By Burke Cueny, Image360

It’s impossible to ignore the vast changes that have shaken our economy and our industry over the past several months. We are all adjusting to the very real impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will likely still be feeling it for months to come. Specifically in the signs and graphics industry, COVID-19 has been an incredible challenge, as it has been for nearly every industry; and it’s also been an opportunity to truly value the strength of graphic design and signage in the modern world.

Ideally, we will all be able to recover quickly, as a society, a business community, and an industry from the effect of this pandemic. But in the meantime, we have all had to learn fast and on our feet how signs and graphics can evolve in the face of a truly unexpected crisis. In many ways, the services and products offered by signs and graphics businesses are more valuable than ever before. Our Image360 franchise system has grappled with COVID-19 just like all signs companies, but we have also learned valuable lessons I think every signs business can benefit from.

Focus on Existing Customers

Many marketing tactics are focused on attracting new leads. Now, however, is the time to maintain, and ideally strengthen, the bonds between your business and your most frequent existing customers. Connect with them regularly to get a sense for how their business is doing, and to see if there are any graphic solutions to the problems they may be facing. See if there are ways to be flexible with their needs, or accommodate requests for lower cost. Use content marketing to keep your customer lists up to date on ways graphics and signage are playing a central role in adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic—social distancing signs, open for delivery graphics, and designs showing proper hand washing techniques. Our Image360 centers have had the most success during this period by doubling down on the partnerships they’ve built over the years, and demonstrating their value to existing customers more than ever before.

Find Visual Solutions for COVID-19 Business Challenges

In many ways, COVID-19 has been an unusually visual experience for all of us, considering we are dealing with an invisible virus. So much of the language around the pandemic is visual—flattening the curve, envisioning six feet of distance between people, gloves and facemasks to protect vulnerable populations, videos and graphics of properly washing your hands. There are countless ways businesses can use strong design to support their customers, communicate with clients and the public, and use graphics to drive sales, even in a world of social distancing. In a time where people are worried and anxious about the future, signs and graphics businesses have an ability to provide clear, visual communication that can help maintain calm. Spend time brainstorming ways to help your clients communicate, even during a challenging situation. It will only strengthen your ability to provide useful graphic design in the future when the pandemic is, mercifully, over.

Be a Goodwill Partner with Your Local Business Community

It’s no secret that the economic impact of COVID-19 has been vast. Businesses are struggling to pay bills and employees and be a useful partner to businesses and clients during this tumultuous time. The same holds true for the signs and graphics industry, as many print shops are also struggling to make it through. But even in the middle of these challenges, a local business community survives and thrives together.

Find ways to support your neighboring businesses—do restaurants need signs alerting customers that they’re still open for delivery or takeout under shelter-in-place orders? Do essential businesses need signs that remind customers to stay six feet away from each other? It may make sense to see if you can offer these resources inexpensively or free, as a gesture of goodwill to the broader community.

Many of our Image360 centers have offered banners to restaurants and other businesses for free, as a gesture of their support for all businesses in their market. This kind of giveback shows the values of your business, and it’s a measure of goodwill that your community will remember long after our current crisis is over.

Look to the Future

Now is an excellent time to take stock of where things stand with your business, and to consider any resources or options available to you, including the Federal CARES Act. There are a variety of franchise opportunities, Image360 being one of them, that offer a strong network of support for existing businesses wishing to convert to a franchise. This allows them to access resources that are especially valuable during painful and unforeseen circumstances like our current pandemic. There are also business associations, networking connections, other signs and graphics shops in town that may be interested in joining forces – now is the time to think creatively, not only about how you will make it through the current crisis, but what you see in the future for your business, in a year or in five years. Challenging times like right now are also a chance to take stock, and plan for your future.

We have all learned things about our businesses, our communities and ourselves during this crisis. The signs and graphics industry is strong, and built to withstand challenging periods like this one. My hope is that by taking into account some of this advice we’ve gleaned from our network of Image360 centers and the experiences of the industry at large, all signs businesses will be able to see a way through our current situation together.