Every entrepreneur knows that starting a small business is never easy. There are a few challenges that are to be expected — from building the perfect team to discovering exactly who your customer is, to creating a social media presence, just to name a few.
One thing we never expected? Dealing with the economic blowout from a global pandemic.
No matter what type of small business you have, everyone has experienced consequences from the coronavirus outbreak. That’s precisely why small businesses must be able to pivot in order to survive a crisis.
“It is important to always listen to customer needs and to respond, but at a time when customer needs and demand is changing, it is critical for small businesses to pay attention to what customers are saying, how they are responding and what their needs are,” says Deborah S. Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. “For small businesses to continue to remain relevant, they have to listen and respond. It is an opportunity to learn and grow as a business owner and to leverage entrepreneurial skills when they are most needed.”
So, how can you be nimble these days?
While every type of business has to act according to their market, there are a few universal rules that apply. Here are 11 ways small businesses can adapt to pull through the coronavirus crisis — and practically any crisis.
11 Ways Your Small Biz Can Pivot to Survive a Crisis
1. Adjust your offerings based on new customer demands and needs.
It might seem obvious that entrepreneurs will need to switch up their business model to stay afloat during this crisis. The tricky part is figuring out how to change.
“These shifts should be made in changing customer choices and industry trends and not simply in response to changes in economics,” says Bob Minhas, Founder and Lead Trainer for eSchool for Entrepreneurs. “Of course, shifting in economics will always lead to shifting customer choices, so they are generally aligned. However, a shift in economics is reactive, whereas a shift from purposeful research is proactive.”
To figure out how to begin, Minhas suggests starting with market research. First, study what the economic experts are saying and learn what has changed in the national, regional, and local economies. Think about your industry and what the experts in your field are saying about its shift. Finally, talk to your existing and potential ideal customer base to determine what they need and if your skillset can support that.
“Compiling all the information here will allow you to put something together and then just offer, offer, offer,” Minhas says. “Get people in to test your offer so you can continue to refine until it’s working and bringing in the revenue you need. Keep in mind that in this specific economic situation, it’s not a good idea to make a hard pivot you cannot come back from. You only want to pivot enough so that you are still within the realm of your expertise as that credibility of what you do is needed for customers to still trust you.”
Plus, once the economy bounces back, you’ll want to be able to return to your initial business, or at least a modified version. Potentially, this pivot can also stay as a new revenue source.
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2. Always be prepared to work remotely.
As a small business owner, you’ve most likely learned that planning ahead is key to success.
“I always advise companies to plan for certain risks and make contingency plans, one of which is typically being forced to work from home,” says Jaryd P. Kase, Principal at Kase Consulting, LLC. “Of course, you don’t always have the benefit of being able to plan in advance. I would take advantage of cloud-based storage options such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive, etc. so that employees can access files from home computers. Take security precautions into consideration and don’t allow sensitive material to flow freely, but you should allow people enough access that they can do their jobs.”
If your team is struggling with how to stay focused while working from home, these 16 strategies can help.
Video conferencing enables people to work on team projects and keep the office on the same page. There are plenty of options from companies like Microsoft, Google, and Zoom, among others. “Some are free, some cost a little money,” Kase says. “Compare the features and pick what is best for you.”
3. Keep up daily team meetings.
With everything in flux, it’s even more important to keep your employees up to speed. “Normally, team members can sync outside of their regular meetings with a quick desk visit or a water cooler visit,” says Chris Sica, Chief Revenue Officer of The Ronin Society. “Because these no longer exist in a work-from-home situation, you need to supplement them with increased meetings to make sure people get unstuck or remove blockers in their projects.”
Plus, meetings can actually be a morale booster when the going gets tough. If your team is feeling isolated while working from home, you can even create watercooler moments while working remotely. Plus, chatting on Facebook Live, for example, can be a much-need way of staying social while social distancing.
“Virtual team meetings let people see that they are still part of a team and not just stuck in solitude,” Kase says. “I usually allow a bit more leniency for going off-topic and joking around just because people have that need for human interaction that they are not getting from working in the office. When it comes to discussing work, though, this is where everyone can give updates on where they are on their tasks, ask for help, and congratulate a team member on a job well done.”
4. Boost your communication with customers.
“Communication is an important factor during this time to help maintain your customers’ feeling of confidence,” Minhas says. “However, I find that a number of businesses focus on outbound communication, meaning they’re talking more than they are listening. Communication with customers needs to be a balancing act. Listen to what the most common questions coming in are and create outbound communication related to that.”
Keep communication lines open during this time. For example, create a space such as a FAQ page and quickly respond to any outreach from clients. “Be sure to invest in a ticket system to track communication effectively among your team,” Minhas advises.
