We often hear that the world can change overnight, or in an instant. Because the unexpected does in fact happen, whether the unexpected is a natural disaster, files being hacked, a fire, a principal getting sick, or some other event which affects a company’s ability to do business, business leaders are encouraged to have a disaster plan in place. But how can you plan for the business marketplace to shut down overnight?
While many small businesses have yearly and quarterly plans, few have the ability to weather a storm like the COVID-19 quarantine shutdown which has lasted two pay cycles for many businesses and looks to continue in some states for another pay cycle at a minimum. Since most small business owners run their companies on a small margin of profit for each project, service, or goods they provide, how can small businesses weather this storm and keep moving forward?
In early 2020, many of us saw our businesses grow, and projections showed that 2020 would be an outstanding year. Then, almost overnight, the business world transcended into a void. Quarantine orders were issued. Orders were canceled. Projected revenue decreased by up to 90% if not more.
The government told us, “Don’t worry! We are putting in place Payroll Protection Plan loans and small business emergency loans to keep your doors open!” Unfortunately, many who applied for those loans and programs found that banks would not work with them because they were not customers. Door after door seemed to close without funds being available, even when the PPP was applied for using a company’s own small bank.
That was us, two weeks ago:
No Cares Act loan
90% of revenue lost
What could we do? Even today, we have not received a PPP loan and many of our past customers are not doing business as their locations are closed and thus, their expansion plans are on hold.
It was time to regroup and find solutions. We learned quickly that Uncle Sam was not going to save us. We had to re-group and find solutions ourselves. This is what we have learned in the short time since our business world came to a stop overnight.
Take Stock of Your Strengths
To be successful in difficult times, business leaders must focus on their company’s strengths. Find the paths open to you in the current situation and determine how your company can forge ahead in that new direction. Do you qualify as a small business under any criteria in your city, county, or state? Can you tweak your product or service so you can target a new market? In tough times, the key to riding the storm and being stronger “on the other side” is to focus on an “anything is possible” attitude and an entrepreneur mindset.
A-wait and see approach is not the way forward in a stalled marketplace if you have not received government funding to cover your expenses until new orders come in. You have to be your own cheerleader and take control of your future. If you do nothing and simply wait for the government to approve a loan, or determine your future, your company may be too deep into the hole to work its way back out into the sunlight.
“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Will Rogers.
Waiting for things to happen, leads to loss of inertia and momentum. It is critical to keep the momentum going even you are moving at a snail’s pace during the most challenging times.
While the marketplace is in effect, closed, find your company’s strengths. Your employees have more talents than you may realize, and most will rise to the challenge of keeping your doors open if given the opportunity to showcase what they can do
Innovation is Key
If innovation is not a part of your company’s core values, add it immediately, and be maniacal about it. To be an innovative company, you don’t need to create something big like the next iPhone or compete with the team at Microsoft. Innovation can occur on a micro level. For example, what part of your company can use technology to better serve your customers? How can technology help you to reach new clients and thus, grow your business while others in your field are focused on the negative and are on the verge of closing their doors? What savings can you enjoy by incorporating tools into your day to day business?
A few hours of research into the use of technology in your company, and tweaking that technology as needed to better serve you and your customers, will yield dividends almost immediately.
Perception is as Important as Reality
The news is full of missteps by companies and others during the current COVID-19 crisis which is a learning tool for small business owners. Simply because you “can” do something, does not mean you “should”. Panic leads to poor decisions.
“Pro’s” and “con’s” lists should be used for any major decision. Not all risk is avoidable, but if there is a path you can take to the same destination, why not take it? The news has been full of companies such as Shake Shack and Ruth Cris, and entities such as Harvard and the Met who took money under the CARES Act or the PPP who had the resources to ride out this storm without using the pool of money that small businesses need to stay afloat. This is the perfect example of a company choosing “can” over “should” and missing the mark in public relations which may harm their bottom line for quite some time.
Arrogance and desperation can lead to poor choices. A bit of pre-decision discussion on the potential downside risks or choices being considered, and brainstorming with other CEO’s, small business owners and your own team can help your company reach a goal without creating a negative public perception that may be difficult to overcome. It is true that often the public easily forgives the missteps of others. However, during times like we face now, where everyone knows someone who has lost their job or is facing a collapse of their business, resentment toward those who used up the PPP fund because they “could” take the loan when they “should” have chosen to use other resources, maybe long term and create problems for the company that could have been avoided through some discussion and basic pre-decision risk management.
Become a Digital Warrior
No matter the business type, being savvy in the digital marketplace is critical to business success in the current business environment. What does it mean to be a “digital warrior”? It means upping your presence in the digital marketplace to a degree you have not contemplated previously.
Prior to COVID-19, many companies, large and small, used technology as a crutch instead of as a tool to grow their business and increase their presence in the marketplace. To be a “digital warrior”, your website must be user friendly. Customers will become frustrated and look elsewhere for the service or product you provide if your website is hard to use, frustratingly slow, or has glitches requiring the user to use a particular web tool (Outlook and not Chrome, or Firefox but not Edge). When establishing your digital presence, make sure there is room to grow, and the ability to handle surges in customer use if your business takes off.
A prime example of websites that have frustrated the public with their initial issues includes the Obamacare websites, and the state unemployment site which is not user friendly and has been unable to handle the inflow of applicants during this COVID-19 crisis. The proper use of technology in business, however, goes beyond website development. To be a true “digital warrior”, you must be proficient in multiple social media platforms, and know your audience! If you are trying to reach the over 50 professional, Instagram is not the correct platform. If you want the 20-something group, social media rather than Linked-In is more apt to reach your target audience. Internal communication via video calls and professional chat systems such as Slack, MS Teams, etc. will keep your team connected and facilitate information transfer that is easier to locate later than an email submerged in a sea of unrelated emails would be. While the quarantine has created roadblocks in many businesses, use of this time to increase the company’s digital presence both internally and with the public will pay benefits once the market picks up in the near future.
Invest in Education
When the marketplace is slow, increase the time spent on educating your staff and yourself. Constantly learning and expanding your knowledge is vital during an economic downturn.
The internet is full of platforms providing free and low-cost webinars, and full courses, on multiple subjects. CoreSera is one such website that provides classes from universities on many diverse subjects. Effective communication skills, business classes, marketing, and other such courses are available through various sources. Encouraging your employees to share their new skills with the team will enhance their confidence and increase the knowledge of your team on various topics.
Encouraging continued education in business, or in general, is critical to the momentum of your company during trying times. Business owners know that momentum is key to growth. Education allows you to see options and other opportunities in the marketplace that might have existed before but had gone unnoticed. One idea leads to another and group discussions build on what one team member has learned in a continuing education course. Sharing ideas and what one learns in a course with teammates encourages employees to speak up on other issues as well. Encouraging team members to share what they are learning in the seminars they have chosen plants the seed to being comfortable in participating in other discussions. The only bad idea is the one not discussed and made better. No one in a company, not even the owner or CEO, has all the answers. Facilitating group discussions through employees sharing with the team what they are learning in their continuing education courses, benefits your business in multiple ways, including brainstorming marketing, sales, and other parts of your business.
We are living in a difficult business environment with mandatory quarantines and business closures. But difficulty does not have to lead to failure. Encourage employees to include daily education in their schedule. Increase your use of technology and become a Digital Warrior. Brainstorm new business avenues and take your business in new directions. Use the Cares Act loans and PPP loans when they become available if you are a small business.
Weathering the storm of the unexpected requires flexibility and determination. This ability is inside the entrepreneur and in this environment, we all need to have that entrepreneur mentality.