It’s three weeks into these “uncertain times,” and, like so many small business owners, I’m staring at a mound of paperwork with instructions on how to apply for an Economic Injury Loan. Or the Payroll Protection Program. Or the Emergency Economic Injury Grant. Or possibly, but hopefully not, a petition for bankruptcy. Sleepless nights, while not an uncommon experience for business owners, are now the norm. Not since after the tragic events of 9/11 has our business experienced a complete shutdown of business activity. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
As an eternal optimist, I try to stay positive. Surely this is short term; surely we can ride this out. Social media and the 24/7 news cycle inform me that this is a foolhardy assumption. As the days continue, the anxiety creeps in further. Business experts tell us to never make critical decisions while under severe stress or under the influence of alcohol. They never warned us about making decisions while under the influence of both!
I’ve never been one to be above borrowing great ideas. When I learned of a Wisconsin colleague offering assistance to restaurant owners in his area, I decided to do the same. Knowing that all businesses are affected, I figured we at least had to do something to keep the food-supply chain functioning. And we currently don’t produce toilet paper.
Using Facebook, we began spreading the word that we were offering free banners to local restaurants providing curbside service. My thinking was that could help keep our limited staff working a little while longer (while keeping our distance). I truly believed that it was a small community service that we could offer, if only to help a little. And yes, I anticipated we would get a slight bump in our social media metrics.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad. In less than 48 hours after the original Facebook post, we had produced banners for more than 50 local businesses. So, yes, our staff was busy. As it turned out, we were providing a much-needed community service. But I totally missed the mark on the “slight bump” in our social media reach. That one single FREE BANNER post has surpassed the 21,000 reach mark in just a few days. And it was all organic reach. We’ve never seen any results – organic or paid – even remotely close to that mark. So much of that social success is people commenting, sharing and doing what they can to pay it forward.
But the public relations win is not what I’m most excited about. As these restaurant owners have come to pick up these banners, I was humbled by how appreciative they were for this act of kindness. I met owners of pizza restaurants, Indian restaurants, Mexican restaurants, whole food/organic restaurants, coffee shops and even gourmet popcorn poppers. EVERY SINGLE ONE would have hugged us, if social distancing were not in place. Many brought lunch, dinner, pastries and more for our team and our family. Some brought coupons. Others told us that they will remember us when this is over. And I could tell by the look in their eyes (from six feet away) that they truly meant what they said.
To get in the spirit of these “uncertain times,” we began offering curbside service for these banner pickups. Heck, why should restaurants have all the fun? Restaurant owners would drive up, text me upon their arrival, and I would hand them the banner through the passenger side window. During one “curbside service” meeting, the owner and I spoke for nearly 15 minutes. She continued to ask about all our marketing services and what she was going to need. It was one of the most unique, refreshing outside sales calls I’ve ever made.
Did this decision make me money? No, far from it. Did it extend some paid work hours for some of my team? Most definitely. Is it going to get me through this ordeal? Probably not. But for a little while, it reminded me why I do what I do. Even at our lowest point, somehow, someway, local business owners can help make things a little better. And while this whole virus thing is extremely difficult for ALL of us, it did remind me that people appreciate even the smallest gestures during their time of need.
Remember, don’t make critical decisions while under stress or under the influence of alcohol. But sometimes, some good may come while under the influence of both.
Paul Strack is the president and owner of CustomXM, which has produced marketing, print and promotional products in North Little Rock for 54 years.