Jenny Halasz of JLH-Marketing.com recently joined Get Remote Ready‘s Miranda Miller for a discussion on COVID-19 related business interruptions and the impact they are having on marketing, remote work, and mental health.
Jenny is a marketing professional with over 15 years of experience helping companies get better listings in search engines via Search Engine Optimization (SEO). She’s also experienced in technical implementations in WordPress, Magento, and Squarespace, and in setting up systems like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and WordPress.
TL;DR: Jenny and Miranda’s top marketing & remote work tips from this video
- If your company is experiencing downtime, use it to create content and get it through the approvals process so you have a good base of approved content to work with post-COVID.
- Embrace the oddities and awkwardness of working from home. We’re all going through this strange new business-as-usual together, trying to cope with juggling kids, pets, work, and more.
- Establish ground rules and boundaries with the kids (perhaps using visual cues like red/stop or green/go construction paper on your desk, for example) to help them understand when it’s okay to interrupt your work time.
- It’s important to find ways to stay productive and keep moving forward right now. If you can find a way to be helpful, too, that’s even better.
- If you need to adjust your marketing messaging, make sure you’re doing so with empathy for your customers. Communicate in a way that shows that you understand what they are going through and never, ever try to be opportunistic with your sales or promotions.
- Even if your business is really busy right now, keep looking to that next horizon and use your SEO and marketing to get in front of your next opportunity. Anything you can do to position yourself where you need to be when this is over is the right move right now.
- Get prepared for intermittent or recurring changes in business operations due to COVID-19. Dig into your analytics and figure out what worked for you this time, and what you don’t need to spend time on if this happens again.
- Take the time to self-care. What many business owners and workers have been through (and are still going through) is traumatic. If you need to take a break and are struggling to get motivated, that is okay. Take the time you need. Put your own life jacket on first.
Enjoy the video—there’s a full transcript below!
Miranda: Hi, it’s Miranda Miller from Get Remote Ready and I’m joined today by Jenny Halasz from JLH Marketing. How are you Jenny?
Jenny: I’m great, Miranda. How are you doing today?
Miranda: Good, I’m glad to have you with us. We’re going to talk a little bit today about what businesses are going through, given the Coronavirus pandemic. Some industry-wide trends, and also how people can be adjusting and pivoting to either set themselves up for success for the future, even just survive in the moment—right now. So where are you coming from Jenny?
Jenny: I’m in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is on the East Coast of the United States.
Miranda: Cool, and we talked just a little bit about what your clients are seeing. Can you tell us who you work with and what they’re noticing right now with COVID-19 business interruptions?
Jenny: Sure, well the great thing for me is that I work with a lot of types of businesses. As a consultant, I have worked with everything from a very small business, all the way up to enterprise-level in Media, to one of my former clients. I’ve had some opportunity to work with large multinational brands and also small business, local endeavors as well.
So, at the moment, I have a hospital system—who I pretty much haven’t heard from in three weeks, because they are so busy. We’re just on pause. One of the suggestions that I made to them that I think they may take me up on is shifting… So, one of the things hospitals have trouble with, and this is just one example, right, is getting content that their marketing teams are producing, approved and reviewed by their physicians. So, at the moment, all the elective procedures have been cancelled. All of the general surgeons are sitting on their hands.
So I said, this is a great opportunity to produce a ton of content, get it over to them, and get it reviewed so we can get it up on the site. Even if we’re on a freeze right now in terms of putting new content on the site, we can do it later. We can at least get those pieces of content reviewed so we can get them up.
On working from home and juggling work/life commitments…
Miranda: And that’s a great strategy for those people who maybe could be doing something but they’re not just quite sure what to do. For people who are newly working from home, what kind of tips do you have for them? Some people are trying to juggle kids and animals and work now, all from home.
