I passed another one on my walk to the grocery store today. A small business, this time a dental practice, all boarded up. While some neighborhood fixtures are reopening and straggling onward, others are falling by the wayside. Small and midsize businesses are having to think fast and reinvent themselves—sometimes several times over—to stay alive. Nobody knows this better than Chaz Tanase, whose platform GoNation has become critical to many small businesses since COVID struck.
GoNation started as a way to connect people with local businesses. You could step outside and open the app to see what’s going on in your neighborhood: karaoke at the old-school Chinese food restaurant, a retrospective opening at a nearby gallery, or maybe a holiday market you hadn’t heard about, rife with local vendors. A helpful tool for small businesses, locals and travelers alike.
But in times of COVID, some SMBs have become reliant on the GoNation platform to bolster their online presence, in sometimes transformational ways. “The key to weathering COVID is to go absolutely all in with your online presence,” Tanase told me. “Customers are online more than ever, and that’s where you need to be reaching them and making a splash. In some cases if your business doesn’t pivot to a massive online presence, it could mean closing the physical doors for good.”
At its core, GoNation is essentially a cloud-based software and payments platform. One small business that’s gotten ahead of the curve by taking full advantage of it is Dockside Brewery in Milford, CT. Dockside opened its doors on April 3rd, in a stroke of inauspicious timing, and faced plenty of challenges amidst the pandemic. Many restaurants have pivoted to online orders and delivery, but in addition to incorporating that and takeout to their business model, Dockside realized they needed to double down on their online presence.
Founder Bob Chicoine says that GoNation has helped the business get outside of the boundaries digitally and create a more aggressive online effort. “In June I sat down with Chaz, and I said ‘look, let’s push and see how can we take this to the next level?’” Chicoine says Tanase helped him think outside the box, and focus on aggressive online marketing efforts. And they’re paying off.
Dockside’s GoNation powered website allows a seamless use of a QR code menu. Chicoine says their website and QR code menu offer a better, contactless, customer experience with a sophisticated menu presentation that integrates professional-quality photos of their food. Because their QR code menu is powered by their GoNation website, it can be updated in just a few taps to reflect the most recent specials and menu offerings, which he says have been changing rapidly throughout COVID-19.
Dockside’s QR code menu replaced traditional black and white disposable menus that look outdated and uninspiring. Dockside is also pushing multiple Instagrammable patio spaces, one which they’re outfitting with gas heaters and a canopy for the colder weather, which has been seeding a strong social media response. “Internet real estate is becoming more important than physical real estate in the restaurant business,” Tanase points out. “Restaurants thriving in COVID are categorically pivoting to a stronger online game.”
He adds that having a website integrated with your digital menu means you don’t have to go through a multi-stage updating process, or wait for a team of developers (which can be slow and costly), every time there’s a tiny change to your menu. A change on your GoNation website is automatically reflected on the menu seen by the customers sitting right outside.
Because businesses (and not just restaurants) are having to adapt and change so much, and so quickly, this kind of seamless integration and unified online profile is vital. There’s also the issue of communication with customers, who, as Tanase noted, are more than ever best reachable online.
“Customers need to know what to expect, and everything’s changing so quickly they don’t know who’s open, who’s appointment only, who’s shifted to online sales, and so on. You need to get in touch with your customers,” he says. GoNation websites allow business owners to communicate in real-time with customers even as changes are taking place.
However your business is transforming, it certainly helps to have someone in your corner, helping to iron out the kinks and keep communication lines open so customers know where and when to find you, and what to expect. Don’t become another familiar storefront suddenly boarded up by the wayside. We’ve seen too many of those already—at least in my neighborhood.