There are times when you do everything right – and STILL, everything goes wrong through no fault of yours. The pandemic hit in early 2020 and business owners were helpless as they watch the business that they have worked so hard to build, just disintegrate in front of their eyes. I can still remember that day in March 2020 – the orders just stopped and the only calls I got was to cancel orders that had already been placed.
Life is just not fair. And neither is business. Doing business definitely has its challenges and stress! We are just surfacing from one of those times now – except this time, you’re not alone. Every business has either directly or indirectly been affected. In fact, some businesses absolutely flourished. However, this pandemic decimated many small businesses – and some will never recover. Has your small business survived and thrived or did you just “mark time” and you’re still waiting for the recovery?
Is there REALLY nothing we can do? Should we just wait for the government?
I, for one, do not believe in just sitting back and watching the world go by. Obsessing about it, worrying about it and panicking is a choice. I believe that as business owners, we can be leaders and be proactive. We need to grab the bull by the horns and do something about it!
Besides, the wheels of government move slowly and as Chaucer said, “Time and tide wait for no man.” If government provides something (anything) later, great. But I’m not about to wait and see. What happens if nothing is done by government? We, as business leaders, have the capacity to act quickly and we should act. I believe that in the long term, the stage is set for unprecedented growth. Technology is creating opportunities everywhere for small business. However, for us to take advantage of that growth, we first have to survive AND thrive.
Let’s get practical.
DEALING WITH FEAR & UNCERTAINTY
The most important we have to deal with is our own mind.
There is no doubt that the panic buying when the pandemic first started was caused by fear and uncertainty. We need to understand where that fear comes from. In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill talks of the 6 most dangerous enemies that rule our lives. He called them the 6 Ghosts of Fear – Fear of Poverty, Fear of Death, Fear of Ill-Health, Fear of Loss of Love, Fear of Old Age and Fear of Criticism.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit at least 3 of them – Fear of poverty if you lose your business or your job and fear of death and ill-health especially for those considered in the high-risk age group. That is why it has caused such pandemonium.
However, we do need to get perspective on this. The birth of Instagram, WhatsApp, AirBNB, Dropbox happened AFTER the 2008 financial crisis. We have lost loved ones before. We have made bad business decisions and lost money on a business deal before. Some have even gone bankrupt. I believe I would be right to say that you survived. You got through it. You will go through this too. Which of these fears is causing YOU the greatest concern? Napoleon Hill said, “An enemy discovered is an enemy half whipped.”
That is easier said than done. How do you get perspective in this time of chaos and uncertainty? The word “unprecedented” seemed to preface almost every news when the pandemic started. Businesses were forced into lock-downs and everyone was told to stay home. Today, what was considered “unprecedented” two years ago has become the norm and nobody bat an eyelid when you are told that you cannot enter some countries without proof of vaccination. The answer is and will always remain the same. Know your WHY. Why do you do what you do? Focus on who you are and what you really really want.
Amongst all the chaos, we can choose to remain steady or we can choose to follow the crowd and panic. You need to take control of your own emotional centre. It is so easy to do what everyone is doing. We must be responsible for what we do. It really doesn’t matter what your neighbour is doing. What are YOU doing? Yes, we do need to react and do that which we must do to stay safe in this Covid-19 pandemic. However, we do need to stay focused on our own plans. We might need to move our projects around a bit to accommodate what is happening in the world around us. However, we do not need to over-react and join the panic buying, which has mostly stopped now.
The only crazy thing about the whole situation is that some of us are now unable to buy what we normally buy. For example, as a caterer, I would buy items such as napkins, gloves and kitchen towels in bulk. I could not do that during the height of the pandemic. I would have been accused of hoarding and panic buying. It actually made business so much harder for my catering business.
DON’T WHINE, DON’T COMPLAIN, DON’T MAKE EXCUSES BUT BE PREPARED
I’ve heard both sides – there’s the one side that says “I’m so over this. Don’t talk to me about it” and they bury their head in the sand and look to others to help them out when they realise that they weren’t prepared. There’s also the other where they consume the news on this 24/7 but they actually don’t DO anything about it. The Scout motto “Be prepared” is a good motto to adopt in these times. In the bible, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 tell us to “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour”. As always, there is a balance. Complaining and whining will do nothing to improve the situation. It won’t make things better. Making excuses is just a way of avoiding what is happening around you. But that doesn’t mean that you can ignore what is happening around you.
What you should do is use this time as an opportunity for learning and to work on your business. At the height of the pandemic, I would tune into the news twice a day to get the updates – once in the morning to catch up with what’s been happening around the world whilst I sleep and again at mid-day (For the catering business, it was important to find out if my catering orders for the day had been cancelled due to yet another government mandated lock-down!) I’m sure that if something drastic happens in between those times that I need to know about, someone would tell me about it. How much time did you spend with your eyes glued to social media and the news instead of using all that “spare” time you now have?
WORK ON YOUR BUSINESS
Have you had a good hard look at your business during this time? What are the 5 things that you can do that you know will drive your business and grow your business? What are the primary drivers for your business? Double down on that and amplify it. Think about the 5 things that has worked for your business and keep doing it.
