The entire global community has been affected by the current health crisis. In the U.S., small businesses in particular face unprecedented challenges. While the definition varies by city and state, many nonessential businesses have been ordered to temporarily close their physical locations in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. These businesses include gyms, salons and theaters. The restaurant industry has been especially hard hit, though many establishments are offering takeout and delivery to serve their customers. In my town, the locally-owned grocery and hardware stores are operating under reduced hours.

As we navigate this pandemic, it’s critical for small business owners to connect with customers, partners and employees in whatever way they can. Here are a few tips to help small businesses connect with their communities during this uncertain time.

1. Leverage social media

Now is the time to use social media to provide service updates, announce adjusted hours of operation, answer customer questions and virtually connect with your community. Keep an eye out for online forums you can join to expand your network, which can benefit your business now and in the future. Online movements, such as the Great American Takeout, where customers were encouraged to order food to go from local restaurants, can be a great way to get the word out about your business and promote new buying behaviors. You can also connect with other local businesses and support one another with @ mentions and tags.

For more social media tips, including what kind of content to share, check out our comprehensive guide on social media best practices for small businesses.

Pro Tip: Avoid posting health advice and updates. Leave that to officials and experts.

2. Send an email

I recently received an email from one of my favorite local restaurants, informing customers that it’s moving to a to-go model for the foreseeable future and is temporarily changing its business hours. A few days later, I received an email from my dentist announcing the upcoming launch of virtual and phone appointments, along with some other patient FAQs.

Proactively addressing concerns and questions via email is one way to keep those who matter most to your business informed about changes and updates. You should first consider whether it makes sense for your business to send an email related to the current crisis, but if there is information you need to share with your customers, employees or partners, then it’s appropriate to send one. You can send more emails as the situation dictates.

Pro tip: Your email should inform and reassure your audience, not play into fears or spread misinformation. Stick to the facts about your business.

3. Post signage

Old fashioned? Yes. Effective? You bet. Posting a sign that’s large enough to read from the street can be the difference between someone pulling their car over or going on their way. Signage can be especially effective for restaurants offering takeout and delivery. Your dining area may be closed, but you can still bring in business by announcing, “Open for Takeout!” with a sign outside.

Pro tip: Bigger is better for signage, but it’s worth checking your local ordinances because some municipalities have sign size restrictions.

4. Call your clients

As social distancing and shelter-in-place orders take effect, client-based businesses are seeing fewer clients in person. One way for these businesses to connect with their clients is to call them. The call can be a simple check-in to see how they are doing, ask if they need anything and let them know you are there for them. You may consider offering phone sessions if those make sense for your business.

Phone calls don’t end with client-based businesses. If you have customers with orders you can’t fill or vendors you can’t pay on time, give them a call and explain your situation. A phone call is more personal than an email or text and your customers and partners will remember you for it.

Pro tip: Don’t over-call. Many people are dealing with some level of stress or anxiety right now, and piling on with too many calls likely won’t help. Speak with your clients, if you can, and let them know they can reach out to you, but respect their space.

5. Update your voicemail greeting

A voicemail greeting can be another way to keep your community informed about what’s going on with your business. If you have a greeting already, update it to reflect current store hours or other pertinent details. I recommend sticking to your usual script as much as possible for consistency. If you’ve never set up a professional voicemail greeting before (or need a refresher), here are some helpful tips.

Pro tip: Be clear and concise. Update your message with the essential information.

6. Use video conferencing

As more people work from home and shelter-in-place, video conferencing is quickly becoming an essential tool for every business. Small businesses can use video conferencing to virtually meet with patients or clients, host classes or connect with colleagues. Based on rising work-from-home trends, once the current crisis passes, your business will be better prepared to support remote work.

Pro tip: Think you can wear your PJs to a video call? Think again (at least not on top). Watch this video with 5 tips for working remotely. We want to help every business during this difficult time. Start a free video meeting with 8x8 Video Meetings. There are no time limits, no downloads and no registration required. We are also offering 30 days free of 8x8 Express, a complete small business phone system with unlimited calling, messaging and video conferencing. Here’s to everyone staying safe, healthy and productive.