How to Keep Your Business Alive During Covid-19 & the Recession?

Reading Time: 17 minutes

Hey guys,

Day 30 (milestone for blogging 30 days in a row)

It’s Saturday 😛

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I slept in this morning and didn’t get out of bed until around 6.50:

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Sleeping in is much-needed sometimes, especially after a Friday night I spent awake later than normal fundamentally just watching Better Call Saul

I love that Netflix TV show right now :p

Today’s been already a pretty good morning.

I got some more reassurance for an Amazon affiliate business that I’m buying from Craig Campbell. 

It’s going to be a 10k investment, so I’m pretty nervous about it but Craig reassures me that it’s a wise investment and based upon my own due diligence it looks like it very well could be.

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Here’s us on the call earlier this morning – 

After that my good friend Tom whom I’ve known for 18 years has signed up with my Forex broker with an initial deposit of £10,000

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We went through the whole process over the phone and it’s helped put me in a position to help some of my friends, family, and people I do business with go through the process as well:

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I expect to help people I know to make many more deposits over the coming weeks and months. 

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about then read this blog about my journey with Forex investing

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How To Keep Your Business Alive During Covid-19 And The Recession 

But today I want to begin my ultimate guide series and discuss how to keep your business alive during Covid-19 and the recession in a lot more depth.

Ultimately, as an SEO agency that works with several small businesses I’ve seen my revenue decimated by what’s happened with the Coronavirus and want to talk about how to make the whole experience a mitigated disaster.

Don’t Panic

A post I saw on Facebook just now made me think this is the best place to actually start:

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Ultimately – during a recession whether it was caused by the credit crunch, 9/11, coronavirus or some other economic black swan – it’s really just important to maintain some composure during this period.

Worrying for a day or two is totally normal. 

As you’ll come to see – I lost a bucket-load of clients recently and for a couple of days, I definitely was in the sh*thouse.

Strawberry (my partner) was worried about me, and I saw my financial projections blow up, felt like I’d been kidney punched and that there was no end to this trauma.

But still, in moments like this, it’s important that we keep moving forward.

Some of the important things to realise when you’re really worried – can be seen by looking at that title above – 

‘How to be happier in your daily life’.

Look the truth is – the agency you run – even if it is all-consuming – ISN’T the sum of your life – it’s one of the parts…

And even if your agency imploded and totally fell apart – you’ll still be fine.

Completely fine.

You’re under no present and immediate danger.

Your life is not at stake.

And the smarts that got you into the position of being hurt by the loss you just took means you were probably a great business owner to begin with anyway.

This means that if you lost a bunch of clients – you also ACQUIRED them in the past. 

So you know what? 

You will acquire them again.

So take the time to ‘grieve’ – I definitely did before deciding I would write about my plans and therefore, of course, my insights as to how you can survive and maybe even thrive in this period.

Here’s some images from a quick google search that made me laugh and put things into a lot more perspective:

place perspective

Right – let’s get into some practicalities.

Although with that being said let me give you some ‘practical insights’ into how you can contextualise:

Your children or your parents could be dead

How important/worrying does your agency/business losing clients seem now?

Sorry for being morbid. 

But I find statements like that tend to help.

So – moving forward:

How To Cope With Cancellation Conversations

The important thing in these circumstances – when you know a business has been hit financially is to (as hard as it may be) just be supportive and understanding.

Here’s a conversation with a client who had just signed off a three-month contract:

We then later had a followup call in which I communicated that their survival most come first and I had faith we would continue when the time was right, and hopefully within a month.

A second client sent this message:

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And when we had our follow-up call it was really positive with talk of how we would restart (again not applying any pressure about continuing) and I sent a follow-up email with how the campaign could pivot:

To which I got this response:

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So in ‘cancellation’ situations; be understanding and supportive, don’t put pressure on. In some cases you can suggest reduced budgets:

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Make sure you are empathetic, not pressuring, and understanding the whole way through.

‘Selling’ to distressed clients in a Covid-19 or recession type environment needs to be handled very carefully because it can easily backfire

So be mindful of this.

Contracts

There have been friends/colleagues in business asking me about our contracts.

We don’t have 52-page cast-iron contracts because I’ve never liked them, have found they slow down the process of actually closing the sale and only get into them if the client requests it.

And this is in part my experience but also a recommendation, you will close deals faster and make more money effectively if you dispense with contracts, virtual handshakes and emails are enough.

Furthermore, given the nature of the companies we work with that are largely all at the <2 million per year revenue mark. They’re small businesses anyway so are vulnerable to shifts in the economy 

And with the nature of the company being entirely virtual and remote, it’s difficult to actually enforce anything anyway.

So the contracts we do use are for as and when they’re requested.

Company Infrastructure

Outside this, our infrastructure protects us to a large degree.

