How Will Your Business Respond to the Coronavirus?

by Michelle Hunter

The approach you take is vital to your future.

Coronovirus response

I’ve always been a bit of a people watcher, observing the behavior of those around me and listening in to snippets of conversation. As a writer, I’m interested in the way people speak, the words they choose, and how those word choices reflect their thoughts and feelings about a subject or an issue. 

I’m also fascinated by what people actually don’t say… the corners they skip, the things they hide, and the ways they pretend to have it all together, but actually don’t. This is the “raw material” that fuels my writing, my observations about human behavior, and my approach to marketing. 

Lately, I’ve found myself noticing how the people around me respond to the changing emotional and intellectual challenges of the pandemic. I’m particularly interested in business owners, leaders, and solo-preneurs… and I’ve noticed some trends that I want to share. 

Roughly one third of the leaders (let’s just use that catch-all for the people I’ve mentioned above) I’ve observed are demoralized and frozen by this crisis. They are stuck in the latest news and are very concerned about the future for the economy in general, their businesses in particular, and our society as a whole. 

Roughly one third of leaders are simply reacting to the situation and doing their best, given their understanding of the situation in the moment. These leaders are doing their best to respond intelligently and thoughtfully, while reacting to the news and actions of their customers, team members, and other forces. 

Roughly one third of the leaders I see are looking for ways to pivot their businesses and shift their products and services to make them relevant in this time. They are working late hours, brainstorming with their stakeholders, and experimenting with ways to provide value in this moment and offer solutions when the problems continue to change all the time. 

So, a little disclaimer → This is not a scientific observation, a formal poll, or a study. These are just my observations drawn from the relatively small pool of people I engage with regularly and the content I consume on a daily basis. I don’t want to present my observations as fact or as more important or conclusive than they are… However, I believe we can use them to identify some helpful trends. 

In these trends, I see three basic mindset positions that create a basis for our response to this crisis. I want to talk through them here and share my thoughts on the risks and benefits associated with each. My purpose is to help us all get much more intentional with our response to this situation… so we can actively lead our business into the future. 

“Things are changing so fast! I better just wait and see…”

When things are changing quickly, this response feels pretty safe. The last few weeks feel like six months to me, and I often find myself wanting to just wait for the ride to stop before I try to take action. (Amusement park analogy there, just to try and add some levity. None of us are enjoying this ride, I get it.) It seems impossible to craft a vision for the future when I can’t adequately predict what the situation will be tomorrow when I wake up. 

Honestly, it’s natural to want to just hunker down and wait it out. It feels safe, but I’m not sure it is actually a secure position for your business. 

Our agency lives inside of action. When we wait for events to unfold, we limit our ability to affect the impact of those events on the things that matter most to us. We lose our opportunity to improve our position before the crisis seriously impacts us and we are stuck simply responding defensively to whatever comes our way. 

I’ve said it before, but you might need to hear it again… There will be a recovery period for the economy and for businesses. The wait and see approach might significantly limit our ability to recover quickly when we get out on the other side of this crisis. 

Fear is a normal response to this type of threat. We are afraid for our health and the people we love. We see risks everywhere – to our finances, our businesses, our way of life. We can all feel a little paralyzed and unsteady right now. But do we really want to wait it out? I’m not so sure. 

“Sales are down significantly, but I think we can make it.”

With full vulnerability, I want to admit right now that this was my attitude and mindset last week. I was in full “crisis management mode” – personally and professionally. 

As a business owner, I sought wise counsel and started crunching numbers to see where I stood financially. Based on what I saw in terms of declining revenue, I cut some expenditures and adjusted hours for my team. I made a few decisions… and I determined that we could tough it out and survive. This helped me relax a bit. 

I turned my attention to encouraging my strategic partners, reaching out to current customers to provide value, and gave my team what they needed to stay safe and care for their families during this time. In other words, I decided to proactively set us up to ride out the crisis based on the information I had at the time. 

There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but I’m no longer convinced it’s the best I can do as a leader. I want to be more innovative and visionary than this. 

Once my emotions settled down and I had a disaster plan for the immediate future, I realized that there is more I can do for my team, my business, and my community. Toughing it out to the end seemed (upon reflection) to be a weak response. Just hear me out, okay? 

As leaders, we are natural risk takers and innovators. We are the energy that drives progress in our world… economically, culturally, and socially. Our ideas become new products that solve real problems. Our thought leadership changes the way society treats some of the weakest around us or the way children learn or the way people communicate and engage. 

Our services empower others to succeed. Our labors add to the quality of life of those around us. We add value when we bring our products and services to market… and the world is a better place as a result. 

I want my business to be part of the solution as we go into recovery. But between now and then, I want my business to make a difference in this moment. That vision pushes me to do more than tough things out in crisis mode. That vision drives me to get creative with how my business responds. 

“In order to meet my goals, this business needs to pivot.”

There are those around us who are actively working to pivot their businesses and engage with the world in a meaningful way in this moment. Leaders who are shifting their products to better align with the needs they see in the market. Business owners who are adjusting their services to fit inside the requirements of our society right now.

I see people working hard to stay relevant to their customers and shift their businesses to meet the strange new demands of this time. This is the space I want to embrace as a leader. 

Need some examples? Here you go… 

  • Restaurants are becoming pop up groceries to serve their communities.
  • Roofing companies are making quick repairs to help people get through. 
  • Psychologists are supporting clients virtually instead of with a traditional visit. 
  • Business advisers are giving virtual advice on current topics and issues. 
  • Fitness providers are taking classes online and creating virtual events. 

The businesses that pivot are finding the intersection between their stack of skills and expertise and the current needs of their clients. It might not look like business as usual. It might not carry the same profit margin or fit neatly into established business systems. But that’s okay… because the things we need aren’t normal or usual or systemized. 

The challenge I see for all of us is relevance. This is the question I’m asking myself nearly every day: What can my business do TODAY to make a difference for my customers?  That’s the way I want my business to respond to Coronavirus. 

My heart tells me to respond this way… and I’m also aware that by shifting to a focus on relevance, I’m setting my business up for the best possible outcome in the future. 

Three approaches, three outcomes. Which will you choose?

Each approach has a bit of risk associated with it. Wait and see and you might get overrun by circumstances. Tough it out in crisis mode and you might struggle to recover quickly when things change. Pivot and you might expend energy in a direction that doesn’t work out positively or that has its own hidden challenges.  There are no absolutes… except one. We will all be defined in part by how we respond. Let’s make sure we are intentional about it.

Want to pivot, but not sure exactly how to get started? Thinking you might need strategic support as you shift? Let’s talk. 

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