While we all hope life will go back to ‘normal’ — as it was before the coronavirus pandemic, this is not likely to happen anytime soon. Even the most optimistic estimates show that there will be severe disruptions to every area of the US and world economies. The pandemic will affect all kinds of industries from agriculture to education. Since ‘back to normal’ isn’t a ‘thing’, what can we do as business leaders? Let’s take an in-depth look at the situation.
What Are We Facing?
According to the latest economic news and market conditions, things look pretty catastrophic. If you are a smaller business or in an industry hit particularly hard, such as food and beverage, travel, or fitness, then things might seem particularly bleak. Facing the kinds of setbacks that you are likely experiencing can be emotionally difficult. You may feel like giving up. But, is that the right response?
I don’t think that hopelessness or hiding in the past has to be our default position. If you are willing to modify the focus of your business, and perhaps your perspective, you can prevail.
Yes, there will be significant disruptions and upheaval of long-standing traditions within business. However, the level of disruption is mostly undefined at this point. Will there be major setbacks? Without question, Yes! Will we face a recession? Most likely. The market will likely fundamentally change, as well.
However, there will be opportunities. We just have to be willing to step back, reevaluate the situation, and look for the silver lining. I believe that there are massive opportunities for anyone willing to be brave enough to look for it. What stands in our way? Panic.
So, for leaders who are open to what is ‘possible’, how do we find emerging prospects? First, we must make a choice, then we must be willing to pivot and refocus.
How to Pivot During Uncertain Times
To triumph over this adversity, you must first make a choice. Will you let the crisis defeat you or will you empower yourself and your employees to forge a new path?
Overcome Mental Obstacles
Negative mindsets can wear on your resolve. One mindset that could be holding you back is the belief that you can’t change your business model. Don’t be afraid of change.
Don’t Be Afraid To Shift
Companies that have been willing to look beyond that moment of fear and uncertainty have found new ways to pivot their businesses. There are a lot of examples of companies that have focused their resources, talents, and energy to deliver value during this uncertain time. Vacuum giant Dyson went from making vacuums to ventilators in less than two weeks. As hospitals around the world face a shortage of these lifesaving personal protective devices, Dyson looked for a way to help. They are helping to solve a problem, as well as finding a new way to keep their employees working. Dyson is not the only company to step in and help. Automakers, Ford and General Motors are racing to build ventilators, as well. Gtech has also been working on the hardware for these devices. Hockey equipment producer Bauer Hockey switched over to making face shields for medical professionals.
What if your company is related to travel or perhaps luxury goods, like expensive perfumes? You might be thinking “No one needs perfume right now. Nor, is there overwhelming demand for it at the moment. While that might be true, that doesn’t mean that you can’t produce something that the world desperately needs. Your expertise, supplies, and leadership are still valuable. You must find a way to utilize these things. Luxury perfume makers Dior and Givenchy sure did. The two retailers are now temporarily producing hand sanitizer. They are also helping protect the public from COVID-19 by supplying the French health authorities with hand sanitizer for free. This is a powerful gesture that can do a lot of good for its brand reputation.
The Discovery Process
Look for hidden business opportunities. So, how can you find them?
What Does the Market Need?
The first step in finding new opportunities is to think about what the market needs. Set the economics aside for a moment. Seriously — no matter how meritless you think the idea is or how little money there is to be made, brainstorm every idea that you can. To think of ideas, ask yourself these questions:
- What products does the market need right now? Currently, there is a huge demand for hand sanitizers, ventilators, medical masks, and toilet paper. Even though it might not be feasible for you to produce these things, come up with ideas. Don’t discount anything.
- What services are needed right now? Again brainstorm every idea that you can think of. You might have to do some research on this. Check out Google for trending topics. Maybe you will notice that people are Googling “How to stay motivated to work out.” If you run a fitness studio, you might offer fitness coaching.
What Do You Offer?
