses who are collecting monetary donations from the community to be able to offer free meals and supplies to local families in need; in NYC, S’MAC (a popular mac and cheese restaurant) is asking people to purchase and donate gift cards that can be used in order to send food to local hospitals, so that healthcare workers can eat good food for free.

9) Look into resources that are being offered to support small and local businesses at this time

A number of larger software and remote working platform companies are offering extra support and resources to small businesses during this time, including:

a) ad credits from Google
b) free resources from software and tech companies

Make sure you’re checking out these resources and making use of these offerings and opportunities!

10) Don’t feel bad about selling

A lot of people feel guilty to be thinking about marketing or sales right now. With everything that’s going on, particularly with many people losing their jobs or having reduced income, it can feel greedy or selfish to be trying to earn money or “make a sale”. But at the end of the day, your business is a service. As in, what you do serves the community.

When someone buys a product or service from you, you’re helping them to get something they need. And that’s not selfish, or greedy – it’s important work. As long as you are operating ethically and selling things at an appropriate price point, there is nothing to feel bad about. In fact, by continuing to operate your business (safely and responsibly of course!) you are contributing to your local economy and helping to support other people’s livelihoods as well.

Remember, it’s very important during this time to take care of yourself and make sure you are getting the support (physical, mental and emotional) that you need to be healthy and safe. Take care of yourself and your loved ones, and we’ll get through this together.


Did anything in this post stand out to you as something you might want to try? Do you need help with a particular item on this list? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments and we’ll be happy to help!

Did we miss a tip or idea that you’ve seen working well? Let us know!

By Bridget Randolph