Jenny: Yes, some people… like me! I have two kids, so I’ve been homeschooling a fourth-grader and seventh-grader in addition to trying to do my job. Fortunately, we have no pets other than a lizard and he doesn’t require much food every couple of days.
It’s true, I mean everybody is slammed. I had a conversation with another client about an hour ago. He was feeding his baby… he was actually burping his baby while he was on the call and he was like, “I’m really sorry about this.” But our other colleagues said, I really love this, I love seeing everybody’s real self. Meeting everybody’s kids and dogs.
Miranda: And the longer this goes on, the more we’ll see that. I mean, people have to go on with their lives.
Jenny: I think you can just kind of embrace that, I mean there are definitely some things about working from home that you kind of want to regiment so you get work done. I’ll just plug it right now… I wrote an article about that on my blog at JLH-Marketing.com. It’s my tips from working from home, given that I’ve been doing this since 2006. So, I’m definitely not new to it. I’m new to working from home and having my kids poppin’ in every five minutes, though.
(See: Working From Home in the Age of “Social Distancing” at JLH-Marketing.com.)
Miranda: Right, and how do you manage that? I have one 12-year-old here right now, but he is pretty much self-sufficient. Yours are a bit younger than mine.
Jenny: Well, mine are a 9-year-old and 13-year-old. So, I’m lucky that I don’t have a newborn baby on my shoulder like my colleague does. I’ve tried to set them up as much information as I can. We draw really strong ground rules and boundaries, like if my door is closed, you don’t open it. If you ask my children, when are you allowed to bother mom when her door is closed? Their answer is, “If I’m bleeding and on fire.”
Miranda: That’s a pretty good rule for parenting in general.
Jenny: They’ve been fairly well trained that if my door is closed, you don’t interrupt unless you’re bleeding or on fire. Or something is on fire.
But for the most part, I think it’s really important to create boundaries and signals for your kids. So, one friend of mine whose child is younger is using a piece of red construction paper or green reconstruction paper on the door or on the desk, to indicate to the child when it’s okay to bother. When it’s okay to ask a question, or when Daddy is on a call. So that works for him. You’re going to figure out what works for you, but also be ready to go with the flow a little bit because we’re all struggling together.
On shifting your business focus due to COVID-19…
Miranda: We just touched briefly there on things that people can be focusing on right now. Do you have some other areas of productivity that people could work on right now that maybe they didn’t have time for before?
Jenny: Yeah, absolutely. You have to figure out what goals that you’re going to set up for yourself when things come back online.
If you are a small business that has been shut down because you’re non-essential, can you make a shift to e-commerce?
If you can’t make a shift to E-commerce, you can make a shift to creating content that you’ll be using to generate an email list and that you can remarket to when you are back in business?
Just do anything that you can to kind of keep things running. Keep building that lead funnel and think about if there’s something you can do to help, too.
For example, Hanes Corporation is based here in North Carolina and they announced a couple of weeks ago now that they’re going to not make as many as sock and shorts and underwear anymore, and make masks instead. Masks that can be used in hospitals, actual surgical masks that can be used by healthcare workers kind of on the frontlines of this. I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time sewing fabric masks that are being handed out to hospice and nursing homes and anybody else that needs them, so they can donate their stock of regulation surgical mask up to the healthcare workers.
You just have to find how you can be productive, and how you can help. I think it really helps me to take my mind off things in this really pretty scary time; I try not to think about it too much and to do something productive instead.
On adjusting your marketing messaging in a pandemic…
Miranda: It’s so “noisy” right now and media consumption has spiked because everyone’s at home. What should people be doing to adjust their messaging right now?
Jenny: This is a tricky one. You can adjust your messaging, but it depends on what industry you’re in. If you’re in an industry like groceries or any kind of essential service where you could say, “Hey we’re still open, we’re still helping. Contact us and let us know what your situation is.” You know, that’s something that I think you can do some messaging around COVID-19 without seeming opportunistic.
