COVID-19 Services Survival Guide

Editorial Team

9 min read
Professional woman video chatting

Like many other sectors, small businesses in the service industry have been hit hard by the outbreak of COVID-19. According to one report, one million service workers in the beauty industry are being impacted by the coronavirus. That doesn’t even begin to account for the personal trainers, maintenance workers, and dozens of other professions that are seeing customer interactions dry up.

When your business model depends on some level of human contact, you may be at a loss for how to shift your focus to stay afloat. This guide focuses on ideas for beauty and health providers, legal and accounting firms, and maintenance and mechanical services to manage the global pandemic.

Shift your mindset

To many of us, the world feels like a scary place right now. Everyone navigates this differently, but some are able to shift their mindset and approach this pandemic as a challenge rather than a source of stress. To be sure, changing the way you approach this crisis can be a different experience than taking on a growth mindset for the sake of personal improvement when your survival isn’t at stake. Shifting to a “can-do” attitude and tapping into internal determination is the first step to building your business back up again.

For service industries in particular, human contact is assumed as the baseline of business. Health and beauty professionals, for instance, thrive on in-person appointments, make-up consultations, group yoga classes, and in-person therapy sessions. Lawyers and accountants need to consult with clients in private, and attorneys may need to make court appearances. And other service professionals are in and out of homes making repairs, consulting on renovations, dropping off materials, or providing landscaping maintenance.

But there are multiple ways to establish contact. Identifying the most strategic ways to do so while preserving distance is key. As you start rethinking your service model, look to other sectors experiencing the similar challenges: schools, musicians, artists, and restaurants are all asking these very same questions. Creativity is the name of the game here. What can your business still offer that honors social distancing and keeps your customers safe?

Rethinking health and beauty services

Salons, spas, gyms, yoga studios, and other health & fitness service providers are struggling right now; many have had to completely shutter in light of shelter-in-place orders. Much of what they can offer now depends on each state’s particular regulations. As much as possible, these businesses should consider going digital. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Offer one-on-one virtual consultations. If your business thrives on personal connection, set up appointments for 1:1 video consultations with your stylists, personal trainers, or therapists. One makeup brand, for instance, provided 15-minute virtual consultations with stylists to address customers’ specific beauty needs.
  • Post your classes online. Live-streamed or pre-recorded video isn’t just for workout studios. Offer a workshop on at-home grooming and self-care, like “how to touch up your roots,” or “how to shape your brows at home,” for example. This is a great opportunity to provide a makeup workshop or guided workout—and you can make additional income by selling products a customer might need for the workshop.
  • Focus on community. One gym decided that to keep its trainers and coaches employed, it would continue to offer online fitness classes to existing members while donating a portion of membership revenue to local charities. The community rallied around the gym; no memberships were canceled and workouts continued online.
  • Sell your products. Customers are craving comfort right now. If you have enough stock of familiar products—massage oil, shampoo, or essential oils—offer to deliver or provide curbside pickup for customers who want to bring your good vibes home.
  • Develop a cleaning protocol. If your studio is able to open—or if you’re anticipating re-opening soon—start working on a cleaning and hygiene protocol to keep your customers safe. Communicate this procedure to your clientele as soon as possible. Start by adopting and training your team on the CDC’s guide to cleaning and disinfecting.

Remember that in addition to protecting your clientele, you need to keep your employees safe as well. Prioritize online activity and communicate regularly what you’re doing to sanitize your environment. This will help your team make educated decisions about when they feel safe enough to return to work, if they haven’t already.

Rethinking legal and accounting services

Whereas some banks and other highly regulated institutions still require in-person appointments for certain services, legal and accounting businesses can be more flexible. Legal counsel and accounting services remain critical regardless of social distancing. Luckily, it’s relatively easy to transition your client consultations to audio or video calls.

Nevertheless, the COVID-19 crisis may create new hurdles for lawyers and accountants. Many individual professionals and firms might experience significant changes in their income during this period. These changes affect how your clients’ taxes must be filed and paid, or when they might launch a new venture requiring legal assistance, but they also may affect the budget they have dedicated to paying your fees. Here are some ways to be proactive with your business during COVID-19.

