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“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” —Charles Darwin.
In a matter of weeks, everything changed. Uncertainty is the only thing that is certain. Most businesses have been greatly disrupted and negatively impacted. Companies, CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, employees and business owners are facing a time of great uncertainty and what lies ahead is unclear.
Entrepreneurs know that some of the best businesses come out of the worst times — because sometimes in our darkest moments, new ideas and innovations provide beacons of light. All we need is the glow of a great idea. What new companies, products, movements will be born out of our new reality? As an entrepreneur and CEO who has weathered the dot-com bubble burst, September 11th, and the market crash in 2008, I know firsthand the potential devastation facing businesses today. The economic impact of what we are now experiencing is unprecedented but there are still opportunities to come out stronger than ever before.
I’ve personally had to pivot many times, and while it can be scary, it can also be a time of growth. Now is the time to experiment, create and innovate. Of course, that’s easier said than done. It’s tough to pivot your business during times of immense change. Before pivoting, I recommend first to stabilize your business to the best of your ability. It is important to tighten your belt, evaluate your costs and ensure you take the necessary actions to weather the crisis.
There are likely changes you wanted to make in your business but haven’t and now is a time to act. Evaluate your talent, review your contracts, decide what is truly necessary to run your business. Make sure you spend your cash wisely. Look closely at your financials to see how you reduce your losses. It’s time to streamline so you can move forward without the weight of unnecessary cost burden.
A business that was weak during a good economy is greatly exposed in a bad economy. If your business is not working now, and was not working well 6 months ago, it may be time to re-examine its long term viability. Winston Churchill once said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Use this crisis to get out of businesses that aren’t working and haven’t been for some time. Invest your time and energy on what is working vs what is not working. Now is the time to be brutally honest with yourself!
It is also a good time to take advantage of the financial resources available. Many of the companies in my portfolio have applied for the federal government’s paycheck protection program. If you haven’t already, it is important to educate yourself on the many forms of aid, resources, and support made available.
Once you have stabilized your business it’s time to focus on the future. Here are 5 ways to pivot your business to not only survive, but also to thrive:
1. Embrace the digital way
If you’re primarily run out of a brick-and-mortar store, it’s time to find the digital version of whatever work you were doing. Can you deliver your product or service electronically? Restaurants have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, and many have transitioned to online delivery and curbside to-go orders. Panera Bread has taken things a step further, by making it possible for customers to order groceries online along with their usual sandwiches and salads.
If you own a boutique, now is a great time to launch an ecommerce store with a 90-day Shopify trial. If you’re a fitness instructor, you can hold your regular workout classes virtually with Zoom. If you are an interior design company, pivot to virtual consultations, you can also create content with links to buy products. Real Estate agents have embraced a virtual presence, from doing 3D tours, Facebook Live and virtual walkthroughs, to even featuring homes on TikTok. My local liquor store is offering home delivery and doing cocktail making courses and wine tasting sessions via Zoom. With everyone stuck at home, the demand for online content is higher than ever.
Ask yourself: what you can provide online?
2. Leverage your existing assets and resources
Leverage your current assets and resources and align them with your customers’ current needs. What could you change in order to fulfill those needs?
Businesses of all sizes are already making successful pivots in order to fill different customer needs and continue to operate. Cosmetics manufacturers such as LVMH, which owns luxury perfume and makeup brands, have switched to making hand sanitizer, leveraging their expertise and production capabilities. Large clothing manufacturers such as Gap, Nike, Zara, and Brooks Brothers, are using their factories to make masks, gowns and scrubs.
Amid the steep ride-sharing demand decline, Uber launched an On-Demand Work Platform, going from ride sharing to labor sharing. Through Uber’s Work Hub, Uber drivers can connect with other Uber platforms, including Uber Eats, Uber Freight and Uber Works, or a growing number of companies using Uber’s system including McDonald’s, PepsiCo, UPS, FedEx, and Walgreens. This pivot allows Uber to leverage its largest assets, technology and vetted workforce and supports drivers in finding access to alternative work.
