Don’t Stop Training in the Off Season
How SBIM Capitalised on COVID Downtime
The first COVID-19 restrictions hit Australia in March 2020 but it was the first of April that loomed like a dark cloud for SBIM in Brisbane. Anticipating a cascade of phone calls after issuing quarter-end invoices, the team braced themselves for a deluge of non-payments. If that happened, the walls could fall down.
A Sticky Business
If you’re a small business owner, you’ll want your business to pop up strategically in online searches, particularly the prominent ones like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. You want to be found, you want your customers to like what they find, and you want them to act on it. This is the kind of marketing that SBIM offers.
But wait! There can only be one No 1 on an online search results page, right?
So what happens when your digital marketing agency also has your competitor as a client? That’s where SBIM is different. If you engage with them, you’ll be the one and only business of your kind in your industry.
Our meeting room for this interview was one you’ll see in the video on SBIM’s website, and it resonated with the rest of the neat office, with company colours splashed across decor and the team’s polo shirts. (In case you’re wondering, SBIM stands for ‘Small Business Internet Marketing’.)
As the owner, Gary’s thoughtful answers demonstrated a no-nonsense thoroughness that was mirrored in his COVID-related responses. The team’s easy friendliness in the open-plan office echoed a value that has a lot to do with SBIM’s survival through a pandemic: they value people. It’s what makes their customers ‘stick’.
When COVID hit
The problem with media being our main source of information in the beginning was, of course, that media reports were sensationalist.
“If you believed it—projections were catastrophic. Many panicked,” Gary said.
Yet, after SBIM sent out their invoices on the first of April, the phone lines remained quiet. A good sign. Invoices were paid. First crisis averted.
The real threat came as May, June and July crept in.
The marketplace braced for a potential recession, and SBIM phones remained quiet— too quiet this time. After years of relying on healthy monthly intakes of new business, SBIM sustained three months of zero new customers.
Making It Work
Sifting Facts from Fiction
For Gary, it was a conscious decision not to panic. Instead, he sifted out the facts from the sensationalist misinformation. He spoke to his established team of trusted advisors – consultants and accountants, especially helpful times like this – and took their advice to hold onto staff and keep cash in the business. Armed with this information, he reassured his team while seeking objective facts to shape further action.
“We didn’t want to contribute to the noise,” Gary said.
How Were the Customers Going?
Marketing someone’s business requires getting to know them well, over time. Gary and his team used the quarter-end mark as a catalyst for checking in with each of their customers. The contact was welcomed, and working relationships grew stronger with customers knowing someone was looking out for them.
How to Market in Uncertain Times
With most of SBIM’s customers working in professional fields like law, medical practice and accounting, they had not been as hard hit as the travel and hospitality industries. Despite that, they still had to make decisions about how to market their business in the midst of a pandemic.
“We were keeping our ear to the ground,” Gary said. The cost of digital advertising dropped quite suddenly as big advertising platforms like Facebook and Google strove to drive more online traffic in the absence of the big spenders spending.
Based on reliable sources and discussions with his business advisors, Gary presented his customers with two feasible marketing options. Either they could access approximately 25% more online advertising without spending more, or they could maintain their existing level of advertising and save. Pausing marketing campaigns altogether ran the risk of losing momentum already gained in the marketing lifecycle, growing from awareness to hard sales.
Many customers took the opportunity to capitalise on online marketing.
As a result, in a very short space of time, SBIM built more online stores than ever before.
Of course, SBIM faced the same two choices.
The Resilience Factor
A fresh project
At this lopsided moment in time, Gary realised that business growth pre-COVID had led to SBIM neglecting their own marketing. It was a pitfall when strategising for scalable impact in the long run.
Gary took his own advice and tripled SBIM’s inhouse marketing efforts, capitalising on the low-cost window. New purpose renewed the team’s energy levels at a time when so much else seemed to be flagging.
The SBIM White Room, usually busy with customer video production, became busy with capturing and editing SBIM’s own interviews. Content generation on marketing strategies, and quality edutainment clips proliferated. Over the next few weeks, the team built up Insta and YouTube followings.
The result of their consequent marketing surge? “That’s paying back big time,” Gary reports.
As business slowed, Gary took stock of what he still had, and he became especially grateful for SBIM’s strong existing customer base. Relationships built over years through trust and proven results meant that customers trusted SBIM’s advice along the bumpy road too. Only one customer out of the entire database terminated their services throughout the pandemic restrictions.
“A period of three months with no new clients proved that we could survive without new business. It reinforced that we have a resilient business model where recurring services underpin our stability,” said Gary.
In the revitalised business plan moving forward, the focus on customer relationships heightened, with service and customer results being key.
Tips from SBIM
Find Advice You Trust
Surround yourself with trusted advisors, a pool of people you can go to for honest feedback, rather than feeding off the general public. Many business owners listen to too many opinions. If you look long enough, you’ll find ten different points of view that all conflict.
Gary’s advice is to hitch your wagon to people who can give you solid, unbiased, unhyped strategies. Listen to your trusted inner circle of influence, and then trust your gut feel. Make space for your own judgement, and make your decisions based on a combination of the two.
Don’t Stop Training in the Off Season
“I knew we were going to come out of this. I just didn’t know how.”
Being a cyclist himself, Gary knew they had to keep going based on what they knew for sure to be true, and to keep getting ‘fit for purpose’.
“Don’t stop training in the off season – that’s when you get stronger.”
A previous employer, a large music retailer who knew that success would not last forever, was where Gary first learned this. He has seen this wisdom repeatedly proven over his working career. Gary maintains that recessions or downtimes are the times to stay calm and tap into past experiences—your own or from others. That way, you’ll be ready to catch the wave when the upturn comes.
SBIM not only survived COVID, but came out the other end a better business. The rigours of navigating a pandemic forced Gary into a deeper understanding of his business, becoming more conscientious about business growth planning, and being better placed to look after customers.
“We want to remain the go-to people for sound marketing advice, as we were able to be through the uncertainty.”
See For Yourself
Interested in digital marketing for your business?
Because SBIM is interested in getting you results, they work on a ‘no lead, no pay’ guarantee.
- Book a discovery session via phone or the website.
- A team member will identify your needs and whether SBIM can provide what you’re looking for, whether it’s more traffic, more leads or more sales
- If it’s a good fit, SBIM will work with you achieve the marketing goals of your dream business.
Phone: 1300 781 609
Office 1/ 162 South Pine Rd, Brendale, QLD 4500