How to Manage Your Clients and Agency During COVID-19
Times are tough right now. It's hard on everyone in one way or another; some are laid off, some are overworked, some are susceptible, some have to learn to cope with a whole new way of living. Whatever your situation, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you in some way.Fortunately, a lot of us in the digital marketing space are able to continue working remotely during this time. This comes with a lot of its own challenges for maintaining productivity, communication, and morale. Couple these inconveniences with those of the operation of the business during the pandemic, and you've got a strange, new landscape to navigate. You have to stay on top of every new development while keeping both your and your clients' businesses in mind.Our recent webinar aimed to give you some advice that you and your team can use to weather this time as carefully and efficiently as possible by taking care of your employees, your clients, and any other customers you might affect. Thank you to Karl Sakas (Agency Advisor at Sakas and Company) and Jenny Karn (President & Co-Founder of Beutler Ink) for sharing your advice and charting a course for us.
Good leadership is more important now than ever. We all need someone to look to and know that we're being taken care of, that there's a plan. For those of us fortunate enough to still be working, that leadership comes from the leaders we have within our organization. Once our governments outline their directives, we look to our leaders and ask What now?It's important to be proactive in these times because if you don't provide strong, decisive leadership, people will fill the void with their own answers. We don't mean answers about daily developments of the pandemic but rather developments about your business so that people aren't left wondering.One of the foremost rules of marketing is to answer a question before it has a chance to be asked. The same goes for here and now. Communicate with your employees and clients before they have a chance to panic and wonder what's going to happen before they have a chance to call you in a tizzy. This is not the time to be secretive or keep your cards close to your chest; this is the time to be up-front about what's going on because we're dealing with enough 'unknown' as it is.Pro Tip: As bumpy as the road is going to be, try to have some fun. By that, we mean try to recreate the camaraderie of the office; have group video calls, celebrate the wins, talk openly, joke, and whatever else it takes to feel some normalcy and togetherness.
It's also important to know that this isn't all about you taking care of those beneath you. On a team, we take care of those working with us, which means that they can help take care of you, too. You can't coach or reassure yourself, so don't try to be self-reliant. Reach out to others during these stressful times, because "we're all in this together" goes both ways.This is not the time to hunker down and wait for this to blow over. This is the time for you to be proactive and communicate with those in your charge.
We mentioned being up-front with your clients as well as your employees but what does that look like? Everyone has the big picture of what's going on but your clients will be wondering about your viability, so be honest about what you can still do for them. You may be down a couple of staff members, or you may need time to adjust to a new work situation. By opening a dialogue with them and doing it early, you can come to understandings and adjust expectations, because things are not going to work as they did before.Your clients may come to you and want to pause or terminate the services they're getting from you. This is understandable, given that a lot of them will be experiencing an interruption revenue. Start by validating their concerns and listen to the problems that they're facing right now. From there, you can start to work on a solution, which may mean pausing or cutting back on services, or it may mean helping them develop new revenue streams to help them keep going.Pro Tip: If you want to offer a discount to your clients or customers, make sure that you invoice them for the full amount that you normally would and then add the discount. This way, they'll be reminded of the regular cost and won't get used to getting your services for less.
Even if you're going to get unpleasant news, don't hesitate to contact your clients. Knowing a difficult truth is better than pretending everything is fine, so be proactive in your communication.
Running the business
It may feel like the world is at a standstill but that doesn't mean you should stop your marketing and advertising efforts completely. People are still going to be spending money and they're going to be online more than ever. Remember to be mindful of your messaging. Don't continue to run your business and your ads like nothing is happening.To use one example, there's an ad for a laptop accessory that says "Working from home has never been easier!" when, in fact, working from home has never been more difficult, even on people who have been doing it for a while. We've all gotten promotional emails advertising everyday products with a "COVID twist." Be careful when doing this.Make sure that you're being tasteful and considerate in times like these. Don't make short-sighted decisions that may cause long-term problems. Consider the context whenever you put out a piece of content.Pro Tip: Identify your potential risks (e.g. overhead, payroll, financially unstable clients, physical or mental health challenges). Start to make a plan to address these risks, if you don't have one already.
