By Charlotte Holmes-Darby, UK marketing lead at Vistaprint

As many of England’s pubs, restaurants and hairdressers reopened on ‘Super Saturday’, UK small businesses are getting back to business. I’m excited to be able to return to my favourite small businesses and continue to support them after these difficult months. I’m also aware that the newly reopened world will look very different to what we were used to, and small business marketing tactics might need to shift to reflect this.

We’ve pulled together some marketing and branding tips for small businesses that are ready to reopen:

Thank your customers

Your first step to reopening can begin before you open your doors to the public. During lockdown, your customers may have supported you by purchasing gift cards, rescheduling appointments, ordering takeaway or by leveraging do-it-yourself hair and beauty kits. Make sure to thank them for continuing to support you during these challenging times.

You want to be the kind of brand that feels human. And knowing how and when to say thank you is a big part of that. Send personalised postcards, invite customers to exclusive in-store events, offer them a small gift or even call them on the phone to show your appreciation. This is a great opportunity to strengthen the bond you have with your customers.

Announce your reopening

Once you have a firm reopening date planned, you’ll want to let all your previous, current and potential customers know. Share the news across all your marketing including your website, emails, social posts and printed products. You could send emails and postcards with an offer, whether it's a complimentary styling session or an in-store discount. A little gesture is another great way to say 'thank you' to your customers.

Did you gain any new customers over the past few months? If you started selling products or services online, you will have reached a wider customer base. Remind them that you have a brick-and-mortar space and are open for business again.

As your customers return to the shops, they may be concerned about keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. In your reopening announcement, clearly communicate any safety measures you’re taking. Whether that’s using more disposable items such as paper bags to minimise the spread of germs, offering free disposable face masks to customers and ensuring there is adequate space for social distancing.

Don’t forget to get your shopfront, restaurant or salon ready for its grand opening. Hang a vinyl banner outside, or a few posters in the front windows with an opening message such as ‘welcome back’ or ‘we’ve missed you’. You should also include details in posters on the key social distancing and safety precautions that staff and customers need to take.

Reinforce your brand messaging

As we move into the recovery phase, your business-as-usual branding may no longer be relevant. You might need to change your messaging to adjust to how customers are now thinking about your products and services and their own circumstances. A focus on branding can show customers that you're recovered and are ready for business, and it can remind them why they loved and trusted you in the first place.

Many small businesses have pivoted in creative ways during COVID-19, and you may need to change elements of your messaging to reflect your updated business model. Whether you own a shop offering contact free delivery, a salon providing DIY beauty kits or a gym running virtual fitness classes, you’ll need to clearly communicate how these added services now form part of your offering to customers. Make sure these changes are reflected across all your traditional and digital marketing. From postcards in the mail to posts on Instagram, there are a lot of physical and virtual places to reinforce your message.

Pay close attention to how your messaging may resonate with your customers after lockdown. What was once carefree and appropriate might now seem careless or insensitive. When you're creating a poster, sharing updates on Instagram and Facebook, sending an email newsletter, or editing your website, try to use a tone that's authentic and empathetic. It can be as simple as announcing your reopening without being overly promotional - think, no all-caps messaging and minimal exclamation points. Instead, showcase your brand in a way that reminds customers how you can support them.

Build your digital presence

One of the top ways that our small business customers pivoted during COVID-19 was by boosting their online presence or building one entirely from scratch. Digital is an ongoing need that won’t disappear as restrictions lift.

Businesses with a brick-and-mortar location including shops, restaurants, salons and gyms may need to initially reopen at a reduced capacity. Maintaining and enhancing a strong digital presence will allow you to reach customers who can take advantage of online delivery and virtual services that you continue to offer alongside in-person experiences.

Leverage digital marketing to drum up interest in the reopening of your physical location, whether that’s through social posts showing your appreciation, emails that clearly communicate the safety measures you’re taking and website updates that reflect your expanded offering.

Build an active and engaged community around your online presence by providing valuable advice to your customers as they move out of lockdown. It could be that you’re a personal trainer and can create videos for YouTube and Instagram on how to stay safe at the gym or ease into a workout routine after a break. A craft store owner could use Pinterest to provide inspiration for gifts to give to friends and family after several months of social distancing.

I’ve seen firsthand the efforts small business owners made to connect with customers in new ways, ensure their products and services are still relevant and support their communities during the lockdown. Their passion, resilience and ability to persevere through change will continue to serve them well during the recovery phase.