Tips for Small Outdoor Businesses to Survive the COVID-19 Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a challenge unlike any other in history. The virus has halted many of the outdoor activities we both enjoy and rely on for income, and many of our outdoor partners have had to shut down. This has had a debilitating impact on business owners in the travel and adventure industry.
At TripOutside, we are committed to doing everything we can to help both our customers and our outdoor activity providers through this crisis. We know that there are better days ahead – days when we can ride, hike, paddle, and shred again. To get through this pandemic together, and build stronger businesses than ever, we are sharing some tips for outdoor companies. We know that everyone’s situation is different, so if just one idea below resonates and can help another small outdoor business, we consider it a success.
Some Wisdom from Peers
A note of wisdom from our friends at Handlebar Bike and Board: with the slams we have all survived, this experience is just going to be just another pedal slip. Maybe even a crash. We’ve all crashed, there’s no way around it. It may even hurt. You will get back on the bike and take it easy for a bit. But soon you will be back at it, better than ever, having learned a lesson from the crash, and your scar will be a badge of honor. This temporary pause can help us reevaluate, and then bounce back better and stronger when brighter days come.
Creative Way to Avoid Cancellations
The unfortunate impact of COVID-19 is a lot of canceled bookings. Lost bookings equal lost income. Many outdoor activity providers have found success in re-booking impacted reservations to a gift card that customers can use whenever they want. Customers are increasingly sympathetic to impacted companies and have been generally very receptive to this approach. You save your sale, and you give your customer something to look forward to, a win-win!
Offering discounts on gift cards can also be a great way to pay the bills and stay afloat until bookings pick up again.
Provide Inspiration to Your Customers
Continue building positive relationships with your customers. Reach out and make customers feel understood and cared for with inspirational emails, and uplifting posts. It can pay off well. People who get to know you during this pandemic can be your sure customers when traveling is finally back on the agenda.
A targeted email to your loyal customers who want you to make it through this downturn can be a great way to encourage future bookings or gift card sales. Outdoor enthusiasts who are stuck indoors or have had to cancel a much-needed vacation are now looking for inspiration online. Be the shop that provides it, and you may be pleasantly surprised how many will be there to support you.
Look into Financial Relief for Small Businesses
The recent CARES act opened up more financial resources for small businesses (businesses with less than 500 employees) to help them get through the COVID-19 crisis. Here is a quick summary of some available options that may be able to help ease financial burdens of the pandemic.
- Paycheck Protection Program: this is a small business loan to help businesses continue to employ workers and cover payroll. It is an unsecured loan and has the potential to be forgiven in full in certain circumstances. These loans will be available through SBA-approved lenders starting on April 3rd 2020. Contact your lender today to find out if they are participating, and how you can apply.
- Economic Injury Disaster Loan: these loans provide financial assistance to small businesses economic injury as a result of COVID-19. A highlight of this loan is the opportunity to apply for an immediate advance up to $10,000 to pay for working capital needs. The advance is essentially a grant and not required to be repaid. Small businesses can apply here. Businesses will have to choose between the PPP program above and this EIDL program (cannot get both at the same time).
- Employee Retention Tax Credit: this is a credit against an employer’s portion of payroll tax for an eligible business that is forced to suspend or close operations due to COVID-19, or otherwise has a significant revenue decrease, and continues to pay its employees while not currently working. Reach out to your CPA for more information on this credit, and any other tax benefits you can take advantage of resulting from the CARES Act.
Prepare Better, Come Back Stronger
Whether you are biking or boarding, you need to look where you want to go and to keep your eyes on the trail ahead. A business downturn presents an ideal time to evaluate your business and prepare for the future. Reviewing business plans, marketing strategies, promotions and partnerships in light of the current situation can be helpful. Is your business ready for the changes in customer and traveler perception when COVID ends? Are your promotions still effective? Have you made useful partnerships that will get you out there even more?
In this technology-driven industry, it’s important for your business to be listed in major directories like Google and Yelp. Many business owners know that getting listed on big platforms is important, but may not realize how important local directories and specialized marketplaces can be as well.
One effective way to use this time to promote your business is to list your shop on as many local directories as possible. Think local visitor bureau websites, chamber of commerce sites, and city/state websites. These are some of the first sites that come up when a customer researches a destination. With your business information featured on these directories, your business will not only get more traffic, but your businesses’ SEO value will also increase.
Outdoor Focused Listings
You have probably heard of TripAdvisor and Viator, among others, which are great options for general tours and activities. Did you know that you can also get listed easily on TripOutside, our specialty outdoor adventure website that tailors to outdoor enthusiasts? We help you reach more outdoor customers and better position yourself for when the pandemic ends. TripOutside can increase your sales, optimize your business for search platforms, and expose your business to new customers with NO UPFRONT COST.
A TripOutside listing allows you to grow your online real estate for free – you only pay a commission when we send you a booking. Our listings go beyond the ordinary and don’t just show your business name, address, and contact details. Your business will get the chance to tell its story and get direct bookings.
Review Business Expenses
The riders among you know, the lighter you are, the faster you can go. Reevaluating your business expenses can be the most important thing you do right now. Cutting down on unnecessary expenses and conserving cash may be critical to keep your business afloat. Go through monthly expenses with a fine toothed comb:
- Find expenses that you don’t absolutely need right now that you can stop or pause (e.g. maintenance contracts, unnecessary utilities, etc.)
- Are there items you can do on your own instead of paying someone (e.g. writing content, online chat, etc.)
- Identify expenses that may have a free or less expensive version (e.g. email marketing)
As an example, we recently stopped our subscription to Ahrefs and are using a the free tool Uber Suggest instead. It doesn’t have the same functionality, and requires some manual work but it’s helping us cut down our costs.
What are some of your monthly expenses?
TripOutside offers a free booking solution that you can place on your website to get you online bookings. It’s very simple and doesn’t track inventory, but it’s an easy booking solution for your site so you’re not answering phone calls. Find out more!
Sell Your Gear
Got items in your store that you can sell? After the ski season ended early due to COVID-19, the demand for Nordic and backcountry ski gear spiked – proof that people are still looking for adventure. Evaluate your inventory, including rental gear, and figure out whether you can earn extra bucks from gear that won’t get used. You can list these items online, and ship them to customers or even provide home delivery if it’s feasible.
Focus on Things You Didn’t Have Time for Before
Busy times can sometimes get in the way of business development and improvements. Now that the noise has died down, you may have time to sit down and work on enhancing your business. Review vendors, have calls and discussions, partner, collaborate and get creative!
- Revamp your website with useful, engaging content and information. Offer some new options, review your pricing, post updated pictures and adventure information.
- Create inspiring content for your customers and audiences on your social channels.
- Research how the pandemic may affect buying habits of travel and adventure customers. Plan a business strategy to ride out the tide. This may mean focusing more on local customers rather than international tourists or tourists from other states.
- Consider new ideas and ways of doing business. For example: creating affiliate and referral marketing programs is a great way to drum up business through word of mouth and referral bonuses.
Don’t feel bad about asking, you won’t get unless you ask. Talk to your banks about better rates, renegotiate your terms with landlords, internet providers, credit card companies, insurance premiums. Think beyond dollars. You may be able to come up with better terms like keeping your current rate for a longer term. Talk to your product vendors to come up with better payment terms for the next 4-6 months. Many bills are negotiable, especially now.
The world is struggling with this pandemic, and you’re not alone. One of the sayings that helps us gain perspective is the well known quote: “This Too Shall Pass”. If you found these tips for small businesses to survive the COVID-19 crisis helpful, please do let us know – we love hearing from you.
Thank you so much,