American Inno Oped: Digital Tools Provide Businesses Flexibility During COVID-19

Editor’s note: This post is by Courtney and Tye Caldwell, co-founders of McKinney-based app for salon and barbershop booth rentals ShearShare.

Traditional salons and barbershops were already moving towards disruption before Covid-19. But in a few short months, the novel coronavirus changed the entire landscape for beauty and barbering businesses across the country. And North Texas is no exception.

Small business owners in the Lone Star State are working hard to navigate the strain between keeping clients and employees safe, while continuing to generate cash and sustain their livelihoods. Our startup, ShearShare, is a McKinney-based company that connects salon and barbershop owners to independent stylists to fill their empty stations and suites by the day or week. When salons and barbershops shut down to help flatten the curve, we had to reimagine how our business could still make an impact.

We learned many lessons during the “Covid quarter” that are applicable across every industry, not just beauty and barbering. Here are our top three that will help your team thrive during this unprecedented time and beyond:

Build an online presence

The transition from brick-and-mortar stores to a more digitally-adjacent business model has been in place for many years now – as we’ve seen with the rise of companies like Amazon and eBay. And the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated the shift to online marketplaces. Companies that were predominantly digital before the pandemic were better positioned than their traditional counterparts to continue serving their customers.  

ShearShare is a tech business at our core, but there are still ways we found we could improve our online presence during the pandemic. To better connect with stylists and salon owners, we decided to become a go-to resource to guide them through the pandemic. Our team produced instructional videos on how to apply for PPP and EIDL funds, how to make money during a crisis and how to reopen with care. These actions doubled the traffic to our website, resulted in valuable earned media and further elevated the ShearShare brand.

Courtney Caldwell, ShearShare co-founder (Photo via ShearShare).

While not all companies are capable of conducting all of their business online, now is the time to diversify your own offerings and begin utilizing digital tools to make your business more efficient while still connecting with your customers. If you have a web presence, is your website optimized for clients to make a purchase online? Is the checkout process on your site quick and easy? If clients wanted to pre-pay for services or purchase gift cards, are those web pages easy to navigate? What about adding their emails to your listserv for future communication? These are the types of questions to ask and address now.

Leverage digital platforms to connect with your customers

ShearShare is a mobile app, but our users rely on physical salon and barbershop space. As the pandemic became more serious in early March, our business saw a steep downturn as we worked with our community of stylists and ShearShare hosts to navigate the parameters of the stay-at-home mandates. Of course, users were worried about the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses, as we all faced uncertainty about when we would be able to return to work. 

So, we decided to act. Our team actively reached out to stylists to see how ShearShare could help them navigate the “new normal” and get them back to work safely so they could feed their families. We used SMS texting services to engage stylists and hosts, and provided tips on how to protect themselves and their clients post Covid-19. We posted tips on our Instagram page that helped stylists make money during lockdown. What we realized is that the small businesses we support needed specific guidance on where to find financial assistance, how to locate affordable PPE and how to best communicate with their clients before and after reopening.    

To provide that guidance, we began creating content on digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and created a build-my-business microsite on www.shearshare.com. We utilized these tools to point people in the right direction on whereto go to get loans, howto protect their clients and the best ways to communicate that with the end consumer. Not only did this help our ShearShare community (we helped over 100 stylists apply for and receive PPP loans after being denied previously), but it also increased exposure for our business and built trust in our brand. 

An easy task that all businesses should start doing immediately? Utilizing social media to connect with your customers. Start your brand’s Instagram and Facebook account to meet your customers where they are. Author blog posts using WordPress and produce content that provides useful information to your audience. Use these free online tools and platforms to spread the word about your services and the precautions you are taking to ensure safety.

Establishing a digital brand will help grow your business now and post Covid-19.

Refine your systems

One asset the pandemic has given us back is time. As entrepreneurs and innovators, we should all be using the extra time to make sure our businesses are running as efficiently as possible.

Tye Caldwell, ShearShare co-founder (Photo via ShearShare).

Look through some of the feedback you have received from customers over the last few months. Is it easy for your customers to find you if they search for your business online? If not, incorporate Google Maps functionality in your website. Is it difficult to find you when someone searches for your business locally? Research how to increase your standing in search results through Search Engine Optimization. The easier it is to find your business, the more eyeballs exposed to your brand and, in turn, the more customers you will be able to serve – even during a pandemic. To gain more insights into what products or services your consumers value so you can optimize your sales, invest in a product like Google Analytics. 

At ShearShare, we’ve been focused making our systems more efficient by doubling down on digital tools in order to meet our users where they are. We implemented an in-app messaging system through the Firebase platform and streamlined our mobile payments processing software with Stripe. To help our remote team stay connected, we use Slack, Zoom and Google shared docs on a daily basis. We have also adapted the ShearShare platform by releasing new features that will help ease the transition for our salon and barbershop community to take pieces of their businesses online. This new functionality will allow them to continue making money on the ShearShare app should more shutdowns occur.

It’s also a good time for small business owners to ensure that their financial accounts are in order. What relationships are vital to a small business owner when it comes to finances? For the independent stylists we work with, some have needed guidance on setting up the five must-have bank accounts to help you run a successful business in the long run. While you may not need to set up basic accounts, now is a good time to work with your personal banker and a licensed CPA to ensure you have the right financial foundation to sustain your business. 

The coronavirus has presented challenges that none of us saw coming at the start of 2020. But instead of letting it defeat us, let’s take this time to retool our businesses. Building your business’ online presence, using digital platforms to connect to customers and refining your systems with digital tools are three great areas to focus on today to set your business up for success in the future.

We should all remember one big lesson from the pandemic: Going digital gives our businesses the flexibility to thrive in any environment.Courtney and Tye Caldwell, ShearShare co-founders (Photo via ShearShare).