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Ask yourself: What do people need most right now? How can your company fill that need with your existing resources? If your business is unable to operate, is there a way to pivot to digital or a business that is deemed essential?
3. Deepen loyalty with existing customers
We’re all in this together. Be real, authentic and transparent about your efforts to serve your customers as best as you can – and let them know how they can support you in return. Loyal customers are champions for your company and brand ambassadors. Continue to maintain a strong relationship with your clients whether directly, individually, in newsletters, and or/via social media. Show them you care. Trust matters (more than ever)!
With people spending more and more time online, it’s a great time to share relevant and engaging content related to your business. One local interior designer has been sharing photo montages – including a handwashing themed series with a collection of beautiful bathroom images. A local salon is sharing a series of photos of stylists each holding up a sign featuring a different word, collectively telling customers that “we miss them, and we’ll see them soon.”
Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park that is a favorite for hosting kids’ birthday parties, has 160 locations that are temporarily closed now. To help give back to families who still want to celebrate while staying at home, Sky Zone is offering free virtual birthday parties for kids for up to 10 guests, supporting parents and keeping employees working. Sky Zone is making a meaningful and memorable impact on children, parents and the community, deepening their customer relationships.
Figure out the best way to engage with your current customers and do so in creative ways.
Ask yourself: How can I best engage and communicate with my customers now? What can I do to encourage my current customers to support my business? What are other companies doing to engage customers that I could also be doing or could help my business?
4. Explore the benefits of collaboration
There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The objective of collaboration can be new ideas, exploring synergies, and creating new business partnerships, where 1+1 = 5. Partnerships can help give you access to new customers, new products or new markets. What partners can you work with that also have resources you can leverage? Is there a partner you think could help sell your product or service to their customer base? What could you offer them in exchange? Is there an opportunity to bundle your products together? True partnerships and successful collaborations are win-win.
It’s also important to collaborate with other businesses for support and ideas. Being a local or small business can feel especially isolating, but there is power in numbers and more ideas. Make an effort to connect, whether it’s a neighboring business, a local chamber of commerce, industry trade group, or even a Facebook or LinkedIn group.
Collaboration doesn’t have to be on a grand scale to be effective. For example, once their storefronts closed due to COVID-19, local ice cream parlor NORMAL Ice Cream partnered with Diabolical Records to offer a home-delivered package deal of 3 pints of ice cream and $30 worth of vintage records for $50. They announced the partnership on their social media pages and sold out within hours!
Many companies have forged innovative partnerships during this time.
Ask yourself: Who could I collaborate with? What businesses do I have synergies with or common customer profiles? What current partnerships would be mutually beneficial to my business?
5. Try and fail (and try again!)
There has never been a better time to try (and fail!). Now is the time to experiment. Quickly launch new ideas with minimal investment. Focus on results. Learn and improve with each iteration. Not everything you try out will work. And that’s okay. Expect to fail. Move on. It may take multiple attempts to figure out what works for you. Be brave. Have courage. Persistence pays off in the end.
There are many famous pivots. YouTube was once a video dating site. Twitter was once a podcasting network named Odeo. Play-doh was once a wall cleaner that pivoted to a beloved children’s toy.
Even the most successful and famous companies have had numerous failures – some of which you may not even remember – Google’s social media Orkut, Coca Cola launching Coke Max, and Amazon’s Fire phone. Inventor Sir James Dyson created 5,126 vacuum designs until he finally invented a bagless vacuum that worked.
Ask yourself: If I do a small test of a new idea and it fails, what is the worst that can happen and what knowledge can I gain from trying? How can exploring a new partnership or collaboration benefit me?
Embrace the pivot
If your business has been greatly impacted by the current crisis, you’re not alone. It’s important to remember that great companies can be built in hard times. I started my first company after the dot-com bubble burst which eventually grew to over $100M in annual revenue. Many of the successful companies you see today — WhatsApp, Uber, Credit Karma, Pinterest, Slack, Venmo, and Square were all founded during the 2008 Recession. Embrace the pivot! Don’t focus on what you can’t control…think about what you CAN.