How can small businesses survive social distancing?

In the course of a week the aviation, heritage, hospitality and leisure industries have been brought to their knees. Social distancing has removed any chance of people meeting together and accessing these industries. This list isn’t exhaustive; the knock-on effect for other industries is mind-blowing and we won’t know the real impact for many months. 

The impact on social distancing.

How can catering industries cope while social distancing rules are in effect?

As a catering company, our entire existence is built on people meeting together for social or business events. In a week, every possible reason for ordering outside catering has disappeared; no one is gathering for Christenings, for family birthdays, work conferences or charity functions anymore.

So what can a catering company, and other similar small businesses, do during a worldwide pandemic, under social distancing restrictions? Can we have successful business at this time?

How do we measure success?

Well, I think a lot comes down to the expectations that we put on our business for the next few months. For the short term, life is going to change. So therefore, our expectations for ourselves and our businesses should change during this period. 

Obviously, all business owners strive to provide the best product for our customers and clients and this is an important way of measuring success. But I am not naive, every business wants to make a bit of a profit, and quite rightly so. But when the market is put on pause by the Government, how do we measure success?

It’s an old adage that a small business owner is either time poor or money poor. At the moment, everyone is money poor, but what we have bags of is time (if you are not babysitting or homeschooling at the moment, that is!). We also should never be poor in our attitude to others, be that our employees or relationships with our clients. This should be true regardless of circumstance, but particularly during times of hardship. You can be a capitalist and have a compassion for others.

So, I propose that for the short term at least, to help us feel positive, we need to change the expectation we have for our business. Aim to use this time in the most efficient, constructive, kind way possible and see this as your measure of success.

So in what ways can an ethical, efficient business person use their time?

Contact the HMRC

Regardless of your political persuasion, there is no denying that the current government’s economic support package is unprecedented and quite mind-boggling in its scope. Sadly, there will be some who cannot benefit (for example, those who are recently self employed and haven’t submitted a tax return yet), but for many SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) there is enough being given to help them survive these barren months of isolation.

For a full list of benefits, visit particular, take note that those SMEs who don’t have to pay business rates may be eligible for a £10,000 grant through the local council to help pay rent and utilities on their property. For those who employ others, there is information on how to get financial support to keep your payroll going.

Even if you have no work during these months, at least you can rest a bit more easily knowing that your business rent and utilities are being paid and that your employees are receiving income.

Couple this with a look at your current expenses: what can you ditch for a few on this to bring your overheads down and maximise the government’s financial support package.

Catch-up with your to-do list.

We are making the most of our slow down by getting up to date with all of our jobs. You know the jobs I’m talking about: the ones that no-one really wants to do but knows that they really need to.

So, grab a paintbrush, tidy up that stockroom and get up-to-date with your paperwork. It’s boring as anything, but you will be angry at yourself that you didn’t when the catering industry gets going again.

Don’t loose your place.

I know it’s tempting, but whatever you do, don’t stop all your marketing in an effort to save money. Don’t ditch your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and digital marketing efforts. If you do, your website will slip down the search engine rankings, and when businesses reopen and look for caterers later on in the year, other companies will appear in front of you. That’s a lot of potential business you have lost for the sake of paying for a few blog posts.

One of the purposes behind your blogs and regular website updates is to allow Google to know you are alive and well, improving your rankings in organic searches on it site. Google’s ranking algorithm doesn’t give charity, even during a pandemic, and any company that doesn’t add new content to its website over this period may disappear from Google’s front page of search results.

You may choose to come to an agreement with the company you are paying for your SEO to work at half measures during this time, as money is tight for everyone, but don’t ditch your blogs and updates outright.

Keep in touch.

On the digital marketing front, keep in touch with your loyal customers over email and social media. Make sure they know you still exist and will be there for them when we all emerge from isolation. Not only is this reassuring on a emotional, human level (and we all need plenty of reassurance at the moment), but will hopefully mean you retain as many of your existing customers as possible. If they haven’t forgotten you, they are unlikely to go looking elsewhere.

I am predicting that once everyone is allowed out of isolation, there will be a mad rush to get business moving again; people will want the reassurance of caterers they know as everyone’s work load will shoot up and they won’t have time to shop around.

Plan for the future.

Don’t sit on your laurels. Life will eventually return to normal, and if you are crafty about how you use your time, you could have a heads start on your local competitions.

If you haven’t done so already, draw up a marketing plan for the next six months. Identify new markets or areas that you wish to advertise in and instruct your SEO and marketing team which direction you want to go in. If possible, start your marketing campaign a few weeks before businesses start trading again. 

Use this time to reflect on where you business is at the moment. Most business start ups write a business plan, but few review it. Revisit your business plan. Analyse which targets you’ve hit, add new short, medium and long term goals. Think about your long term exit plan for you business. What’s your long term aim? To sell up? To expand? There are lots of options. There are any number of blogs out there which can help you out in this area.

Do some reading.

If you don’t have children to entertain at home while self distancing restrictions are in effect, aim to read three blog posts a week from other businesses in your field. Not only is it good to get a feel for what other catering business are up to, it might spark your imagination for new ventures, markets or marketing tricks.

Take care of yourselves.

We are living in unprecedented times. Please take care of yourself, your employees and your clients where possible. A small business can come through this with its brand, payroll and client base intact. You may make little or no money during this time, but if you aim for minimising damage on a human level most people will call that a success.

Although its hard, we are determined to try and make the most of this quiet time in the life of our business. Thinking about making the most of this situation is half the battle; a good mental attitude can go a long way in making the weeks pass more quickly. Here at Just Catering we wish all of you the best. Keep well, keep going.

The impact on social distancing.