Literally overnight, COVID-19 has changed our world. Not just the small community or household or headspace we normally occupy, but everything and everyone in every country across the globe. It is almost unfathomable that every human breathing today is experiencing the same situation. At a time when nationalism seemed to be winning out over globalization, all of a sudden, every person on the planet is sharing a common experience. Ironically, that shared experience is isolation. Will history show that this global experience unifies us as humans, or will it keep us separate? Time will tell.
As our leaders grapple with the concept of balancing the health of individual citizens against the economic health of their countries, deciding who will be able to feed their families and who won’t, it is our responsibility as services businesses, to use this opportunity to serve, and to thrive during a dramatic downturn like this.
I have often been accused of being an optimist. Sometimes that optimism title was paired with the less-kind term “naïve”, but I accept it whatever the name. In my opinion, there are endless opportunities out there right now and there will be many businesses that don’t just survive what is coming. They will thrive. There is lots of evidence to support this theory – it isn’t mine alone.
I want to share some of my optimism with you with my Top 10 list of things you might consider doing in your business to set it up for success, both now, and when we enter the next phase of the new normal, whatever that might look like.
People’s needs have changed dramatically in the last couple of months, or the last couple of weeks, depending on where you live. Or perhaps their needs are the same, but their ability to access those needs is completely different. Services businesses are particularly vulnerable because of the high person-to-person contact often required to conduct such business. Pivoting will require a huge dose of positivity and optimism. Give yourself permission to approach this next phase with an open mind and get creative on how to deliver your services to your clients. This might include taking business you normally wouldn’t and delivering it a way that is reflective of the new normal. For example, don’t cancel your events, take them online. Conduct your meetings on Zoom. Change the problem you are solving. Be relevant.
2. Be Helpful
So many people are struggling. This is an opportunity to be helpful to someone. Don’t know where to start? Call up your clients, or send a quick email or survey to ask people what they are struggling with right now. This will provide you with significant insight into what is going on for them and will spark ideas.
Lean into your clients and be there for them. Things are difficult for a lot of people. You don’t have to have all the answers. Just listen and be there. If you can’t help them, try and find them someone who can.
The caveat here is that you still need to do this while making some profit. You are not a charity either and you need to make money for the health of your company. But perhaps you can do a little more for the same price as before, or use your expertise to provide that assistance.
3. Be Open-Minded
Too many people think they aren’t creative and leave it at that. Creativity is a skill, not a talent. And it needs to be cultivated. It starts with setting an intention for approaching all challenges with an open mind. If you look at your business through the same lens you always did, you will miss the opportunities that are before you. The universe is infinitely abundant. Listen and be open to what you hear.
4. Conduct a Thorough Business Review
If this sounds painful to you, it is likely an indication that you need to spend some serious time here. The task is to figure out how to operate on a shoestring and still provide great services to your clients.
Review all of your numbers: time tracked by your employees, your expenses, profitability per client or job, or project, or whatever is appropriate for your business, and most importantly, your processes. Even the tightest run ship will be leaving money on the table somewhere because of inefficiencies in your systems. Engage your team to identify bottlenecks, duplications and unnecessary tasks. Document these process improvements and roll them out across your business.
And now that we are all experiencing what it is like to work remotely, consider whether it is time to ditch your office space and all of the expenses that go with that and go permanently remote. Despite the challenges right now of trying to home school and no options for childcare, lots of people I am talking to are enjoying the increased connections with their families. When I am out on my daily runs, I see more families out walking and cycling together during times that they would have normally been sitting bumper-to-bumper trying to get to work or back home.
5. Increase your Communications – Internally and Externally
Often the first reaction, when things start going a bit rough, is to retract: cut marketing budgets, avoid difficult conversations with team members and clients, go into a hibernation of some kind or another. Conversations about real things are difficult. And that is okay. There is only one result from a strategy of denial and escapism and that is a shuttered business.