If you and your team aren't used to working remotely, it's more important than ever to be vigilant. There are distractions and gaps in communication that can easily cause work to fall through the cracks or accidentally overspend on budgets, especially with purse strings being tightened.No one is to blame for this; its the nature of this unfamiliar work situation that we've all been thrust into. Ensure that you practice patience and empathy with everyone you work with, whether you're their boss or their co-worker. Were all doing the best we can and mistakes will happen. Your clients should be just as understanding during this awkward phase and you can manage their expectations in the initial communications that we discussed.
We've mentioned the importance of communication already but we really can't stress it enough. It should feel like over-communication, especially during times like these and until we all develop new routines with our co-workers.Communicating more also means communicating more effectively, so develop some good email habits. To get people's attention and get them into and out of their inboxes as quickly as possible, start with your subject line; include the person name, important aspect of your email, and the time frame (e.g. Mark, need website revisions approved, ASAP or Susan, notes on new proposal, review by Friday).
- Other people will likely be CC'd on these emails, so the person who most needs to read them is addressed from the top.
- They know what the email is going to be about.
- You're telling them whether they need to get to it immediately or if it can wait until tomorrow.
Pro Tip: If your clients are taking a while to respond to emails (because they're new to working remotely, too), gently nudge them by questions like "Is this still a priority?"As for other communication tools, whether it's for instant messaging or project management software, develop a system or workflow if you don't already have one. You can't call across the room anymore when you need something done and you also can't be video calling your co-workers every ten minutes. Develop a system for organizing & assigning everything and make sure that everyone's familiar with it so that you can all stay as efficient as possible to keep things from falling through the cracks.
This goes hand-in-hand with setting expectations for your work and deliverables. You want to make it very clear to your employees what you want from them, otherwise, they'll make their own rules, but still remain empathetic to each person's unique situation. If you assign someone a task, you can't assume that they'll have it back to you by 5:00 PM because they might have kids, so their workday might be from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Open communication and trust are how you navigate these tricky situations.
A lot of this will apply to your own marketing efforts but they also go for any of your clients who may be thinking about suspending their services. It's understandable because with businesses and the economy taking a hit, people are unsure if they can afford everything that they could a few months ago.Heres the thing, though Can you afford not to? A lot of people might argue that there isn't much point in doing marketing right now because people aren't buying anything. Wed argue that quality marketing services are actually more important now than ever because people will still be spending money, albeit not as much, so businesses who can still sell their products & services still need to try. There's a lot more noise out there right now and you still need to get your message through it.Furthermore, what happens in three, six, or nine months from now when this is all over and business does return to normal? That would have been a very valuable time that you could have been getting the attention of potential customers. Even if you can't sell your products & services right now, you can still create a lot of leads if you market right during this downtime.As we've talked about before, the first communication that you should put out is a blog post as an official statement of what your business is and will be doing during this time. You can update it or release new posts as things develop and protocols change.
If you're struggling to know what to put out, aim to answer the questions that you're being asked by your clients and customers. Answer the same questions for other people before they have a chance to ask them.
A lot of people and companies are in uncharted waters and the waves are knocking them around. It's a big adjustment to start working from home when you've had a dedicated place to go for work for the rest of your career. If this is you, your confusion and discomfort are understood. Fortunately, a lot of companies have been working remotely for years, so there is a lot of advice out there.At the top of the list, above productivity tricks & tips, is communication and empathy. So many people are in the same boat right now, so people will understand and adjust expectations if you're open about what those are and realize that not everyone is performing at 110%.At the end of the day, we're all a part of a team, and even though we have to stay apart, well get through this together.For more tips, advice, and action items, Karl and Jenny have their own guides and resources available to help you with the nitty-gritty:COVID-19 Agency Resource Center from Sakas and CompanyThe Beutler Ink Guide to Working from Home, Part 1 and Part 2