5. Stick to a daily schedule.
With the world feeling upside down right now, it’s hard to remember what day it is. But that’s even more reason you should create a schedule — and be strict about following it.
“It’s difficult to stay on track with so much going on (and not going on),” Sweeney says. “Hence, it’s critically important to plan and strategize and have an organized structure for your day. Have a schedule — wake up, exercise, eat healthfully, stay organized, get work done, communicate with team members and customers, and save time for strategy and organization of yourself for the upcoming day.”
6. Work on what can be done in the present.
One of the many challenges of the coronavirus crisis is not knowing when things will return to normal. Since we can’t predict the future — even when we’re not in a global pandemic — focus on the now.
“Small business owners need to prioritize the survival of their company,” Kase says. “That means making sure that proper financing, communication, staff retention, customer outreach, etc., are occurring. Beyond that, business leaders cannot forget about their longer-term goals. Goals for 2020 might be shot at this point; you likely will not hit your revenue numbers. Your 5- to 10-year goals, however, should be able to absorb a bump in the road, and you need to make adjustments to your strategy and tactics to ensure that you are still on course for reaching those goals.”
7. Improve your skill set.
Just like people are using their newfound time to learn a language or start meditating, that self-improvement can trickle over to your business too. There are many areas where small businesses could use a boost.
“It’s time to learn how to write great articles and emails,” Sica says. “It’s important to learn how to get good pictures and videos of yourself, your team, and your product or service. It’s time to learn digital marketing, how to use social media, and how to build an audience organically. It’s time to learn how to vet digital marketing agencies. It’s time to learn how to manage your finances more seriously so you can be more competitive with your pricing and sales offerings.”
8. Continue to network.
It might seem counterintuitive to prioritize networking while social distancing, but it’s a great way to keep your business going strong.
“Right now everyone is in a similar situation: The economy is struggling, unemployment is high, customers have been told not to leave their houses and businesses have been told to close,” Kase says. “Networking in a time like this can be both therapeutic and educational. It’s therapeutic in the sense that you can commiserate with other small business owners who are dealing with similar problems and educational in the sense that you may be able to learn what has worked well for someone else and try it for your own business. Meeting for coffee may now be talking on LinkedIn or Zoom, but the concept is still the same. There are plenty of places online where small business owners congregate, and a large portion of them would love to network.”
9. Get feedback.
It’s always important to know what your colleagues and clients think, but now you might have more time to implement changes based on their suggestions.
“Feedback right now is the best market research tool,” Minhas says. “Consumers are going through a shift in their buying behavior, so to understand the gap of what they need and what we are delivering is an important way to maintain relevance to them and, in turn, having them continue to spend money with us.”
It’s not just your clients that you should be touching base with — hearing from your staff is equally important. “Feedback from team members ensures you’re able to maintain productivity as a team and that team members are invested in the success of what your company is trying to achieve,” Minhas says. “They buy into your common goal and mission when they feel heard.”
Finally, you can also reach out to leaders and mentors within your field for suggestions on how to improve your own personal skill sets.
10. Stay positive.
Looking on the bright side is especially challenging during tough times, so remind yourself that there is always a silver lining. “Silver-lining observations are often a hallmark of entrepreneurs,” Sweeney says. “Learning to take the opportunities from challenges is a critical aspect to adapting to change and growth. Business owners need to find order out of chaos … and be the voice of reason, observation, and opportunity when others cannot or do not see it.”
To help your staff feel more optimistic too, empower them during this difficult time. For example, encourage team members to develop their skills during their downtime.
“If you have an employee who is looking to grow in the company, this might be a great time to suggest reading up or training on some specific skills,” Kase suggests. “They can come back to the office when the economy is back open and use those skills in their work, showing you not only their dedication but also that they might be ready for that promotion.”
Another critical way to empower employees is by listening to them. “Your employees might have some great ideas on how to weather this storm, so don’t feel like you as the owner need to have all of the answers,” Kase suggests. “Set up a virtual brainstorming meeting. Even if nothing comes of it, just being invited to sit at the table is an empowering gesture.”
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11. Ask for help.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the economic landscape and created a financial crisis, so there are new government resources available to small business owners. Consider taking advantage of them to stay afloat.
“Additionally, there are a few other programs that are potential options,” Sica says. “The Main Street Lending Program is a four-year loan with interest and principal payments deferred for one year. There are a number of large corporations offering special grants, and federal taxes have been delayed until July 15th for both personal and business. Each individual city seems to have a list of solutions applicable to their citizen businesses; search ‘[your city + COVID resources + small business].’”
Ready for a Successful Pivot?
No doubt about it — this is an uncertain time for small businesses. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from hosting websites for the last two decades, it’s that entrepreneurs are a scrappy (and smart!) bunch.
You’ve got this, and we’re here to help.