By: Sarah Funk
Being in the tourism industry right now is scary. For the last three weeks, I’ve been confused about how to make my business work in an environment where it is not possible to travel. I’ve cried and I’ve not wanted to get out of bed for weeks. However, a few days ago I concluded that the longer I wonder why this is happening to the world and feel depressed, the more opportunities I miss and the worse my business will end up when we get out of this mess. That’s why I’ve decided to get off the couch, put down my phone, and start to innovate. History has shown us that some of the greatest creations have come through times of crisis when we don’t know where to turn.
– Issac Newton invented calculus during a pandemic.
– Jane Austin wrote the book Emma, which was later turned into the movie Clueless, while in quarantine.
As a New York tour guide and company owner, one of the things I’ve learned from studying the past is that history repeats itself. We’ve made it through over twenty pandemics and always made it out stronger and more community-driven than before. Although this feels like it will last forever, it won’t. New York has made it through the violent mid-1800s (Gangs of New York anyone?), 9/11, the Swine Flu, hurricane Sandy, the revolutionary war, and much more. We’re going to make it through this too.
Photo of Sarah Funk by Laura Peruchi
Once we do, we’re going to be stronger than ever before. But in the meantime, as a business owner in the tourism industry, there are a few things that I am doing to ensure that my business will make it out of this mess. If you’re in this industry, or any industry threatened by this virus (hello restaurant owners!) then here are some steps you can take right now to make sure you will be able to say “We made it through COVID19. We can make it through anything!” once this is all over.
Photo by Alex Powell from Pexels
1. Focus on connecting with your current community in deeper levels:
Respond to every customer personally, and make sure they know you care. They will remember it later on. In times of crisis, people crave personal connections. For example, I’ve been doing Instagram live videos every week where my audience and I do something (like cooking) or I teach them something.
2. Go virtual:
If there is a way to do your business virtually make it happen. I run a tour company, which generally requires in-person guests. However, I started to do virtual tours through YouTube. With YouTube’s donation button, I was able to make up for loss in-person ticket sales because instead of the standard cap of 10 guests per tour, I was able to bring 250 people with me virtually.
3. Expand to other industries that are not impacted:
This is a necessity that I am quickly learning to do. Ask yourself if you or your business can offer something to people that is currently in need? For example, many NYC breweries can’t have guests now so they have switched their production to hand sanitizer – this is in huge demand right now and they are able to make profits through this method.
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One of our #esteemed tour guides, Kelly Zwiebel, is a nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering and we are thrilled to be able to provide and her and her team with hand sanitizer. It’s always great to see people enjoying our #whiskey but seeing our #handsanitizer out in the field, keeping #essential workers safe during this crisis is truly incredible. If you are an essential worker in need of hand sanitizer please DM us and we’ll do everything we can to get some your way. We can’t wait for the day when Kelly is back at the distillery, teaching visitors about all things #whiskey, but in the meantime if you are a #whiskeydrinker #workingfromhome please be sure to raise a glass for those working the front lines of this crisis.
4. Cut expenses:
Look through all of your current business and personal expenses and cut them as much as possible. Hopefully, we will be able to go back to our original work soon, however, it is better to prepare for the worst in case things don’t change for many months.
Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash
5. Apply to the SBA grant or Payroll Protection Program:
Any small business owners should apply to any of the loans and grants the government is offering to keep your business running. On GoDaddy’s site they have compiled a list. Look to see what fits your specific needs. I applied to the Economic Injury Disaster Loan for my tour business. It can provide a $10,000 grant that you do not need to pay back.
Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels
6. Keep a close eye on GoDaddy’s #OpenWeStand site:
GoDaddy has created a new site that is filled with resources for small businesses in need during COVID19. On the site, they’ve compiled tons of information relating to best practices for customers, ideas to make your business virtual, a community board to chat with other entrepreneurs in your situation, and more. It has been a huge help to me as a small business owner! Click here to visit their site.
7. Offer coupons or gift cards at a discounted rate:
If you are in an industry that has been hit particularly hard (tourism or restaurants) then consider offering gift cards that can be redeemed for future use. For my tours, I am offering 20% off of using the code NYCSTRONG for all tour gift cards redeemable at any time.
