Helping your clients adapt & stay open during uncertain times
by Andy McIlwain
Local small businesses bear the brunt of times like these. 27% of American small business owners believe that COVID-19 will impact their revenue, and we’re already seeing owners around the country announce temporary or indefinite closures.
These small businesses are our clients, our peers and our neighbors. Now they’re turning to us for help: their web designers, developers and IT experts. Their websites and technology are essential services for reaching and serving their customers.
So, as the trusted web professionals, what are our options? How do we push on under the weight of all this uncertainty?
Here are some pointers we’ve gathered from the community:
Stepping up to help your clients adapt.
Help your clients manage their cashflow.
Help your clients sell online.
Help your clients communicate with their customers.
Help your clients set up their virtual office.
Make time for yourself and your business.
You’re the expert. It’s time to step up.
Your existing clients should be the priority right now. This is your chance to step up and be their champion. Your skills and services can help them adapt to their business.
Don’t wait for your clients to contact you.
Reach out and reassure your clients that you’re there for them. Send an email or, even better, pick up the phone and give them a call. Listen to their concerns and approach the conversation from a position of empathy.
Set expectations early. Tell your clients what you can help with. Have different options for them to get in touch with you. If your usual availability will change, let them know in advance. Make yourself more available as usual if you can. Just knowing that you’re around will offer your clients some much-needed reassurance.
A personal touch goes a long way here. For example, you may want to change your email autoresponders — or disable them altogether.
“Lend your expertise, show compassion, build relationships, be genuine, create solutions, lead with value.” – Kyle Van Deusen, host of The Admin Bar
Some of your clients will need more help than others.
The scope of the needs depends on the clients you work with. You may have local restaurants pivoting from in-house dining to takeout and home delivery. Or you may have a fitness studio that wants to put their classes online, but only for paying members.
Offer 1:1 time to talk about plans over the phone or on a video call, no strings attached. You’ll get a better understanding of what your clients need. Meanwhile, you can calm their nerves — requests that sound daunting for them may be a simple job on your end.
While some of your clients may have similar needs, don’t rush to assumptions. Use common points to inform your decisions. Cater your recommendations to each client’s situation.
Stand out as an amazing partner by helping your clients adapt to changing circumstances.
For example, we’ve seen businesses ask their developer to put a COVID-19 notice on their site. But how that notice appears, and what the specific message is, differs from one business to the next.
Share what you know.
You can help all your clients at once – and many others! – by answering common questions on your website, e.g. on a page or in a blog post.
Keep the content updated with more questions and recommendations as they come up. Point your clients to this page as a go-to resource. Add a form to the bottom of the page so visitors can ask more questions.
Everything doesn’t have to come from you, by the way. Sharing resources from other places can be just as valuable.
Help your clients manage their cashflow.
Put upcoming payments & projects on hold, if you can.
Clients with physical storefronts are already feeling the impact. They’re shutting down their operations, either temporarily or indefinitely. For clients like this, consider pausing their invoices or offering an extended payment period.
You may have some projects in development that won’t be able to launch as planned. If a client wants to cancel a project you’ve already started on, offer to put their project on hold instead. Pause the work and get ready to pick it up again when things recover.
If a client wants to cancel a project that you haven’t started work on, offer to hold off at no charge. Their situation could change. You should be the first person they reach out to when they’re ready to start again.
Break down big projects into smaller phases.
Let’s say you’re working on a new site build. You could strip the project down to the essential requirements. When that’s done and the site goes live, start adding new features and functionality in iterative batches.
If it helps, you could present each phase as a new version of the site. Share the “release notes” with your client to remind them of the value you’re providing with each phase. Pair that with a requests backlog and you’ll have a steady pipeline of new work, even if it’s incremental.
You could also adjust your billing schedule for smaller, more frequent invoices. You could turn a quarterly payment into a monthly payment, or you could add extra milestones throughout a project. These won’t change the final cost, but it can help your client better manage their expenses.
If your client isn’t comfortable with a long-term commitment, try reducing the project scope altogether. Not feeling tied to future work can ease some of their stress, even if it’s practically the same as a phased approach.
Offer discounts on new & ongoing work.
You could offer one-time discounts, e.g. a free month of services. It’s a handy “play it by ear” approach for recurring services like website maintenance, web hosting, and marketing support.
You could offer discounts on retainers & renewals. It’s a classic subscription model. Let’s say you offer marketing services on a quarterly retainer. For new and existing clients, offer a discount if they commit to a longer-term.
Or you could offer a referral-based discount. A friend of mine did this with their agency. They’d offer a discount on a completed project, but only if the client referred new leads. There were even more incentives if a sale came out of the referral.