But then I’ve also seen some really bad examples of companies that are, you know… if you’re fast-food and you’re trying to sell the COVID-19 burger, that’s not good. Thank goodness nobody is trying to do that. (Laughing) Or, “If you want to cure COVID-19, have a taco!” No, that’s not going to work.
Also, I did see some good messaging that somebody used that is more like, “Stuck at home? Or dealing with kids?” Playing more to the symptoms—not of the disease, but of the crisis. That is really more accessible to people.
Miranda: And I think that is actually… there are those industries that are just exploding right now because people are at home and they are isolated. If you can offer something in a helpful way, that’s useful. I remember during Hurricane Sandy, we saw ‘Hurricane Sandy sales.’ Don’t ever do that, guys. Just don’t do that.
On how companies are helping customers…
Jenny: (Laughing) Really bad idea!
Do what you can to make things easier for people. It’s a really small example, but I’m completely addicted to Candy Crush. I still play it, I’m on level 4000, I’ve wasted many many hours of my life on a game. But I love it because it kind of gets me out of my own head. Well, all this week, it was 24 hours of unlimited lives so anybody who wanted to play, could play. That had kind of two benefits. On the one hand, it gave them goodwill towards everybody who plays. On the other hand, it gave them more time that we’re sitting behind our screens captive to their advertising.
Miranda: Mutually beneficial. There are a lot of companies right now offering things that people could take advantage of. I know Canva is offering a free month of their Pro version. And Adobe Suite, their whole creative suite, you can use free for two months right now. Do you know of other tools that are offering COVID-19-related promotions that people could use to maybe help them with their content?
Jenny: Pretty much everything in the telecommunications space has some level of free or discounted. That may be something to take advantage of right now while your home and you’ve set up this kind of personal video room for yourself. I mean, I noticed your nice screen there behind you, and that’s brilliant! It creates a really nice-looking space.
Miranda: It’s hiding an exercise machine because I can’t even go for a walk right now. (Laughing) You’ve got to do what works, right?
On smart promotions and business strategy during COVID-19…
Jenny: That’s completely perfect! So, if you’ve never tried video before, maybe now is the time to create some video content. If you never have time to write, now is the time to write out some stuff that’s evergreen. You know, it doesn’t have to be related to the crisis that we’re in. In fact, people are sick of reading about that. So, give them something else to chew on. Write a white paper. Write an ebook. There are just so many opportunities right now for anybody who has an extra little time on their hands.
I drove by one of my favorites take-out places today… it’s a Mediterranean place and everybody loves their homemade pita bread. I know their sales are down. People go and pick up to-go orders curbside, but their sales are just down in general. So, they’ve been making batches of pita bread, packaging them in plastic bags, and selling them out in front of the store. You just drive up and for $5, you get a bag of pita bread. They’re getting lots of extra cash on hand and they’re pivoting in some way.
So figure out, what are the things that we can offer to the community that we know they want, but they may not know they want? Just get right out in front of them and sell it.
I think that’s just a lot of what people need to be doing. If you don’t have something like that, I have another client that sells and rents portable restroom trailers. Believe it or not, they are super, super busy right now because all of these different companies, energy plants, all of these essential services construction—they all need spaces where their people can wash their hands more often than usual, and where they can separate really key staff from the rest of the team so they aren’t running the risk of infection through the restroom. Or the portable showers for decon… like there’s so many things.
But what I think is really brilliant about the client is even though they are absolutely slammed, they are thinking about what they can do now to position themselves well when all of these kid’s summer camps come back, and when all these residential events come back, concerts and that… you know. And so, we’re putting a lot of effort into creating new landing pages and redoing some features on the website. Amping up the organic presence of the site, even as we’re spending more on paid to try to capture the market. So, anything you can do to try and position yourself where you want to be when this is all over is a great move, as well.
