How Our Small Business Adapted to COVID-19

The Westchester Italian Cultural Center’s business model relies on two forms of revenue: membership dues and in-person experiences. When COVID-19 rolled around, both were put on hold. The Center would not ask for Membership dollars while people were facing financial hardship, and the advertised in-person events were suspended “until further notice,” as the state government mandated that all non-essential businesses were to shut down. 

“Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.”

–Max McKeown

With the words “unprecedented,” “unknown,” and “indefinitely” being used more frequently, it was time to adapt.

As ideas were passed around, the one idea that kept coming back to the table was live-streaming. It was a request we have gotten for years from people who live too far from our Center to visit.

Survey

We sent an anonymous survey to our email list, asking if they would be interested in paying for live-stream events. “Simplicity,” which is a word I will keep mentioning, was important with the survey. We had to make sure it was short, simple and got to the point. It was a four question survey with an area for people to write any comments or suggestions.

Within a two hour period, we received over 250 responses. The results showed an overwhelming majority of people wanted live-stream events. The results for the sections asking when people would prefer to watch live-streams didn’t surprise us… it didn’t matter. People submitted hours throughout the day and selected all 7 days of the week. This proved we are in a different climate, which could help us in a small way.

Presenters

The next step was to engage the Presenters. We had to make sure they were up for the new venture, for without them, we wouldn’t have anything to live-stream. Luckily they were all up for it, and exclaimed their excitement. We did receive some requests that we should focus on making it simple for them to do. After all, they would be conducting the live-streams from their own homes, which is different than usually having a WICC employee being able to assist them in our facilities.  

We proposed a payment structure that benefited both the Center and the Presenters. They would receive a base payment for a certain amount of attendees, and added “commission” based on attendee number brackets. Simply put, “the more attendees we have, the more you get paid.” It encouraged the Presenters to advertise their events, which would be in addition to the many platforms we advertised on.

It was important to get them on board, yes, but also excited to join us on this new venture. I created a document explaining what our plan was, detailing the benefits for everyone involved. To view that document, click below.

Software

Finding a software to handle everything we wanted was the biggest obstacle for us. Simplicity was a big “want” for us. This online enviornment was a big enough change already… Why should our consumers have to go on a complicated website, input meeting codes and passwords, or even download software that makes things more complicated for them?

One surveyor mentioned they would like to have the option to watch our live-stream at a later date if they can’t watch the original airing. This was a simple idea at first, but as we thought about it, it became very important. We realized we could monetize on videos weeks or months after it originally airs. Simple idea? Yes. How to execute that is a different story. Not only did we have to find a platform that supported live-streaming, but also an “on-demand” feature.

All things considered, the most important features we looked for included:

  • Pay-per-view functionality, allowing us to monetize on live-streams
  • On-demand functionality, allowing us to monetize on videos after the original airing
  • An easy-to-access platform that made it easy for attendees view the live-streams
  • Availability for our employees to control the live-streams while the Presenters present
  • Features for our attendees to have fun with, keeping them engaged
  • Marketing features that kept our workload at a minimum

I don’t know how, but all of our wishes came true. I came across WebinarNinja, which impressed me from the beginning. The best way to describe it is: simple, engaging and scalable.

Messaging

With COVID-19 changing the landscape for businesses across the globe, there is no secret many businesses have turned towards live-streaming. Schools, religious congregations and even estheticians all changed their models. How would we stand out? It came down to messaging. I looked at it from our consumers’ perspective and asked myself “what do I want from this?” Well, I’d wanted it to be:

  • Easy-to-Access: there have been platforms that I found to be complicated to access, and I consider myself tech-savvy. I didn’t want to download another piece of software, so why should our consumers?
  • Fun & Engaging: These unprecedented times have left people feeling not only scared, but lonely. The phrase “alone together” is something that stuck with me. Why not allow people to have a fun time while at home? Let’s entertain them.

The name of the new venture was also important to me. Again, what would stick out to people and grab their attention? “Live-streams” wasn’t enough… Everyone live-streams today. If you have an instagram… you can live-stream. Live-Streamed Webinars was the wording we would use, to show that they were informational, but also aired live.