Next, figure out what you offer to your customers. What is your value? It’s really easy to think “I offer one thing, and since that thing isn’t being purchased right now, I have nothing else to offer as I don’t know how to do anything else.” However, consider the fact that people’s needs might change with the pandemic and perhaps you can provide something that they need during this time.
For instance, let’s say you run a group fitness studio. Like other essential businesses, you’ve been prohibited from operating because of COVID-19. You consider offering online fitness classes, but then you think “Why would my customers pay for online workouts when they can get those for free on YouTube?” You’ve tried that before anyway and it’s never really worked out. However, right now, people are less motivated. They need encouragement and support more than anything else.
Before you throw in the towel, you decide to conduct market research. You learn via an email survey that your fitness center members crave the motivation that your upbeat fitness instructors provide. You’ve learned that you offer not only fitness classes but support and motivation, as well.
What Can You Do?
The next step is to brainstorm things that your company can do. Come up with as many ideas as you can. Don’t discount new ideas, even if they are not feasible or seem far-fetched. Here are some questions to get started:
- What are some of the industries that might have been a good fit if your company hadn’t chosen the past path?
- Can you think of a creative way to solve a problem with what you have to work with? Would your solution be unique? Would it solve a significant issue?
Do You Have the Resources?
The next step is to look at the resources that are needed to solve a market problem. What assets do you have in terms of intellectual human capital and production capability? Perhaps you have the equipment to manufacture ventilators, but you have no employees with the skills to design them. Also, consider how much investment it would require to retool your equipment or re-train your employees. Would it be worth the investment?
Try this Exercise:
- What assets do I have? Consider both physical and intellectual assets.
- What relationships does my company have? Think about your political, professional, and other connections.
- Consider your brand vision. For instance, does producing hand sanitizer align with your brand vision?
Take input from as many sources/people as you can, Put it all down on a single document. My preference is a giant whiteboard.
We have an amazing luxury that we have at no other time, possibly in history, and that is the idea that the entire workforce community, the government, and world bodies, are all galvanized, and in alignment for one singular purpose, which is to make it through to the other side.
I think that it’s encouraging to see groups of people who all now have a vested interest in the safety and support and continuation of businesses to hear each idea out with earnest interest and a genuine desire to find something, anything that will allow them to continue their way of life.
Another silver lining is that the people who used to throw up roadblocks, say no, and prevent new ideas from flourishing are much quieter now. Those dissenting voices have been almost nonexistent, the wildest and craziest ideas are all being considered right now as a verified potential option.
The best of what comes from this process will not be business as usual. This will not be something that simply passes by. This is something that we must live with and adapt. For those who are brave enough to pivot in a meaningful way. There is a massive opportunity right now to not only recoup recent losses but to catapult their business into unimaginable levels of success.
Sure, some business owners are finding ways to exploit others’ fears and needs, such as Noah Colvin, the e-commerce entrepreneur who choose to take advantage of others by engaging in price gouging. As a result, he now has 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer on his hands that he can’t sell. I’m not advocating using this crisis to exploit fears and vulnerabilities. Business owners doing so aren’t ones that I respect.
This article is about encouraging ethical business owners to stay afloat. It’s about helping honest hardworking leaders find valuable ways to support the economy and their employees. It’s to help them continue to build their dreams and create something from nothing. I hope to encourage readers to find an opportunity to build a future that is more meaningful and impactful than anything that would have been possible in the past.
There’s never been a greater opportunity to create something meaningful and lasting than right now. Lots of people are struggling. There are tons of ways that businesses of all sizes can make a difference right now. But first, you must set aside all of your preconceived notions, cast off the limitations that you’ve set for yourself, and reevaluate and re-envision what could be.
The world is in a crisis. But that doesn’t mean that the core reason for our business does not still stand tall and ready to deliver new unforeseen value. In doing so, we can also do a lot of good.
I wish you the absolute best as you go out and build your dream. And if along the way, you get stuck and need or want a hand navigating the weeds, I would be honored and love to be part of that conversation. Even if for a moment.
“Only when the tide goes out to do you discover who’s been swimming naked” — Warren Buffet