We have commission-only callers, an SEO team that works based upon contracts as well as an internal team that is on various internship programmes.

And still we’re high performers.

And here-in lies my initial recommendation; what kind of business have you built?

Building a highly-effective team that is based around a core ‘per-contract’ based team definitely works when you have enough good contracts. 

If you then layer this with good processes that the team can fall back upon to bolster the process than it’s even better.

As I often tell Sam:

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The goal is to build strong enough processes that anyone can run the system.

Ergo the blind monkey in Zambia being able to run the business.

The truth is of course – that’s an extreme – but in underlines the end game 😛

You shouldn’t have crazy reliance upon any one person alone. It should be a combination of some great core people and a framework that they follow.

Fixed Overheads

If you have a business with significant overheads you will definitely suffer,  and even I have got rid of two members of the team who were on higher salaries but ultimately weren’t effective performers.

In these instances, it’s case of doing the obvious things.

Renegotiate payment terms with your merchants and creditors.

Sack staff as a last resort but instead go for salary cuts or unpaid leave.

None of this is pleasant and some people will be less understanding than others:

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In this instance I had a low performer on a salary and Covid-19 killed much of my revenue so it seemed sensible this would be where the cut would come from as there were question marks about his performance anyway.

And as you can see – it can sometimes not end well.

But ultimately the baby (your business) must survive.

Remaining Clients

It is important to reach out to everybody to let them know you continue to work through the pandemic and that your thoughts are with them. 

In our instance we’ve had our sales team send out videos to reassure clients and let them know our thoughts are with them:

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This is definitely something that we think is unique to us and I encourage you to copy this format

Outside this I’m also setting up phone calls with our key clients to check-in:

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These are the key things to do. When you’re a b2b business with <20 clients like Pearl Lemon than you can individually reach out and go through all the calls/emails within 1-2 days and it’s very worthwhile.

Everyone appreciates such messages and I like phone calls/Zoom’s/video messages.

You might have a different style, but whatever communicates empathy, continued hard work and business, as usual, is what you want to convey.

And indeed, some clients will message and continue like it’s business as usual (probably because they have been totally unaffected):

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And in these instances, you carry on – business as usual

So guys – that’s all for today – I’ll be back with more insights tomorrow 😛

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This one took a long while ha.

What can I say…it’s Saturday!

Catch you tomorrow :p

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Back again:

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Ha – pretty much exactly the same time as yesterday.

So let’s keep on going with this guide – 

How To Position Your Pitching In This Environment

So here’s the misnomer I think that recession of any kind presents – that you suddenly need to start talking about ‘Covid-19’ or otherwise in your literature.

Don’t.

It’s crass and can put people off more than anything else.

Certainly, when talking to other marketers you can discuss (like we are now) how to use the current state of affairs to your advantage:

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(or in Josh’s case if your clients are actually marketing agency owners like me)

But broadly speaking making light references to it is perhaps at most what you can do when it comes to your direct response campaigns.

What I mean practically by that – is we send out maybe 100 LinkedIn messages a day across the team to try and book in appointments for our clients (amongst the other services we offer outside of LinkedIn Lead Generation).

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As I can just now see, turns out we’re now following up very well lol. There’ll be some stern words after this blog haha

And as you’ll notice from the messages that are pouring in:

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And we continue to work through them – you’ll notice ZERO references to Covid-19 or anything else.

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(This is all for a client btw)

And if you cross-check the times above in LinkedIn against my watch above you’ll see these have all come in within the last 24 hours.

The trick we’re employing here – is ZERO trick at all – we’ve actually changed nothing about our outreach messaging.

Because there are still thousands of business owners out there who want to keep growing and running their business.

And even in times of a strong economy – deal-making is still very often a numbers game.

So NOT changing your outreach messaging and simply increasing the volume of messages you send could be the key – as your response rates will fall.

If you’re hell-bent on adjusting your messaging you could say something along the lines of:

‘Despite present circumstances’ or ‘with what’s happening now X has been more important than ever’

….but you run the danger of just pissing people off as follows:

How To Not Pitch In This Environment

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So on Saturday, our client received this message into his inbox.

It’s a clearly thinly veiled attempt to get on a call and using the current (depending upon when you’re reading this) economic environment to generate business.

The whole thing pisses me off (and pissed our client off) because it feels extremely crass and perhaps a direct way to ‘profit’ from the virus.

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Here’s another one (that’s slightly better I imagine) – as it’s direct value that’s being offered.

And herein lies an overall business consideration.

Building huge free value with the content you put out will lead to much longer term benefits.

But anyway – 

Some of you might say ‘Deepak isn’t that what you’re doing by writing this post’. 

I’d say no – producing a 2-4,000 word piece of content about what is happening in our business during this climate is a little different to an 80-word outreach message.

