Making up for lost time
Thursday, April 23, 2020
As the lockdown for COVID-19 enters its second month in most locations, it’s becoming apparent there are businesses that are thriving, but many more businesses are suffering.
Retail and travel have been hit particularly hard. We joke about not having to wear pants on a Zoom call, but the reality is we don’t need new clothes right now — or new shoes. Air travel has dropped so dramatically that most airlines are cutting flights between 60-85%.
One of the biggest casualties of this pandemic so far is the small business and services sector. We can’t go out to get our hair cut or our nails done. Realtors can’t show houses. We can’t go to the doctor, dentist, chiropractor, or eye doctor.
We aren’t going to work out or yoga classes, attending musical or theatre performances, or getting massages or facials. And of course, it’s no longer possible for groups and associations to hold in-person meetings or conferences.
Some of these businesses will recover once the economy begins to breathe again. But some time-based purchases will never be made up. For example, we are not going to go get two haircuts because we missed one. Nor are we going to get two dental checkups at once or attend two meetings of the same association at once to make up for one that was canceled. The expected revenue from the lockdown period will have evaporated.
This puts many associations and nonprofits in a tough situation. That annual conference that’s been cancelled is unlikely to be rescheduled close to the event date. The missed spring fundraising walk or dinner won’t bring in the expected revenue boost to fund programs and activities.
Waiting for the official “go” signal sometime in the future may be not just frustrating, but financially disastrous. So, what are we to do? Here are a few ideas.
Take events online.
This has been the No. 1 tactic for many businesses and associations. They rework an existing program, whether that is a conference or a performance, to be delivered in an online format. When you can offer a product or service virtually, this makes sense.
Focus on the bottom line.
Most organizations and associations should expect to see a revenue hit during the pandemic. But without the overhead of live programs or events, costs will go down substantially as well. Don’t focus on the amount of money coming in — determine where you can reduce costs to create a lower break-even point.
Create new programs.
If you can’t bring the audience to a live event, how can you provide them something of value? For example, instead of a live concert, offer a recorded performance. Personal trainers and hair stylists are creating videos to help customers during the crisis. Many of these offerings may turn out to be viable programs even after the pandemic is over.
Ask your supporters to pay it forward.
Many stores and restaurants are selling gift cards, allowing customers to provide financial support now with the expectation that products and services may not be delivered for quite a while. Professional service providers and associations can do this as well.
Postpone, don’t cancel.
Where possible, postpone an event or conference — meaning you will honor all existing reservations or ticket purchases for the new future date. It’s like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics now being held in 2021.
Offer credits, not refunds.
In some cases, it may be necessary to offer a refund for a cancelled program. But wherever possible, offer to give customers a credit for a future event — perhaps adding in something of additional value between now and then as a sweetener.
Offer the donation option.
While this is not a great time to ask for money, in some cases it is necessary for the continued viability of the organization. If you are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, suggest customers offer their already purchased tickets or coupons back to the organization in return for a tax-deductible donation.
Whichever options you choose, the key is to take action now. If you wait for the magic moment when everything is back to normal, you may find yourself left out in the cold — without the ability to make up for the time lost.
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