  • Be the go-to expert. Businesses and individuals will turn to you for guidance now more than ever. Communicate pertinent information that can impact your community and position your business as leaders in your field. Remind clients of any revised tax filing or payment deadlines. Stay on top of stimulus options for individuals, families, and businesses to best advise clients. Attorneys who work with financial services should anticipate helping clients access their emergency funds to offset losses during shutdown.
  • Stay flexible. Help your clients find relief by reviewing current engagement letters to identify necessary changes in scope, timelines, and fees—this is a service you can offer other small businesses that may be unable to pay their vendors on time, but also something you need to be aware of for your own benefit.
  • Invest in security. Be careful about which video conferencing tool you use. Your electronic communications with clients might include sensitive information, so carefully consider the internet security measures at your home offices, the safeguards your clients have in their home offices, and the security of any communication or conferencing software you use. Make password protected systems a priority for everyone’s safety.
  • Offer estate planning. The reality of COVID-19 is that planning for the future is top-of-mind for everyone. Estate planning is more of an urgent need for many. Be prepared to get many requests in this area of expertise.

Rethinking landscape, maintenance, and mechanical services

Like legal and accounting, landscape, maintenance, and mechanical services are considered essential. It’s likely that there’s some level of service you can still offer to keep cash coming in. But, many of your services will take more time because of cleaning protocols or limited staff movement. Customers will not be inclined to pay more, so how can you get creative with your services?

Here are a few steps to take to save money and build a low-contact approach to your business.

  • Plan transportation thoughtfully. Reduced travel and commuting may mean you have to store vehicles that aren’t being used long-term. Car mechanics will also need to plan to provide support when commuting picks back up. Many customers may have trouble starting their cars after a long break.
  • Post DIY videos. Like salons, there are some services you offer which customers can handle themselves (with the right tools—sold by you, of course). Show your homebound customers how to fix a leaky toilet, stain a piece of furniture, or start a vegetable garden. Spring is the perfect time to capitalize on outdoor space.
  • Don’t discount retail. Parts and tools for repairs will still be in demand as customers try to complete DIY projects at home. Look at your inventory and see what you can sell through delivery or curbside pickup.
  • Publish your cleaning protocol. Communicate the safety and cleaning protocols your team is using for site visits, delivery, and in the store. There are recommended protocols for different verticals and services:

Payment systems

Service industry businesses are notorious for asking customers to send payment using paper checks, even now in the age of electronic payments. According to one estimate, most businesses still pay 50% of their bills using paper checks.

Early testing shows that COVID-19 can last up to 24 hours on surfaces like paper and cardboard. Not only are paper checks potentially risky during this time, they’re also inefficient. Paper checks run the risk of delayed delivery, loss, and/or theft. Even just using checks costs money: businesses lose anywhere from $4 to $20 to cut, mail, and process each paper check.

Instead, look for a system like, Paypal, Zelle, or Venmo—or even a plain ACH transfer —to handle your billing. Many of these systems also offer invoicing tools as well. Make it safe, easy, and fast for clients and customers to pay you, as well as for yourself to pay employees and vendors.

Keep the conversation going

Even though you may not be seeing your clients in person, staying in contact with them is important. Make sure your mailing lists are current, and notify your clients via email and social media about how your services are changing. Be upfront about what safety measures you are taking to keep your team safe. Make sure that these communications are in your voice! Service industry businesses are often personality-driven, so make sure that you bring your personality to all of your emails and posts.

Get some relief

Where can service providers go to find some extra help? If you need additional funding during this time, check out some of these options:

A little determination and creativity can help those in the service industry weather this storm. Try to find ways to offer your current services online or shift your business model to include a new product-oriented revenue stream. There are plenty of resources to help you keep accepting payments and get extra help when you need it. For more information, check out these web pages on financial relief, business preparedness, and our general merchant resources.

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