“I’m just taking it one day at a time”
These are common words we hear from small business owners these days.
At the beginning of this year, none of us could have predicted the tenacity with which the COVID–19 pandemic would take over, affecting daily life for all and employment for many.
And while small business owners are some of the most resilient people we know, this year has certainly put that statement to the test.
Last November, in a pre-COVID America, I worked directly with Dawn Noble — the owner of La Provence, a specialty gift shop and French import store located in Rockport, MA — on updating her marketing. Alongside a few of our Marketing Advisors here at Constant Contact, I helped give Dawn’s website a much-needed update and refreshed her other marketing materials such as email campaigns and social media ads as well.
I recently sat down — virtually — with Dawn Noble, owner of La Provence, to chat about how things have changed since we last spoke in November 2019
I was eager to jump on a call with Dawn earlier this month to chat about how things have been going, what it’s like running a small business during a pandemic, differences she has seen in her business as a result of her new website, and so much more.
Here are some of the things that I learned from her.
“The year started off great.”
Me: “Can you give me some background on what this year has been like for your business?”
Dawn: “The year started off great. Back in January, I had a new website, which was awesome. I was proud of the website, I wanted [customers] to visit the website, so everything was going really well in the winter… and then coronavirus came and just sort of stopped everybody and everything in its tracks.”
It’s true; while coronavirus hit everyone with sudden lockdowns, precautions, job losses, and more, small business owners have been left in a unique position to figure out how to adapt their businesses to survive.
“As a small business owner, you show up.”
Plus, Dawn’s a small business owner. And small business owners? Well, they’re not exactly used to being told what to do. Many of them decided to own their own businesses specifically so that they wouldn’t have a boss.
“Being told that you can’t go to work, essentially, when you’re a small business owner… I think that was the toughest thing. When times are tough, you go to work. As a small business owner, you show up… We own our businesses, we don’t like being told what to do. Ever. Like, don’t even tell me to turn a light off. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s why we are small business owners and we’re not used to people telling us what to do. I haven’t been told what to do in 15 years.”
While Dawn said all of this through her contagious laugh, I could tell that this truly was one of the biggest challenges for her. She added that all of the added measures implemented by the state to keep customers and employees alike safe were “the right thing to do” but just because it’s right doesn’t always mean it’s easy.
“I went full throttle.”
For Dawn, adapting to 2020’s demands meant going all-in on the things she was already doing to market La Provence while offering a few new options for her customers.
“I went full throttle: sending emails, website, social media, offering free local delivery and curbside pickup, free shipping…”
When it comes to marketing, in general, it’s important to stay top of mind with your customers. Email marketing is a great way to build relationships with potential customers and repeat customers alike and provide them with valuable information about your business, from new product updates to store closures and holiday hours. So, it’s no surprise that email marketing has proved vital to Dawn’s business during the pandemic.
Dawn used her Constant Contact account to send emails about a virtual sidewalk sale, in which she held a Facebook Event to sell items on a first-come, first-serve basis. It was a unique way to garner excitement around the sale in a way that simply linking to her website may not have accomplished.
But my personal favorite was an email that Dawn sent in early May in which she simply wrote “From Rockport with Love” above a short video made to highlight the beauty of the small ocean town. La Provence even makes a brief appearance in the video, which was made by another local business in Rockport.
The point of this email wasn’t to sell or market her business. Dawn sent this because she loves her community and cares for her customers. It serves as a wonderful reminder that this too shall pass and soon, customers will be welcomed back to Rockport with open arms.
Sometimes, the email your customers will appreciate the most is one that only serves to make them smile. After all, your marketing shouldn’t aim to sell 100% of the time. Right now, it’s important to take a step back and let your customers know just how much they mean to you and your business.
“My [old] website was such a mess.”
As for her website, Dawn was excited that what once took her hours was now taking mere minutes. Her last website was quite a laboring process to maintain, and as for the ecommerce tools on it? Well, there weren’t any.
In order to add new products to Dawn’s old online store, she had to manually create buttons within PayPal for each item and then add them all to a page on her website. Not only was it time-consuming for her, but it was also a lackluster experience for her customers shopping the site.
Now that the La Provence website has been made with Constant Contact’s website builder, Dawn is finding it simple, easy, and straightforward to add new products to her site:
Me: “If we hadn’t done all of the changes we made last year, how would your life be different right now in 2020?”
Dawn: “Oh my God… honestly, I don’t think I would have kept pace the way I did. I kept pace in April and May with the previous years’ sales and without the changes, I wouldn’t have touched them. My [old] website was such a mess. It didn’t have a coupon code option. It just would have been so much work. It would have been so time-consuming.
Me: “Well it’s good to know that out of this whole year’s events, at least we helped save you some time!”
Dawn: “Oh yeah, lots of time. I can’t even think about [what it would have been like].”
