Starting and leading a new business is not easy. It takes time, energy, consistency and most importantly to accept uncertainties and occasional failures with the right mindset and keep on moving forward. As if this was not challenging enough, a dangerous virus has caused the largest major pandemic in 100 years, making matters even more difficult and uncertain.
I found numerous articles, blog posts and other online contents on how to survive the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 and use this time to one’s advantage. This article provides an overview of the strategies, tips, and tricks consolidated into 10 main tips to survive an unexpected crisis.
1. Build up an online presence
What is the first thing you do when you hear of a new brand, a new service platform or a new product? That’s right, you google it! This is the best example for why you need a strong online presence. The strategy for your online presence depends on your customer segment, your product portfolio and your service portfolio. Additionally, you should also set up an online shop. We are living in a world where almost everyone owns a smartphone or another device with an internet connection. Hence, having a functional and intuitive online shopping platform for your business will improve the customer journey experience for your clients and allows you to connect and communicate with them without any delay. Additionally, having an active social media account will enable you to stay up to date with the latest trends, customer preferences and allows you to share regular updates, sales promotions, a new product, etc. Or considering the recent events, an update related to COVID-19 relevant to your business and how you are going to be there for your clients through this difficult period.
To be successful, you need to be committed to it, invest the necessary time and resources to create content that will get your customers’ attention and stay up to date on the trending platform and technologies that support your online presence. This requires a well-defined strategy that clearly states who is responsible for the content creation, customer support, the language and tone of communication, the platforms on which you will be active etc. So be sure to spend some time to think about what your online persona should be like before you open an Instagram account.
2. Work with external Partners
Collaborate with brands or individuals with an existing online presence. For example, if you offer lifestyle products, partner with social media influencers who promote lifestyle products. If your portfolio includes a certain food product, collaborate with food bloggers. This can help you reach a larger audience and spread brand awareness faster. It is also a good way to start when you are new to the social media world.
3. Build up an interdisciplinary team
A business is multifaceted. The best way to tackle this is to hire people who are experts in their respective field. Sometimes as an entrepreneur it is overwhelming to think of everything and do what needs to be done, especially if this is outside of your expertise. By having an interdisciplinary team with a skill set that complement each other, you can not only ensure that the results are delivered on time, but also with the right quality. Once you have people you trust on your team, you can depend on them to take care of things when you are busy with your responsibilities. For example, if there another lockdown due to the increase in the coronavirus cases, you can depend on your team to do what is needed and keep the business going, even while working from home.
4. Enable your interdisciplinary team to work remotely
If this pandemic is teaching us anything, then it’s that it only takes a few days for a crisis to get out of control and people are forced to stay at home. Many have learned this the hard way and we must be better prepared for the next time we are forced to “make it work” without being physically present. So, enable your team to work efficiently outside of the office. Provide them with the right equipment, improve your video conferencing skills and figure out which software fits best to your team. Experiment with novel technologies to see what can support your team when they are working remotely. Encourage them to share experiences of what works for them and what doesn’t while they are working remotely. When asked, a senior manager of a well-known consulting firm, how they managed to work from the home office he responded that for many of his employees, especially the ones with the kids, it was hard to adjust to the new situation. It took them two to three weeks to settle into a routine and be productive at the home office. Give your team a chance to figure this out before the next crisis hits, so that once there is a need for it, you don’t have to sacrifice a couple of weeks until your team members are settled in and productive in a remote setting.
5. Brainstorm! Brainstorm! Brainstorm!
Now that we are in the middle of a pandemic, experts all over the world are predicting possible scenarios about what’s going to happen once all this is over. Collect different scenarios and conduct regular brainstorming workshops with your team to discuss these scenarios. During these workshops, you play through each of the scenarios on a business model canvas. This will give you a rough idea on how to adapt your business based on each scenario. You can also create your own scenarios and develop a contingency plan to adapt your business model. This will ensure that you already have something to go on when the need arises and you can start on your “survival plan” right away.
6. Don’t re-invent the wheel.
Copy, Edit, and Paste! There are so many best practises out there, you just have to a look around. Conduct detailed market research, competitors analysis and benchmarking project to see what is being done and how the others are dealing with the change. Remember to look into unrelated markets too, as there may be practices that can inspire you for your own business. This research can also help you identify gaps in the market and possible hidden opportunities. Adapt these existing practices to your start-up business and your brand and make them part of your operations.
It is important to reassess the changes regularly and make the necessary adjustments. The secret of staying relevant in the market is to be able to adapt quickly – regardless of a crisis. Hence, make it a priority to reassess your operations regularly, implement the necessary changes until it becomes best-practise and then repeat!
Finally, it is important to remember that change can only be successful with your teams’ support. Once you have decided on the changes to be implemented, you need to either get buy-in from your team or clearly communicate why the change is needed, how it will benefit the business, the team and positively influence the future outcomes. Change is always difficult to implement, it creates uncertainty and the need for a change is not always easily explained. So, this is the time to show leadership, respond to your employees’ concerns, be transparent, honest and communicate effectively to take away their fear related to the change and get them on board.
7. “Give and ye shall receive” – Bram Cohen
Help others, and others will help you! Encourage your employees to take up volunteering during a crisis. Be present as a company. This not only improves team morale and gives you a personal satisfaction, but it will also give you a certain amount of exposure as a brand with great corporate ethics.
8. Apply for resources provided by the government and financial institutions
A major crisis such as the pandemic affects everyone and has a domino effect on many things within the industry, the market, among customers, etc. The government and some financial institutions have incentives and resources in place for such extreme situations. Tap into these resources and apply for the incentives to keep you afloat while you figure out how to best adapt during such a crisis.
9. Use the downtime to upskill
Do the planned training or skills development that has been waiting for a break in the “normal routine”. Complete online courses or pending training during the downtime. Encourage your team members to do the same to utilize their time efficiently. And give them an indication of your support and belief that the business will keep going.
10. Keep Calm and Carry On
Lastly, the most obvious tip.
During a crisis, when everything is going wrong, nothing seems to work and the uncertainties are growing by the hour, don’t panic and try to stay calm. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but a panicked mind hardly ever comes up with a good idea.
Be sure to practise mindfulness during uncertain times. You can take up meditation, go for a walk in the fresh air or do simple exercises to get your blood and endorphins flowing. Family and friends can be a great support network. Spend time with them, even virtually, and when you are re-charged, go back to the problem at hand and figure out how to solve it.
Starting one’s own business always comes with a risk. Unexpected events, economic recessions, a countrywide lockdown, etc. can happen at a rather fast pace. Hence, it would be particularly useful to include a “survival plan” while developing the business model. Remember that Murphy was an “optimist” so make contingency plans with your team and test them, so you have the skills, tools, and practices ready for implementing when the next change arrives. This will not only reduce your downtime but also improve your chances of surviving such a crisis with minimal collateral damage.
However, these risks shouldn’t scare you away from starting your own business either. As Oprah Winfrey once said “Forget about the fast lane. If you really want to fly, harness your power to your passion. Honour your calling. Everybody has one. Trust your heart, and success will come to you.”
So go out there, follow your heart and live your passion.