And it’d seem the data backs me up – check out Dino’s inbox:

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I ran searches in his inbox (and there are 1000s of messages in there.

But there is practically no messaging we’ve seen over the last 30-days that relates to the coronavirus – it only comes up once dialogue has began.

So remember – keep pitching – and if you DO need to change your pitch – adjust it because your pitch is inherently dogs*t – not because you want to include some corona messaging.

Double Standards?

Although my buddy Craig Campbell is probably going to call me an absolute hypocrite once he’s read this blog as on facebook I posted this:

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40 mins ago

Then Craig immediately messaged me this:

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And then I told him I’d do this:

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Such is life :p

Pipeline Dead/Inbound Leads Dead?

So once this virus landed fully – our pipeline basically disappeared overnight.

We normally generate 15 leads a week from inbound and then another 5 leads a day perhaps from outbound.

Overnight out inbound leads went down by 75% and our outbound pipeline also disappeared.

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This is whereby – were we host our weekly sales calls every Friday at 11am. And it was pretty grim. No one had anything worth talking about.

And suddenly all the team had much more time on their hands because clients had dropped, sales pipelines had fallen apart and so there was a lot of shock.

That, of course, is the unreliability or danger of inbound traffic for SEO in the B2B space (or so I’m told) – that inbound leads aren’t as predictable as direct response and outreach.

Of course, if I compare the lead quality and conversions from inbound to outbound – it basically all comes from inbound more or less.

(Perhaps my sales team could be better – who knows)

Regardless, the first week of this was pretty depressing. I’d just signed off with a growth coach to try and take Pearl Lemon to 100k a month – and then we’d been hit with significant client loss as well as a broken pipeline.

Generating More Leads

But there’s a simple rule that you can follow in this instance.

Volume.

So with this in mind there’s been two things that have happened in this instance.

The first thing is that I’ve got back onto Upwork to begin pitching.

So that’s a process that simply involves pitching 10-people per day.

For more on my Upwork pitching you can read more from this blog – so I won’t go into it too much.

(This equals 70-pitches a week and it takes me around 45 minutes to pitch all 70; often less).

Alongside this we scaled up our LinkedIn outreach via automation + manual messaging.

We have multiple campaigns (like the Dino one above but internally) running.

So this took us to 120 connection requests per day with that translating to 10,800 messages a month JUST in the initial drip campaign phase – before manual messaging kicked in which would bring this number up to at least 15,000.

So that’s the process I’ve been undergoing to offset the drop in leads.

Again it’s the same thing – to learn more about how we run out LinkedIn outreach campaigns you can click on the highlighted link :p.

Ok guys.

That’s all – we’re wrapped for today

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I actually took a 30-minute break in the middle of this so it finished a while back.

Meanwhile – catch you tomorrow.

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Day 31. 

And happy Monday amigos! 

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I didn’t sleep so well last night; my girlfriend woke me up twice and then I woke myself up several times needed to use the bathroom.

I’m just mostly glad it’s Monday and I’m actually awake on time.

So let’s keep moving forward.

Fix Internal Problems

So this new found time is presenting (and should present) a lot of opportunities to improve current issues that exist within the business.

The internal team are already on the case:

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And then on the Pearl Lemon Invest side of the business we can see the same thing happening:

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(We’re beginning to generate our first leads on that side of the business as well:

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This is an internal discussion we’re having about how to respond to a lead)

Of course the coronavirus itself is a negative but there are always good things that can come from adversity.

So take the opportunity to fix internal issues within your business.

In our case we don’t have:

  • An internal PM tool (like Basecamp) which is currently being resolved over the next 30 days
  • An internal CRM (like Hubspot) for our sales team which is also being resolved
  • A dedicated client relationship manager

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The third might seem crazy but this is how we’ve managed to date in case you’re wondering – 

Our clients are remote so 100% of  conversations are ‘digital’. 

Furthermore we actually (for many agencies) overreport – i.e provide much more reporting than your average agency

Then using a combination of whatsapp voicenotes, video feedback and detailed documentation – we’re able to cover up any other holes.

And our head of SEO – Semil (whose an absolute rockstar) and his team also follow up with responses and videos to questions.

The challenge, in general, is that many questions are technical therefore our SEO technical team need to answer them – and so it seemed often time a client relationship manager would get in the way of our Head of SEO strategy answering.

Build For The Long-Term

Now this is something of a misnomer because this HAS to be a strategy in general for your business – as it’s what will lead to long term survival for your company in any economic environment

Again to read about this in more detail as to Pearl Lemon and my plans you can check this out

But briefly here are a whole ream of things I’m doing:

I appear on podcasts 2/3x a month:

e.g I interviewed my friend Craig Campbell 2x this month:

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Then there’s the SEMrush stuff:

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Outside of this I also was on Morgan’s B2B SalesPodcast:

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And I’ll also jump onto:

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Having just done the count I believe that’s 7 podcasts actually. 