Tweak & Adjust

This was new territory for us, so we needed to adjust our normal logistics:

  • Pricing: Our normal ticket prices for lectures are $20-$30. We dropped the prices for our Live-Streamed Webinars 50-60%, making them $10. This allowed us to test the waters, but also give people some room to breathe during this unprecedented time.
  • Free Content: One obstacle we wanted to avoid was what many businesses were facing during this pandemic: trying to keep our business alive without it looking like we are profiting off a pandemic. To be completely transparent, our mission is to keep small business alive and try our best to give our employees hours. To prevent any pushback, we decided to offer free Webinars where we would not charge attendees a fee and the Center would not profit.
  • Allow them to adjust: Our first two webinars would be free. This allowed attendees to test the software, see how easy it was to access and have fun with the engaging webinar.

Announcement Video

I knew when we announced this new venture, we had to make our messaging clear. Yes, I could list the things we are doing, but I wanted people to actually see what we were doing. I decided to make an announcement video for us to send out and post. I had to make it look and sound as professional as possible with the resources I had at home. I used an external microphone to make the audio more clear, but the audio still had an echo. I recorded it with a blanket over my head, with my phone lit underneath as I read out the script. To be completely honest, it was making me so hot that one could hear me taking deep breaths in-between sentences in the unedited audio… I made sure to edit those out!

I was able to record and edit the video in about two hours, and I was pretty happy with what I came up with.

First Go-Around

Within a week and a half, we received over 300 registrations for our Live-Streamed Webinars throughout the month of May.

The first two Webinars were free Italian Trivia sessions and they were successful all around. I started off the Webinars by asking the attendees to write in the chat where they were streaming from. We had responses that included New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and even Florida. They seemed to love the polling feature, where the Presenter would show a question and ask them to submit their answers by clicking the multiple choice. It showed in real-time what people voted, without showing who voted for what. 

We received emails after thanking us for hosting the Webinar and were told they were looking forward to more upcoming sessions

Moving Forward

Our webinar attendees absolutely love what we are providing. We have “regulars” that attend every single webinar and ask for more. As mentioned before, I always start out the webinars asking where everyone is streaming from. Now before I even go live, our attendees chat amongst themselves and write where they’re streaming from!

We have full intent to keep hosting webinars past the pandemic, as we have gained new consumers across the nation. The tricky part will be balancing our in-person events and webinars and making sure both are worth-while for people. We think we have a plan to conquer this task, but like with everything else, it will be a work in progress! 

We are currently surveying to see how people would like to see the webinars adapt. We would love to give our Members a discounted price on the Webinars, so we are hoping to have that feature roll-out in the near future. We have some really creative ideas that we think will keep people engaged.

Lessons Learned

Messaging is important: Not only did we have to grab people’s attention, but we also had to gain their trust that our Webinars would be easy-to-access and worth their time. This could have fell by the wayside if we advertised them as just “live-streams.”

Do your Research: When I wanted to roll this out, I could have simply winged it, not asking anyone for their opinion and just hope for the best. I did the total opposite. I researched streaming software for days, I surveyed our consumers on what they wanted out of this new venture and I even looked at how industries were marketing their products and brands during this time. It allowed me to make a guide map of not only what we needed to accomplish, but also how to accomplish it.

Take your time: Making the time to research, plan and execute benefited us in the roll-out. We could have scrambled by picking the most well-known software just so we could make a profit quickly, but I think that would have hurt us. We were able to build a new “segment” that was thorough and well put-together. 

 

If you’re interested in seeing what it I’ve built, or even want to register for a Webinar yourself, click below. Be sure to say hi in the live chat during the live-stream! I’ll be sure to say “hello!”

Recognized by WebinarNinja

WebinarNinja reached out to me and mentioned they wanted to feature our brand on their website. They asked me questions on their software and how it was able to help our brand’s mission. They recognized me as a “Motivating Entrepreneur” under their “Winning with Webinars” section. The goal of the article is to inspire aspiring brands who are new to the software to take that leap of faith by seeing how brands like us were able to use it to succeed. They plan on featuring us more but this alone was really rewarding. Check out the post below!