8. Offer free shipping or delivery for any orders:
If you are a business that can ship a physical product then offer free shipping or delivery for all purchases. Since customers can’t leave their home this will allow them to purchase your products remotely and get them delivered safely. A few companies to use for this could be Shipt.com, UberEats (restaurants only), or you could deliver it yourself.
Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash
9. Make your physical products digital, if possible:
If it is possible to make your physical products digital, do so. For example, if you sell books, make them into e-books. I offer a wide selection of e-books on my site for NYC visitors. The other great part about making a physical product digital is that there is no shipping or delivery cost!
All of my books are digital, which saves me money on shipping and allows my customers to get the product immediately.
10. Create content around your niche on social media:
In times of emergency, people flock to social media to gain access to important information and connect with others — so it’s important to keep your virtual door open. Right now, there are more eyes on social media than ever before. You should take advantage of that. The main reason I have a successful tourism company today is because I created content around New York first. There is nothing more powerful than a great piece of content to sell your product or service. If you’re not sure how to do this, I have an online course where I’ll teach you how to.
11. Think long-term:
How can you make something great today that will benefit you in the future? I know that you may be short for cash right now but it is important to think how something you do today can impact you down the road. It is often more rewarding to invest in something that you know you’ll be able to market forever. For example, whenever I make any YouTube video, I make it to be evergreen. I don’t make videos on one-time only events because the viewers can’t go to them. Instead I focus on concepts that provide value forever, such as “Things to know before visiting NYC”. I know this YouTube video will always be relevant thus it will continue to bring people to my channel that could potentially become tour guests. It will also continue to bring in ad revenue from YouTube.
Photo of Sarah Funk in Scottsdale by Martin Jernberg
12. Start an online course on something you specialize in:
If your business is skill based, why not make a course showing someone how to do that skill? You don’t have to give away all of your secrets but people love to learn and now they have more time than ever! For example, I have an MBA in entrepreneurship and have started two successful businesses (the tour company and my video production company). Since I know how to start a business, I created a course teaching people how to do that too!
13. Brainstorm with other entrepreneurs:
We are living in a unique time when everyone is stuck at home and available to chat. Use this to your advantage to connect with people that would normally have been out of reach! One great way to connect with other entrepreneurs is to use GoDaddy’s #OpenWeStand community forum. There you can pose questions to a community, help others, and brainstorm solutions.
14. Do polls to see what your customers are interested in:
If you’re in an industry that has been hit hard, it may be confusing what to do now that your main product or service is not available. I was incredibly confused about what types of content to create because people can’t travel, so I did a poll of my audience to learn about what they wanted to see on YouTube. This helped me decide which direction to go while I wait for COVID19 to be over.
15. Offer a loyalty or rewards program:
Offer perks or rewards based on products purchased or amount spent. A great way to get repeat customers is through loyalty programs. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone back to a place ten times just to get one free coffee from them. Find a way to incorporate this into your business and suddenly you’ll have a lot of repeat customers!
Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash
16. Lower your rates:
The economy is sadly not in a good place. People are not spending money. Lower your prices and rates to encourage bookings. I’ve had to do this for my media production company and, though I am working well below what I normally charge, I’m looking at it as an investment into the future. I’ll have more clients and in the long term, I’ll make more money.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash
17. Start at Patreon:
Patreon is a way for people to donate to your business. You give your patreon fans exclusive content, behind-the-scenes details, or information, and in exchange, they pay a monthly fee. I have a Patreon page here and have tiers of supporters. Those who donate the most money get the most access to me and my content.
18. Add a “Support Us” section on your site:
Consolidate all of the different ways people can support your business into one sleek page on your website and make it one of the tabs so that everyone sees it when then visit your page. On my “Support my work” page, I give people six different ways to help support me as an entrepreneur.
I hope this helps you as a small business owner! I know that we are in a difficult time right now – I feel your pain! But remember, the actions you take today will determine your businesses future health. Stay smart. Stay open! #OpenWeStand