Greg: Welcome to Chamber Live, I’m Greg Durocher, President and CEO of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. We’re going to be keeping you up-to-date all through the issues of the day with respects to COVID-19 and how business is reacting and more importantly what the government is coming out with to assist businesses. I’m joined by a great member of our Chamber that’s been around for, well, as long as I can remember but I’m getting older and I can’t remember that long (15 years!). 15 years ago, Mike Jennings from MoreSALES walked into the door of the Chamber of Commerce and said I’m here and I’m going to build my small business and I’m going to do it on the backbone of the Chamber of Commerce which he’s done. Mike, Thanks a million for coming in.
Mike: My pleasure great to see you, thanks for inviting me!
Greg: What always amazes me about you is that in good times bad times you’ve always got that great smiling face, and speaking of your face though, I’m not sure whether you just haven’t been able to run out to a store to shave, but I noticed you brought your own protective gear and I just wondered how well does the mask seal around the fur on your face?
Mike: Yeah, well the mask I haven’t really had to use yet, thankfully, and but I just brought it along as a little gag prop here. For all you who are watching, make sure we use our hand sanitizer in our masks if not feeling well. But yeah, I just decided the day before March break when I came out of my hockey game thinking we were going to Florida and got back from hockey my wife goes, “they put a travel advisory on, we’re not going anywhere!”
Greg: I think we talked about that, that was worst hour of your life. That’s too bad because you have a place down in Florida, just purchased it, and you haven’t spent a minute there.
Mike: I mean my wife got down there about two weeks after she retired and she’s been down there a couple of times, but I haven’t seen a place yet. Paid for it but I haven’t seen it yet. The idea of the beard was kind of a protest, like “okay I’m going to do like the hockey players do for their playoff, so I’m going to start growing a ‘Covember’ beard”. As you know, I used to be the President of Cambridge North Rotary Club and we had to cancel the superhero run this year. I thought okay, I have a lot of colleagues and friends and family that always support me on that and the money goes to KidsAbility, so instead I’ll just grow a Covember beard in March then shave off with this whole Covember thing ends. We’ll then donate and get some people to donate towards that, and we’ll put the money back to KidsAbility that way.
Greg: It’s all about community, and you’re always been a community champion, it doesn’t matter what it is. I know from the Chamber’s perspective you’ve really helped out the Chamber with a lot of our learning network programs, you come in and give us a hand to make sure that people get the right information. What we’d like to do today is I’d like to get them some right information. You run a small business with a few employees, you’re a sole proprietor which presents some of its challenges with some of the government initiatives that are out, but Mike what are you hearing from your clients? You’re in the marketing business and advise companies of all sizes. You know what to do, when to do, and how to do, but what are you hearing from them right now? What are their primary concerns?
Mike: It’s great question! There’s a lot of vulnerability out there, this is happening so fast. Things just changed today, I mean we heard another initiative come up from the Prime Minister today at 11 o’clock about giving us $40,000 in loans and giving this 75% of wage subsidies, which is great. We have a staff of about eight so those wage somebodies will go a long way.
Greg: It’s smarter to let us deal with that rather than unemployment people, right?
Mike: Exactly. It’s a less hassle too. I know I know what our team needs, and I like to think we know what our clients need, so if we don’t have to cut back or cut back as deeply that’s terrific. What I’ve been hearing is just a lot of vulnerability, a little bit of panic, a little bit of trying to understand what’s going on in the market. I think the biggest challenge is that people are fearful. Fear with people is that they just don’t know when this is going to end. There’s a lack of knowledge. If you could say in six weeks from now this is all over, then you can do a work back and you can see what’s going on, but people just don’t know.
Greg: It’s not a skillset an entrepreneur has. We like to strategically design our flow projections and business vulnerability of markers coming along down the road. It’s impossible to do that today.
Mike: You know us entrepreneurs are control freaks.
Greg: You got this big smile on your face, and there’s a lot out there that don’t have that big smile.
