As Covid-19 looms over the world, direct sellers are feeling the uncertainty more than most. Even those working hard to recession proof direct sales businesses during Covid-19, in preparation for the best-case scenario and the pandemic burns itself out within a couple months, are feeling that squeeze of uncertainty.
We all know the drill: when the economy starts to take a hit, we all start to examine and prioritize our expenses:
- Get rid of luxuries first in favor of more important things,
- When we have no more luxuries, get rid of the nice-to-haves in favor of must-haves,
- When all we have left are must-haves, start picking and choosing which ones are really must-haves
And, for those direct sellers who are selling the luxury items, their clients have already started tightening their wallets. The orders have already slowed down — the squeeze is coming.
And if they don't act fast, their struggle is going to get much worse before it gets better. Even if economic relief is passed by the government, most bills don't offer relief for the self-employed. So many direct sellers may not get the help they're hoping for.
Direct sellers across the board will need to make some hard decisions over the next few days as they prepare for harder time ahead:
- Hobbyist sellers and sellers who've already had a hard time getting sales will opt to leave their company or go inactive because they won't have faith in their ability to continue on and will want to focus their attention on ventures they have more faith in. As far as they're concerned, they never really made all that much money anyway. So giving up on the business isn't really losing anything.
- Part-time consultants will begin weighing the pros and cons of keeping their businesses going. They will start looking for activities related directly to ROI and determining whether or not they can afford to stay active. In many cases, they can see they are making some money, but not enough to depend on. They may stay active, but they aren't likely to put forth much extra effort.
- Full-time consultants will be the hardest hit, since their commissions already make up a large part of their income. They will start by reviewing their tools and expenses, lowering their inventory purchases (in the cases where they carry inventory), and start using manual processing instead of many of the tools they use to automate and streamline. The drop in tools will mean an added drop in income as they lose efficiency. They will likely hold out to their active status the longest, but will stress over the lack of sales and will, eventually, look for work elsewhere to make ends meet.
- Full-time direct sales consultants in must-have industries such as cleaning products and children's activities or books will be the last to suffer, but the amount they suffer will depend directly on how long the fallout from Covid-19 lasts. If we're talking 2008-level recession (or worse), then eventually people will stop buying from direct sales companies in favor of their cheaper competition found conveniently at Walmart or Target, and even these direct sellers will begin feeling the struggles.
So, what can direct sellers do to prepare for these types of events?
First, there's the obvious. If you rely heavily on in-home parties and personal sales, start developing an online strategy right away. But that's not going to be enough. An online marketing strategy isn't something that you can just set up overnight and expect it to work. It takes time to set up effectively and even longer to strengthen it to the point where it's working for you and bringing in the sales.
So, we need to work on more immediate steps while your online marketing strategy
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Immediate Steps for Direct Sales Businesses during Covid-19
1. Protect Your Health
Sales are going to be tight for the foreseeable future. And, unfortunately, when people start seeing that decline in sales, they start panicking: they don't sleep very well, work longer hours, and they don't eat very well. Make sure you are taking care of yourself first and foremost. Then take measures to protect your customers (just in case). If you are carrying inventory, make sure it has been reasonably disinfected and protected from any potential contamination.
I know — this is stuff you would probably do even if there wasn't a global pandemic ravaging the world right now. The difference is that now, it needs to become public knowledge. Your audience needs to know that you take your health seriously — that you take protecting their health just as seriously. even if they aren't buying right this minute, they will remember the level of transparency and care with which you ran your business during this time.
2. Reduce Your Tool Costs
Do you know exactly how many tools you're using to run your business and how many of those tools you really need to run your business? Online digital tools are surprisingly easy to accumulate. And even if you stick with the lower-cost tools — those tools that charge $10 or less per month — they can still add up surprisingly quick.
Take some time to run a tool inventory. Make sure you know which tools handle which parts of your overall strategy. Are any of them doubling up on features so you can consolidate them? Are there less expensive alternatives you can use? While you're looking at these tools, take a look through sites like Mashable and AppSumo to see if there are any tools offering one-time payments or lifetime deals instead of subscriptions. A $100 investment might feel really heavy right now, but if it keeps you from having to pay a monthly fee, it could be well worth it.
3. Keep Communications with Your Company Open
Your direct sales company doesn't want to see you fail or go out of business any more than you do. In fact, if anyone is rooting for you to succeed (other than me and your immediate family), it's your company. But that's sometimes hard to remember when you're not privy to their plans, strategies or even their thought process.
Reach out to your company as often as you need with your questions and concerns. Most companies love feedback from their consultants — they know they need you in order to survive and they are usually happy to give you the support you need.
4. Listen to Your Audience
Your audience is telling you what they need, so give it to them. Even if it has nothing to do with the products you sell.
In an ideal world, you would be selling something your audience needs right now. But if you're not, if you're selling some of those luxury or nice-to-have products that are about to get cut off the shopping lists, then you'll need to listen to your audience and find out a way to help them with their new pain points. This could mean anything from developing creative new uses for the products you do sell or joining a second company to help provide products they need.
5. Bookmark and Share Important Information from Trusted Sources
When all is said and done, your audience is just as worried about Covid-19 and how it will affect them as you are. In some cases, they are already being affected. And yet the arguments and misinformation being thrown around is somewhat staggering. It's no wonder there is as much fear as there is!
You need to stay informed about what's happening with Covid-19 so you can continue to prepare and make those hard decisions about your business. So, here are some sites you can bookmark to help keep you in the know (go ahead and share these with your audience, too):
- CDC: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
- SBA: Small Business Guidance and Loan Information
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Combatting the Coronavirus
- U.S. Government: COVID-19 response
- WHO: Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19