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Viewpoint: Small businesses need to be proactive more than ever

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Nicole J. Palmer
Guest Columnist

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many small businesses, including my store, Nicole J Boutique, to close their doors in March. For the health and well-being of my family and staff, we’ve remained closed and fully shifted our business to online sales and curbside pickup.

Times are tough for small business owners, but luckily, I have found innovative ways to remain operational and drive sales. While my in-store sales plummeted, my online sales have increased by 84% year-over-year, and customers are loving the quick shipping, simplicity of returns and the convenience of curbside pickup.

Building connections with my customers has always been one of my top priorities, and though I’m not able to interact face-to-face at the moment, social media has been a lifeline for my business. In 2016, I created a public Facebook Group to cultivate a sense of community for our customers. The group has grown to over 7,600 members over the past four years, and I refer to it as my “Nicole J Community.”

I often share videos of new merchandise and host try on sessions, and my Nicole J Community has an all-access pass. Each week, I use Facebook Live to provide an opportunity for customers to chat directly with me and ask questions about specific merchandise. Typically, when you’re viewing an article of clothing online, it is difficult to gauge its sizing, so I am able to provide sizing recommendations in real time as well as provide style advice.

Being fully transparent during these uncertain times has helped with overall engagement and provided me with the opportunity to really connect with the people who support my business. Although I have missed the in-person interaction from pre-COVID times, it’s been so encouraging to know that we are all in this together.

There is no way to predict how the pandemic will affect Delaware’s small business community in the months ahead, but here are a few things I have learned that I hope other business owners will keep in mind as we navigate these uncharted waters.

Be the face of your business

Right now, more than ever, you need to be the face of your business. Constant, timely communication is key to keeping your customers engaged. As small business owners, we have the advantage over larger businesses and corporations because we can and do provide that one-on-one communication. Being the face of your business and brands allows you to build a relationship with your customers and, in turn, makes your company more authentic.

Increase your presence on social media

Make sure you are connecting with your customers anyway you can. Social media is a huge way to do so. Even though my boutique is still closed at the moment, I show up daily online to connect with my customers directly. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be real. Social media is a great way to generate excitement and drive up engagement.

Communicate with Delaware’s policy makers

An advantage of living in a small state is that our local leaders are very accessible and now more than ever, they want to hear what is needed to keep our economy functioning well. There are issues that are critically important to the survival of our small business community and we should never be afraid of vocalizing the things we need from our leaders. Every day we witness the impact the pandemic has had on the economy firsthand. This is another area where social media can be leveraged to your advantage in that it has enabled business owners to amplify their voices and influence.

There is no way to predict where these next few months will take us or what they will bring. The one thing I know for sure is that without the support of this community, loyal customers and other local businesses, these times would be much more difficult. There is great comfort in knowing that we can get through anything when we join together. At the beginning of 2020, I declared that my word for the year would be “Rise”, and the support of this community has helped me to do just that. 

Nicole J. Palmer is the owner and operator of Nicole J Boutique in Middletown.

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