Mike: I try to take a positive outlook.
Greg: I know it hurts inside, but keeping positive, what advice can you give some of your colleagues out there that are watching? What can we be thinking about at this point, or preparing or doing? You’re in charge of a business, you have to make the decisions to protect that business at the end of this, it’s your responsibility to make sure that the business is still there.
Mike: Absolutely, I think the first thing that typically everybody tells you from your investment person to everybody – don’t panic. Try not to panic because it’s sure easy to panic. When I got back from hockey that day it was like, “what? We’re not going anywhere, are the zombies are coming? What do we do now?” You have to take a deep breath and take in all the information, but what can you do initially to get through the first week or two of this? Once we’re through the first week it becomes a habit and understanding of what’s going on, I think the initial shock will wear off. Really what you’ve got to do is look at what the government can offer you. A lot of stuff isn’t going to kick in until April, which is next week and that’s good because we know that’s coming, but also take a chance to take a step back and look at what your what your business has been doing. Our company, MoreSALES, is a digital marketing firm and what we’ve been talking about with a lot of our clients is, “what do we do? How do we do it? How do we get through this? What adjustments do we make?” We’ve been talking to customers about pivoting their marketing. Typically we might be doing a bunch of campaigns like doing video marketing and that kind of stuff, but we can’t do that right now. We can’t do video marketing, but what we can do is look at the content on their site, we can look at their websites to see is their website clear. Clarity is absolutely king, so is your website clear? Does it clearly tell your customers who you are, what you do, why you should buy from me and then what are you going to do when things come to an end on this whole COVID thing?
It’s going to last six weeks, eight weeks, we don’t know. Sometime in May, we hope, the veil is going to lift and things going to start getting back to normal. Well what are you going to do when that happens, are you going to be prepared to take advantage of that pent-up demand? There is going to be a lot of pent-up demand, people are going to want to start getting back to normal as soon as possible. So how do you take advantage that? Again, do you have a content strategy on your website? Do you have good content that will attract traffic? Do you have any strategy in place? If you don’t, get that in place. We can help with an that’s what we’re talking to our clients about doing, but also things like what else can be on the site that isn’t there isn’t there now? For example, some of our clients have always been building their relationships on a handshake yeah and doing business face-to-face, well maybe it’s time to think about doing some e-commerce by putting on products in a catalogue online.
Greg: Well exactly. If you’re a non-essential business it doesn’t mean you can’t sell online, it’s just your physical business. You can’t let customers come into your physical business, but there’s no reason why you can’t be doing it online.
Mike: Exactly, and a lot of our clients sell product. Now some of them sell big stuff, like they might be a manufacturer of it a fabricator. They’re not going to put some stuff like that online.
Greg: You’re not going to sell it 10-ton press.
Mike: Exactly. Babcock & Wilcox isn’t a good fit, but small companies that are distributors or small manufacturers have a catalogue of products and you can get that online. It’s very simple to get that online. Some of our clients have catalogs that are already online, but they’re not selling online, they’re not using e-commerce to any kind of measure. So, we’re helping them do that, getting that e-commerce going so they can sell online. And now with the government offering a forty thousand dollar loan, that could go a long way on helping you getting your message out there, now not just now but moving forward. The other thing to remember is, and I hate to sound negative here, but there’s no guarantee this isn’t going to have a second wave. Not that we might go this deep again, but I keep reminding everybody this is a self-imposed recession and this could have to be self-imposed again if people don’t follow the guidelines. In six to eight months or a year from now, we might find in the winter again there’s another round of it coming back. Maybe not as bad, but then what are you going to do? Are you going to fall into the dark times again? No. There’s time now for you to take advantage of this. Take advantage of the money the government is giving and be prepared. Disaster readiness.
Greg: You I’m kind of self-centered when it comes to Cambridge business and you know I like to go out and have dinner with my wife and restaurants here that’s what I miss the most. I love to support the small businesses that are in our community and I think everybody should be doing that. I understand that there are some things that you can’t get here, but how important is it now for you as a small business owner to send the message out to everybody to say, “start looking inward – can you find a supplier here?”