So that’s me sorted for the next few months although I’ll likely end up being on several more.

I’m also back podcasting myself:

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Anyway you can read my other blog for the general Pearl Lemon plan’s.

And for the naysayers who mention I’m working too hard etc – I’m also taking the ‘let’s build out an ad-funnel to build a list, book discovery calls and close deals’ as well.

That’s what I’m doing with my agency growth coach:

I’ve already built a 43-page lead-magnet for it:

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Look there are 101 ways you can do business development – and my good friend Ross Tavendale has a big name in the industry and does tons of similar stuff (and more):

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As you can tell he has a significant relationship with SEMrush which is amazing.

So I guess the underlying point here is that you can take the downtime to focus upon scaling/growing your business and your brand.

Of course – one of the ways I’m focussing hard upon building brand is via this blog also:

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I started on this journey literally 30 days ago and already I’m pleased with the volume of content I’ve been able to produce in such a short period – and I shall continue to do so until I at least hit day 100.

Most of my time is actually spent in the brand growth and vision 

Cash Reserves

So here’s something that also is important in the running of your business as an agency owner.

I imagine from the title you take my point – and this maybe a moot point if you DON’T have reserves and therefore you’re already up shit’s creek – but it’s a good reminder to make sure to have cash ready for when there’s no work out there.

Here are some key things that have worked for me:

  • I pay myself or rather my cash stockpile first, then pay the team
  • I reinvest 2nd in company growth

Cash really is king when it comes to adaptability and so this idea is simple but important.

Income Diversification

The final thing that a ‘recession’ type environment makes you realise is that it’s critically important to have other sources of income.

I try and build income that makes context in the sense of my actual company and here it is:

For me this has given me opportunity to reinvigorate our YouTube revenue from our monetized review channel:

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It’s definitely tiny and I’m spending more than I’m making now.

But hopefully it becomes a great long-term source of income – here’s my conversation with my YouTube software review creator:

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And here is the projection of my YouTube SEO expert:

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I’m also in the process of monetizing two other YouTube channels I have in the hope that over the long term I can take them to $2,000 a month with a $500 investment a month every month.

But to get there I think I’ll need to spend £10,000-£15,000.

Which isn’t really bad it’s less than 1x the potential annual revenue – all of which would help grow the Pearl Lemon brand anyway.

And then outside of this you can read up about my journey with algorithmic trading alongside the more standard property stuff here

Knowing I’m not solely (long-term) going to be reliant upon my agency income gives me some comfort and also time to put together pieces of content such as this.

And I recommend you consider building out additional forms of income as well.

I’m currently also looking at buying an Amazon affiliate site that’s currently making around $7,500 per annum.

Again as a means of diversifying my income.

Don’t get me wrong – these all come with their own risks and could potentially not work.

But the sensible thing is to place your risks into different buckets so if one fails it doesn’t impact the other.

As agency owners it’s really important as soon as we can – we start building security.

Final Thoughts

So I hope this has given you some insights into our plans to survive during this recession we’re in – and that it gives you some ideas as to how you can strategise.

And meanwhile I wish you well and hope you’ll keep reading my blog.

Thanks so much 🙂

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And it’s a wrap!

Update – We’ve Won 4 New Clients

So in the past 10 days we’ve landed 4 new clients – 

SEO audit for two websites – this was a 1-call close from Upwork for an events company that runs hackathons. 

Each audit is $750 (I’ll take what I can get right now!). Pierre looks like he will book in for 1-2 more audits and then potentially recurring work (but we will see once these audits happen)

This is from the 10–per day copy-paste process

The 2nd client is a 6-month SEO campaign for a Canadian vape company again through Upwork and again a one call close. This is $1,300 a month and is a tiny job but I’ll take it.

The third job is a $3.5k per month cold email campaign – sending out emails to 100k people per month – this one came via SEO – and was deal with by my head of sales and is one from our previous pipeline that decided to still keep moving forward.

The fourth client is again from SEO and is another audit – this one slightly more involved and $1497 for the audit – and if it goes well will be a $3.6k per month SEO campaign.

So that’s – 1.5 + 1.3 + 3.5 + 1.5 = 7.8k in revenue with 4.8k recurring initially with a view to it all being recurring ideally.

I bought an Amazon affiliate website

The website I referred to I’ve now bought is generating income:

Amazon Revenu

$69 week 1 – hopefully, I see this increase week-on-week.

I’m experimenting to increase its revenue by fixing all of these broken links:

AMZ Link Checker Dashboard

And launching a Pinterest growth campaign for the site to see if it will drive sales.

So – we keep moving forward – even in this environment 🙂

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