On staying agile and shortening your planning cycle…
Miranda: That is so important. I think that while it was proactive and it was responsible to have everything planned out—you know, you have your content calendar in the next six months with your themes—companies really need to be more agile right now. More nimble, and ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Still staying true to the brand, but like you said, that window we’re looking at now… We really don’t know what’s going to happen beyond 4- to 8-weeks from now. So, where are you going to be at that point, if this continues? And where are you going to be if things open up again? But I think people also need to plan for this happening maybe on a rolling basis, or a recurring basis.
Jenny: I think so, too. And speaking of agile, specifically—keep your developers busy. All those fun little features you wanted for the website that you couldn’t get into the sprint because they didn’t have enough story points to allocate, do it now!
Miranda: Especially in light of how consumers behavior is changing. You might even have a whole new to-do list.
Jenny: Right, you very well might. And if you don’t, take this opportunity to dig into your analytics and do some analysis and figure out, okay there are certain things that are working or not. A lot of times we really get stuck in that big picture thinking because we don’t have the time to dive into the details. Now, if you’re one of the businesses that is shut down or semi-shut down or moved online-only, these are all things that you could potentially do. If you have staff that are normally in store, you never know who your in-store people are. Maybe they have skills in development and analysis. Especially now with the climate that we’ve been in, in terms of employment in the last five years or so. There probably are people that are working in-store for you that have other skills that you may not know about. Now would be the time to try and tap those.
And if you’re one of those employees whose been laid off, go to your employer and say, “Hey, I could do this for you.”
Miranda: Yes, finding that way to help is going to be so important. And for you, Jenny, can you tell us how you can help companies get remote ready? If they are looking, or if they are not sure even what they need, or they’re looking for a specific type of advice, or maybe they are not even sure what the opportunity is going to be for them in a few months.
Jenny: Absolutely. I’m offering technical auditing to show you what I look at when I’m doing a technical audit, to give you a live view of what is it that is going to move the needle best for you? Or maybe they’re not going to move the needle now, but what are the things that are going to future-proof you for a later Google update? I don’t have a crystal ball, but generally can give some feedback on some best practices that I think are probably going to become even more important than they are now. I’ve seen people offering to get started on your first paid campaign, and I know Miranda, you are offering to help people just kind of figure out “What do I do now?”, “How do I create content,” or even simple as “How do I use Zoom?”
On coping with the shock and trauma of COVID-related business interruptions…
Miranda: Right, and a big one has been just sitting down and in fifteen minutes going over—because a lot of businesses have shut right down—what is available to you? What is available to your employees and how can you help them? Who can you contact to get a payment deferment or rent abatement? And just working through that as a checklist, because people don’t even know where to start.
It’s such a shock. I spoke to a restaurant owner yesterday who had gone in and opened up as usual in early March, and an hour and a half later got a call from the Public Health Unit saying, “Close your doors. Everyone has to leave right now.” It’s a trauma, and it takes time to work through that. That’s what we’re trying to do at Get Remote Ready is be that guide to help people through this process, whatever it looks like in their circumstances. Of course, it looked different for everyone. I’m really glad to have you on board.
Jenny: I’m thrilled to be able to help in that way. I think, also, something that we don’t say enough is: give yourself a break. I mean, if you’re sitting here, listening to us talk right now, thinking, “I’d love to do that stuff but I just have no motivation.” Or, “I’m still trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces after the Health Department shut my business down.” That’s okay. You can take a minute and self-care. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Taking care of your family and your health. And then come back with a refreshed attitude and vigor to see what you can do next.
Miranda: Right, you don’t have to jump into a new course tomorrow. That’s not top of mind right now, it’s about basic needs and making sure that you put your own life jacket on first.
Jenny: Yes, put your own life jacket on before assisting others. Sometimes if you take those moments to step away and to really evaluate how things are and how you would like them to be, there can be moments of clarity in that. So, if you are feeling a little lost, maybe just take the day off and read a book. If they let you out of your house, go for a walk. Just something to disconnect a little bit.