In the past month, digital content consumption are spiking across industry sectors and geographies. You will have heard before that ‘content is king’. That has never been truer than now. People are consuming content like never before and therefore it is an ideal opportunity to position yourself as an expert in your field, show empathy for the pain of loss and uncertainty that people are feeling and to extend a life raft to someone. The purpose here is to remain relevant and top of mind when someone does need the type of service that you offer. Video, podcasts, webinars, case studies, advice or strategy sessions, social media engagement – everyone on the planet is communicating in the digital space and you should be too.
Increase your communications, don’t retract. And get some good advice on how to maximise your ad spend. Depending on your industry and the service you offer, it might be a great time to take advantage of the lower bid rates we are seeing, or it could be more beneficial to get more creative with how you get your message out.
80% of consumers agree that “brands need to form an emotional connection with consumers to succeed.” Being open and empathic during the pandemic will allow your brand to build this emotional connection.
6. Check-in With Your Team
Many teams are making that transition from fully office-based to 100% remote and it is an adjustment for some people. Without those watercooler chats, some people start to feel lonely and disconnected. The stress of uncertainty and being cooped up can cause severe depression in some people, so you need to make sure that you are checking in, leaning in and listening with empathy. That does not mean that you still don’t need to hold people accountable for their work and responsibilities, but perhaps there is something easy you can do for a team member who is struggling. I heard a story of a business owner who discovered that one member of his team was experiencing high levels of anxiety about not being able to get out to buy food because he is on a strict diet. The owner found a way to get delivery for his employee of the exact things he needed and the elimination of that one stressor made the team member feel better and upped his productivity immensely. People don’t forget this level of kindness and it creates loyalty, on both sides.
At a minimum, you should be holding one-on-ones with each of your direct reports every week. And that is not a coronavirus tactic – that is a hygiene that you should be practising all the time. You may also want to make sure you have other contact measures in place, such as a team chat on Slack or Teams or Whatsapp to make sure people feel connected and supported.
As an entrepreneur you must be a good leader. Good leadership requires emotional intelligence. And if team members need emotional intelligence from their leader on any given day, this put into sharp relief by the situation happening right now.
Remember, as an entrepreneur or C-suite exec, you are here for your team, they are not here for you.
7. Talk to People
In our digital age, there is absolutely no excuse for not talking to people. We don’t need to meet up for a coffee or a drink or run into someone in the grocery store to talk to people. Even the introverts among us (me included!) need to remember that this is about others, not about us always being in our comfort zones. Consider it research, or a learning experience, and reach out and talk to your peers, your clients, your service providers and clients. What are their biggest challenges? What are their perspective on things? There will be gems in those conversations that you can use when considering which way to pivot and to figuring out what problems to solve.
8. Create a New Offer
This is true no matter what the situation, but people are always looking for services that save them time, either make them or save them money and offer skills they don’t have or a way of building them. After all of those conversations with your team, prospects, clients, suppliers and peers, analyse what you have heard and come up with a new offer. Then push it out through digital media.
9. Be Vulnerable
Be the optimist in the crowd: that is a good thing. Sometimes people just need to be introduced to a positive vision of what our new normal could look like. But at the same time, recognise and accept that you will be experiencing some level of crazy too, and as a leader, be okay to share those experiences. I am a big fan of Brene Brown and am reading her book Dare To Lead. I highly recommend it for those of you who want to be a brave leader by being your true, unarmoured, authentic self.10. Envisage the Business You Want
Napolean Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich right after the Great Depression because he wanted to share the idea that you can manifest the reality you want in this life. Give it a try. Don’t dwell on all of the negative things that are happening. Use your imagination to create something useful, something beautiful, something successful. New opportunities are abundant in these times and have been since the start of it.
As Winston Churchill said: “never let a good crisis go to waste”. Carpe Diem.
If there is any way that I or any member of our team can be helpful to you right now, please reach out and we will happily get on a call and help you find those golden opportunities.