Help your clients sell online.
Your clients may be able to adapt their existing business by moving parts of it to the web. Set up ecommerce for physical products.
Accepting online orders is a top priority for retailers and restaurateurs. You don’t have to build a complex ecommerce site to make it happen, either.
You could build a simple website listing available products (for retailers) or menu items (for restaurants). Then embed a form on that page to take orders and payments.
If you’re using WordPress, most form plugins have payment gateway addons, e.g. for Stripe. You could also use a tool like Wufoo forms, which works with all website platforms and handles payment integration out of the box.
Connect your clients with local delivery and fulfillment services. This is where you can lean into your strengths as a technical problem solver. How can you collect orders and track deliveries? It could be as simple as using Excel, Google Sheets or Airtable to build an ad hoc database.
If you have restaurant clients, help them get set up with services like Doordash, Grub Hub or Uber Eats. These services handle orders and delivery, and they’ll put your client in front of new customers. You could also look at integrated POS solutions like ChowNow, Toast or TouchBistro that connect with the delivery services.
Create online alternatives for service providers. What if your clients sell time instead of products? They’ll need a way for customers to book appointments on their site. Tools like Jobber cater to specific industries. Other tools, like vCita, are more general-purpose. If your clients are on Office 365, they could use the built-in Microsoft Bookings app.
Some clients, like HVAC technicians or landscapers, will need to be on-site to do their work. Clients who don’t need to be physically present can use virtual meetings instead. Set them up with a tool like Zoom, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams. These all have dial-in options, so customers aren’t forced to use a separate app.
Digital products are another option for service providers. We’re seeing small businesses transform into content creators. They’re packing their knowledge into on-demand videos, courses, podcasts and eBooks.
It’s a lot to take on, but that’s why you’re there. Help your clients create the products, then help them set up the means to sell the products.
Your client can build an audience for their business by releasing free content. Help them do it. When they succeed, you succeed.
Virtual classes & online courses are great for fitness studios and other training-centric businesses. There are plenty of WordPress solutions for building membership sites like these.
Help your clients raise their online visibility.
Start with local search. Set them up on Google My Business, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp and other local directories.
Populate their profiles with photos and information to stand out against local competitors.
Follow up by having your clients contact their customers and ask for a review.
Run promotions encouraging customers to #shoplocal.
Gift cards & certificates are good for clients who can’t pivot to online alternatives. They can make sales now while customers redeem the purchases later. Your opportunity is to find or build a solution that works for your client’s specific needs.
Offer discounts, either flat rate or variable. While your client will decide on what gets discounted, you can help them get the word out. That could include updating their website; sending promotional emails; or launching an ad campaign.
Help your clients communicate with their customers. Help your clients reach new and existing customers through multiple channels.Step in to help your clients get comfortable with using new communication channels. They need to make it as easy as possible for their potential and existing customers to get in touch.
Set up email marketing & CRM software. Email marketing is a good starting point for helping your clients communicate with their customers. As with most of your work, the type of email marketing will depend on your clients. Note: Your clients need their customers’ consent before adding them to a subscriber list. The easiest way to handle this is to add a signup box to your client’s site. That way the customers can opt in on their own.
You can help your clients take things to the next level by implementing CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software
A simple spreadsheet isn’t enough for a CRM. The information it contains needs to be properly secured. You may also need to connect the CRM to other tools and services, like an ecommerce platform. There are plenty of affordable CRM options, like HubSpot CRM, Pipedrive and Salesforce Essentials
Your task is to help your clients learn and manage these platforms.
Let’s say you have a local bike shop as a client. Some of their customers ride mountain bikes, while others ride road bikes. Your client would know who buys what by tracking that information in their CRM. Then they could send separate email campaigns to each group.
Do more with social media.
We’re seeing more small businesses turn to Instagram for reaching their customers. You can support your clients by managing their profiles for them. If you don’t have the design chops to create visuals on your own, you can use a service like Canva or Over.
If your client doesn’t have a business profile on Instagram, help them set one up. They can connect it to their Facebook page – something else you can help with! – and that’ll come in handy when they run advertising campaigns through Facebook.
YouTube is another platform we’re seeing small businesses use more often for marketing. Help your clients reach new customers on YouTube. Post videos about topics that are both searched for and related to their business.
For example, a retail client could post video reviews of their favorite products. That video could then link back to the product listing in their online store.
As with Instagram, your opportunity is to help your clients manage their YouTube presence. Direct messaging with customers.
Make it easy for customers to reach your clients. Get them up and running across different channels, like Messenger, WhatsApp and SMS.