Of course, it’s possible that some things you want to work on immediately cannot be done and you may have to temporarily suspend some actions. Even if you do, make sure you are ready to RUN when this pandemic end. Don’t wait till it ends before you start working on it. Stop playing defense position right now. Now is the time to ramp up your brand marketing. If there’s no marketing dollars available, there’s still plenty of free organic marketing that can be done to build brand awareness. Just BE READY for when the good times come … it will!
MAKE THE HARD DECISIONS
Sticking your head in the sand will not do anything for you. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. Think of it like a game of cards. You get dealt a certain hand – it may be great, it may be terrible. It is how you play your hand that matters. I’ve seen brilliant card players with the worst hand win a game.
If you have to bunker down and cut costs, then do that now. Don’t wait. When SARS happened, travel agents saw a 90% drop in business overnight. The travel agents who took action and immediately retrenched their casual (and some permanent) staff are still here today. The travel agents who stuck their heads in the sand and kept putting off the hard decisions didn’t survive. They went bankrupt.
Being in a pandemic, does not mean we need sit and wait for everything to end before we start driving our business again. You can predict the future of your business based on how you’re going to show up today. Today does matter. The Covid-19 pandemic will not last forever. It will end – as did SARS and MERS. A cure will be found. And it will no longer cause the fear to take over. Life will return to normal (whatever normal is) and you want to make sure that you are ready to ramp up your business and enjoy the boom times. For every recession, there is a boom. That is just the normal cycle of things in business.
You may have already discovered – your income will drop much faster than your expenses. My catering business income disappeared overnight – the turnover in March 2020 was a big fat ZERO! So, I do know what some of you are going through. However, I still have to pay for the rent of the commercial kitchen. That is not going to disappear overnight. Therefore, if you’re going to survive and thrive, you do need to make the tough decisions. Identify your cash-leakage hotspots. Look out for items that have recently increased in cost or expenses that costs a lot more than all the others. Look also for those expenses that seem to fluctuate wildly from one month to the next.
Are those expenses critical to the efficient running of your business? If they’re not critical, consider getting rid of it. What do I mean by critical? For example, if you’re a chef, then having a commercial kitchen is essential. You couldn’t run your business without it. Having a nice office is not essential. Pick your priorities. I do realise it is not as easy as it sounds to cull expenses. When you take a good hard look, it can be difficult to decide which expenses are important to your business. I tend to look at each and slot them into the appropriate section on the chart below.
For example, a fancy coffee machine that uses expensive coffee pods in an office can be stopped easily (I’m sure your employees would understand!) – that’s a small gain and easy to do. Are you paying for a subscription that you’re not using? That’s another small gain that’s easy to do. Another example could be to make one of your staff redundant – that would be a big gain and difficult to do (nobody likes having to tell an employee their services are no longer required).
Obviously, your first priority would be anything that falls into the big gain and easy to do, followed by the small gain and easy to do. Work your way through the list and prioritise. You need to do this yourself. You cannot always rely on your accountant to raise questions about the way your money is being spent. Unless it’s a real big ticket item, the chances of your accountant spotting it is not great.
SWEAT YOUR ASSETS?
There’s an interesting term I heard recently – SWEAT YOUR ASSETS. What this means is use what you have. What do you know that would help others? Double down in sharing that. Now is the time to focus heavily on building your brand and becoming that person of influence. Build your credibility and build that trust. Remember, people buy from those whom they know, like and trust. Things will definitely get worse before it gets better. So be intentional about how you spend your time during this period.
Secondly, if you do have employees, you need to figure out how you can free up your productive staff to work on generating income. Delegate tasks down the line as much as possible. For example, when I operated the accounting practice, we templated much of the repetitious work such as checking of income tax assessments so it could be done by our administration staff, rather than the accountants.
For many, today is still all doom and gloom. Many restaurants have closed. Many are struggling to pay rent. Many people are still scared (as evidenced by the masks still in use). Office workers who have been asked to work from home do not want to return to the office – which means that businesses that used to rely on the office workers for business continue to struggle. During the height of the pandemic, whole countries, towns and cities placed into lock-down and airlines stopped flying. Yet, even during this pandemic, there are opportunities. I don’t mean that you should be looking for opportunities to profit from Covid-19 (as some unscrupulous people have done), but rather for opportunities to profit DURING the Covid-19 pandemic.
Where are the opportunities going to come from? My question is … Can you identify and meet that need? Will you cling to the way you did business before the Covid-19 pandemic or will you use this time to transform your business into an even stronger and more profitable business? There is no doubt in my mind that your business tomorrow will look very different to your business today. For example, I hear that in China, people are learning the joy of home cooking again!
BE A ROLE MODEL
Whatever you do, decide to be a role model – to your children, your colleagues and your customers. Before you react, or before you lose your temper when someone grabs that last roll of toilet paper that you thought should be yours, consider who is watching you. What do you want to project? Do you want to be someone that your children and your colleagues look up to – someone who has stayed centered and is a tower of strength during this troubled time? Or someone who crumbles and panic at the first sign of trouble? It’s not about do as I say, but do as I do.
James Lane Allen said, “Circumstances do not determine a man, they reveal him.” That is so true.
At times like this, and as we head out of this pandemic, do not let your fear of criticism dictate what you do – as long as you know that you’re being integrous. Be prepared. If you’re not prepared, you cannot help others because you would be joining the crowds that’s scrambling to do what they should have done before. Look out for those who cannot look out for themselves.
Let me quote from the Black Panther: “in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”
This is your time to show leadership.