Small business owners are getting creative to survive this COVID-19 economy

By Michelle van Schouwen

Small business owners are doing what it takes to get by during what, for many, are the worst times ever. And the creative approach one business owner takes often inspires others in different markets or lines of business. We need each other more than ever.

Address customers’ 2020 needs and wants:

-Everyone from restaurants to bookstores is offering online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery. Are there products or perks you can deliver? (A gift basket for your customer’s housebound Mom? Favorite beauty products? A ready-made meal for four?)

-We all need pick-me-ups, so salons, massage businesses and others are promoting discounted gift certificates for future use. Many are being transparent: “Help us in these tough times – we look forward to serving you when we can!”


-Some businesses (or business owners in need of income) are looking toward new – even totally off-brand – services or products they can provide now just to get through: Personal shoppers for people who want to avoid the supermarket, pharmacy and more; remote tech assistance for folks at home who want to get on Zoom or FaceTime, or can’t simply get the cable to work; and quick website development for companies that must now do more of their sales and contact online. We’ve all heard of distillers making hand sanitizer, and cleaning companies pivoting from occupied to unoccupied buildings. Some clothing makers are sewing masks. Newly minted tutors are working with students via video meetings, giving tired parents a break. Don’t be afraid to do something temporary and useful.

Virtual everything:

-Marketing and other professional service companies are creating online sessions to help their own clients get by during these strange and difficult times. Many are offering these free-of-charge, to build goodwill.

-Everything from exercise classes to counseling has gone online. What can you offer via the internet?

-Some companies are teaming with others to offer advanced virtual services or package deals: Plan your new living room decor with us using online video and our interior designer’s drawings, and we’ll send you free flowers from our partnering florist during May and June.

-Entertainment venues are offering free content, but sometimes also getting paid, for example, for fee-based film festivals or plays that ordinarily would have been in-person events.

Keep everybody involved:

-Companies that have employees working fewer hours or have furloughed them can still offer opportunities for workers to stay involved, such as cross-training, new software mastery or any other skills sets you’d like them to have. Many employees will welcome the opportunity, and you will help keep them engaged.

-Speaking of engaged, don’t forget to communicate often with your customers, keeping top-of-mind in a way that is not overly sales-y. People are bored, and if you can make your content interesting, so much the better. Don’t forget to keep up with your social media communications now, either.

As we’re already seeing, “opening up the economy” is likely to be a ragged and gradual process. Small business owners’ continued creativity and ingenuity (combined, sadly, with new ways to cook ramen noodles and beans, cut one’s own hair and work while children are playing – or bickering – at one’s feet) will, we hope, allow us to get by to a new beginning.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her new work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.


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