In particular, Dawn said that the discount code feature was amazing. Had she not been able to utilize this feature, she would have been in “big trouble” this year since it was a benefit she relied on heavily during the beginning of the pandemic to move inventory.
“Look at the bigger picture.”
When you’re in the middle of a crisis, it can be hard to look at the positives.
But even a global pandemic has its silver linings.
For Dawn, it’s been important to reevaluate her priorities and focus on what’s most important — her family. Here’s what she had to say when I asked what her biggest takeaway has been so far this year:
“I think just prioritizing what’s important, and really that’s my family and their health. Just look at the bigger picture. My business… I can ride this out. I can get through it. It’s going to be tough, but I know I’m going to get through this and my business will survive. There are just bigger things going on in the world besides my little business. My kids, my family, and my husband are obviously the most important. My business is great — I love it — but my family… that’s the priority. So I’m just keeping everything in perspective. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and think, ‘oh poor me, my business…’ and don’t get me wrong, I do that some days. But then I’m like ok, snap out of it, look at the bigger picture.”
Her words serve as a poignant reminder that small business owners aren’t immune to burning the candle at both ends. This forced time away from her business has made Dawn slow down and look at the 30,000-foot view of her life.
It’s important to focus on a healthy work-life balance because, after all, your business can’t run without you! Take this time to remember why you started your business to begin with. If you’ve strayed from that original goal over time, now is your chance to get back on track.
And if you’re finding that you have too much work on your plate when it comes to marketing your business or optimizing your online presence, we are here to help. Our Professional Marketing Services are powerful, personalized, and the perfect way for you to focus on what you’re best at: running your business.
“They’re making it a point to support me.”
Something worth mentioning is that Dawn’s business is located in a very tight-knit community. The Rockport, Gloucester, and Cape Ann area of the Massachusetts north shore is a wonderful place to live or work, in part simply because it is gorgeous and quaint, but also because the residents are quick to rally together and support one another in times of need.
I asked Dawn if the community had done anything unique during this time and she shared this story:
“There were a ton of different cross-promotions. For Mother’s Day, we did a package, it was about eight different stores where we each donated something and they pulled a winner, who was a frontline worker, and that was really fun.”
Partnering with fellow business owners in your community is a great way to encourage consumers to support local shops and organizations. Plus, in a giveaway like this where it directly supports frontline workers who are being directly impacted by this pandemic, it’s a win-win!
Beyond coming together with other small business owners who were struggling, Dawn said that this time also made her realize just how supported she is by her customers.
“There were times where I’d go to the store at night and be packing up orders and I would just cry the whole way home. Nobody needs this stuff [that I sell] right now. They’re making it a point to support me. There’s a worldwide pandemic and they’re ordering soap from me and tablecloths and dishtowels. It means, and has meant, so much to me. It’s really overwhelming.”
Me: “To be fair… soap is pretty important right now.”
Dawn: “Yes, but you don’t have to have French soap!”
Dawn also acknowledges that her customers and their unrelenting support are what helped her power through the tough days and kept her business afloat.
“There were days when I thought ‘I’m not going to get through this’ and then I would get orders and think ‘I’m going to get through this… these people, they’re pulling me. They’re pulling me to shore, really… I can’t say enough about my customers, they are truly amazing. I didn’t realize how supported I was; I really didn’t. I never could have predicted [how much my customers would support my business].”
“Just keep working.”
During times of crisis, we often look to others for advice and guidance. While all of us here at Constant Contact are here and happy to help, sometimes you need to hear directly from your peers.
That’s why I asked Dawn what her best advice is for other small business owners who are trying to get through this challenging year. Here’s what she had to say:
“Just keep working. Keep trying. Keep posting. Promote what you have. You don’t always have to buy new inventory, just put a bow on it and repurpose it. Keep in contact with your customers. Keep sending emails; you definitely want to stay on their minds.”
Luckily, Dawn has Constant Contact on her side to help her do those things. From social posting to promoting her products via online advertising, Dawn is equipped with the tools and guidance to keep going.
And you can be, too.
Constant Contact helps small businesses power on
Overall, Dawn and La Provence are a microcosm of small businesses. Each and every one of our customers are facing this challenging year head-on. But even when times are tough, we power on. And here at Constant Contact, we’ve got all the marketing tools and guidance you need to keep going.
Get more tools, guidance, and inspiration with the Power On Portal
Find the support and resources your business needs to power on through some of the challenging days ahead with Constant Contact’s Power On Portal, including:
- Inspirational stories and tips from businesses just like yours
- Marketing assets specific to COVID-19
- A Reopening Guide for businesses reopening or expanding their offerings during COVID-19
- Webinars and other educational content
- A community of like-minded small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Get all the tools you need to quickly find new customers and grow your retail store’s sales.