Mike: For sure. Within our own company we have suppliers that are around the country. The one blessing we’ve had is that for many years we’ve been a virtual company in a sense. We have an office and the team comes into the office, but they’ve always been set up to work remotely because we work long hours for clients, including on evenings and weekends, so we’ve always been able to work remotely. It hasn’t been a big cultural shift for us to do that. What we’re also finding is that with our suppliers around the country, we’re keeping in touch with them. It’s fine to keep everybody’s instinctively wanting to look after their customers but what about your suppliers? For example, we have a video team that we work with, they’re right here in Cambridge. We work with those guys and keep in touch with them, our content writers, all those kinds of people that are not next door. I don’t see them face to face, but we’re reaching out to them and keeping in touch with them. You have to support them, and especially the ones that are here in Cambridge. If you have your choice between a company out west, all due respect, and a similar company here in Cambridge, support your local companies first. They’re going to be hurting and those are the people you’re going to see every day. While you can’t see those people’s faces today, just reach out to them send them a text, “hey what’s going on? Everything okay?” Don’t send out just send out a blanket email saying “we’re keeping an eye on things and we love you”. That’s okay, you got to do that too, but reach out to them you don’t pick up your phone and send them a text or call them.
Greg: There’s no question about it, keeping in touch with customers, suppliers, friends, service club members, we still have to build a community. We still have a community that we all depend on, and it’s so important that we start looking inward a little bit to see where we can deal and help locally.
Mike: That’s interesting you say that word, that’s the one thing I’ve been saying to everybody; “how can I help?” I say this to my suppliers, friends, colleagues, customers, obviously my staff and team. “How can I help? What can I do? Is there anything I can do?” You’d be amazed at what people will ask you for. “Yeah you know what there is something you could do, could you do this for me? Could we shift this? Could we think about that? How about that? What are you doing here?” They just want to talk. Some of the some of my customers are super busy people; I’ve had longer conversations with them this week than I’ve had with him in two years. They’re like, “oh somebody will have a conversation with me!” They’re not all panic, it’s just someone who’s trying to lend some positive support to them and just kind of keep them moving forward.
Greg: It’s interesting. We’re finding that with the Chamber too. We sent out broadcast emails and all of a sudden my email inbox starts to fill questions and the phone starts to ring. That’s okay, we’re here to help, you’re here to help, your customers and everybody out there is there to help their customers as well. I think it’s really important we come together and we make sure that we do what we can to help each other. At the end of the day, and there will be an end of this day, we want to make sure we’re as ready as we possibly can for a robust economy. I love the positive attitude that you have Mike, I know it’s tough for you, it’s tough for your family, it’s tough for your employees’ families, but somehow or another we’ll figure this out and we’ll get back to business.
Mike: One of the one of the things I do want to say in terms of help too is on our website, MoreSALES.ca, there’s a blog button if you want to go there click on that there’s a COVID survival guide that we put out a week or so ago. It’s about a three-page blog and we’re adding to that. We just had an hour-long strategy meeting on content and how we can help you help entrepreneurs and companies get through this, so we’re going to be adding to that next week. There’s one already in development right now they’ll be added in on Monday or Tuesday of next week, and we’ll be doing a whole series on COVID and getting through challenging times. It’s not just COVID, there’s always going to be challenging times, so we’re going to be putting a series of stuff there. There’s lots of stuff on there now, but there’s lots more to come, so go to MoreSALES.ca in our blog section you’ll see a bunch of resources for entrepreneurs and companies.
Greg: And go to the Chamber YouTube channel and subscribe to us so you can be updated on all of these videos and my conversations with business individuals in our community and healthcare professionals and everybody else. Thanks very much Mike.
If your business is interested in learning more about how to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, watch our webinar on How to Generate More High-Quality Leads.