Facebook Messenger works across all devices through both the mobile app and Facebook website. Messenger conversations feed into the Facebook page inbox, alongside messages from Instagram, if it’s a business profile connected to the same page.
WhatsApp is more popular than Messenger, and you can connect a WhatsApp Business account to a Facebook page. You could also add a WhatsApp messaging button to your client’s website with click-to-chat. That way customers can start a chat without copying contact info between apps.
Help your clients set up their virtual office. A separate room with plenty of natural light makes for a great home office. A window to the side limits screen glare and provides smooth lighting on video calls.Helping your clients set up a virtual office makes sense if you already provide IT services. Chances are you’re already familiar with the software, and you can do a lot of the work remotely.
Your clients may already have a preference towards G Suite or Office 365. We’re biased towards the latter, but do what’s best for your client.
Create a central hub to keep everything in one place.
The hub should include important information like a staff directory, employee handbooks, reference guides and training manuals.
Some systems & processes could switch over to virtual, too. If your client relies on paper forms, you could recreate those with Google Forms or Microsoft Forms.
Project management tools are another big need for remote work. Some managers feel anxious about the lack of accountability when everyone works from home. They can keep track of what everyone is working on by ensuring all their tasks get tracked in one place. Popular choices include Asana, Trello, ClickUp, Teamwork and Basecamp. Microsoft Planner also comes built into Office 365.
Set up internal comms to keep the team in sync. Virtual meetings don’t carry the same weight as everyone huddling around a table. It’s nice to have some face time, even if it’s just on screen. Help your clients by setting them up with a service like Zoom, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams.
Spontaneous conversation also takes a hit when everyone isn’t working in the same space. Coworkers can’t pop by to ask a question, and there’s no lunchroom banter.
Thankfully Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams all include chat and private messaging for spontaneous conversations. For the sake of simplicity, try to set your clients up with a single tool to handle both meetings and messaging.
All of this might be overwhelming for your client. Be there to calm their nerves and guide the way.
Offer some pointers on how they could use these apps within their business. Should they hold a weekly team meeting? 1:1s between members? Daily check-ins via chat?
Cater your recommendations to your clients’ specific needs. Invest in your business.
Most web professionals are all too familiar with the feast and famine cycle of projects. That’s why we’re so vocal about building recurring revenue into your business.
You should still push for that arrangement, where and when you can. It offers a lot of reassurance to both you and your clients. They’ll know you have their back, and you won’t have to chase new client work.
But don’t stop there. Designers & developers who thrived through the 2008-2009 recession stayed alert for new opportunities. They swam upstream, growing their businesses while their competitors dug in or shut down.
Expand your knowledge & services. Look into partner certification programs from platforms like Facebook, Google, HubSpot, Copyblogger and others. These programs can help you expand your services into new areas. Their badging and credentials help you stand out from your competitors, and they can be a source of new leads through partner referrals.
Sharpen your skills with online courses from sites like Udemy, LinkedIn Learning and Creative Class. If you prefer learning through hands-on projects and taking things apart, check out FreeCodeCamp, Codepen and Glitch.
Join online communities to connect and learn from other web professionals’ experiences & expertise. There are active Facebook groups like Agency Trailblazers and The Admin Bar; Slack teams like Post Status and Online Geniuses; and forums like DEV and Spiceworks.
Work on your own marketing. Redesign your website. Update your portfolio and case studies. Publish useful, evergreen content to get found in search and build your credibility.
Become the go-to web expert for your area. Create a free email course. Start a weekly newsletter. Join small business communities and look for questions you can answer. Present virtual meetups, write for local business organizations, or provide free services to a local nonprofit.
Overhaul your systems and processes.
Where can you streamline or automate your work? Can you build sustainable routines around ongoing tasks? Can you create templates for your communications and projects? Can you build up your own internal docs, so that you can delegate tasks when the time comes?
…and take a break from everything. Pick up a hobby that isn’t work related. Read, meditate, exercise. Reconnect with family and friends. If you need to talk with someone, check out WP&UP. They’re a registered charity that helps web professionals deal with physical and mental health. We have COVID-19 resources to help small businesses stay open. Feel free to use lean on these as you’re guiding your clients. We also launched an #OpenWeStand section on the GoDaddy Community forums, a place for entrepreneurs to get help from each other. We’d love to have experienced web professionals jump in and share their expertise, too.
Andy McIlwain Andy wrangles content and community programs for GoDaddy Pro. He's a longtime meetup organizer, self-taught web developer, WordPress enthusiast, and advocate for an open web. Say hello on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his blog.