What the Pandemic has taught Business Owners
Here’s a summary of those lessons:
Develop emergency plans – Prepare for future crises by observing the structure of your business and developing contingency plans. What technology do you use? What is workflow like? What are all the activities conducted by your business and who does them? Once you flesh out exactly what goes on, figure out what you could do if something goes wrong and who could step in to address the issue.
Build a support network – Develop relationships people like community leaders, your customer base, the county commissioner, police force, and other business owners. These people can be of crucial support in tough times. In Wayne Pa., the town’s businesses set up an outdoor tent when indoor activities were restricted during the pandemic. They worked together and used it for dining, yoga classes, live music, while others who could not use it packaged coupons in with meals. Build these relationships early because people will not have time for building them during crises.
Have advisors – Many entrepreneurs are young and may be lacking in experience when it comes to weathering crises. Having experienced mentors can address this issue.
Be adaptable – Be willing to shift the direction of your business. After big events like the pandemic, do not assume things will return to exactly how they once were. Be on the lookout for opportunities and ensure old ones still exist.
- Jordan Bradstreet
The pandemic has hit small businesses hard, with millions failing and countless others teetering on the edge of collapse.
The survivors have learned hard lessons about keeping a company afloat through a crisis. Here’s a look at some advice that experts and entrepreneurs have taken away from the pandemic.
Start planning early
Although we are still emerging from a crisis, use the time to prepare for the next one. Understand your existing hardware systems, your work flow and your employee structure. Discover where you have gaps and then build in redundancies to address them.
“Look at all of the roles and tasks in your organization holistically. Create a chart of deliverables—everything that needs to get done to conduct your business and who does it,” says David Weiman, who heads executive coaching and leadership firm Weiman Consulting in Wynnewood, Pa. “It provides a transparent structure showing who does what job—and, more importantly, who can step in and overlap when a crisis happens again.”
What’s more, an assessment “exposes the people who didn’t pull their weight and weren’t invested in the mission,” says Dr. Weiman. Some workers rose to the occasion in the pandemic—they helped others transition to working remotely, they were a backstop when smaller tasks or details were overshadowed by the bigger crisis, and they were an anchor for others as things fell apart around them. “It makes it easier to see and make decisions about existing personnel and new hires going forward,” Dr. Weiman says.
Build up a support system
In addition to highlighting gaps in people and coverage inside small businesses, the pandemic has taught owners the importance of building up a support system on the outside. Advisers, community leaders, customers and even competitors became crucial resources in helping small businesses survive the shutdowns and restrictions during the pandemic.
Share Your Thoughts
What business lessons did you learn during the pandemic? Join the conversation below.
Kenny Kearns, co-owner of restaurant and live-music venue 118 North in Wayne, Pa., quickly learned that the other small businesses in his town’s popular cluster of walkable restaurants and shops were no longer the competition. They were each other’s best chance of making it through to the other side of the pandemic—individually and together.
“Customers are attracted to small-town retail because it’s not Amazon, but there has to be a critical mass,” he says. “Everyone needs to bend a little so that everyone can survive. We had to come together on things we typically fight about.”
During the pandemic, Mr. Kearns began holding pop-up concerts from his restaurant’s front windows for fans and neighbors to enjoy from parking spaces and the public street, but feared the events would eventually be shut down because of Covid-19 regulations. He looked for an alternative to keep the events—and business—going.
So, last May, while eat-in dining was still banned in Pennsylvania, he worked with the other restaurants, township officers and the local business association to erect a 40-by-80-foot tent in the main municipal parking lot so that people could enjoy food and music outdoors.
Some restaurants and stores fought it, complaining about the loss of parking spaces. But, he says, the businesses found ways to work together and share the space. Stores stuffed their coupons into restaurant takeout orders, a yoga studio started using the tent for classes during the day, the real-estate office made its Wi-Fi available to students gathering in the tent, and the local church used the tent for memorial services. The local business association created trick-or-treat stations in the space, and Santa set up shop under the tent for socially distanced photos with children. “We all worked together so that everyone in the community could benefit,” says Deanna Doane, president of the Wayne Business Association.
Mr. Kearns says the pandemic has highlighted the value of town commissioners and local business associations. “Those things are there for a reason,” he says. “You want them on your side, and they want to help you. Especially in a crisis.”
But there’s little time for building relationships and wading through a phone tree at the chamber of commerce during a crisis. “Absolutely make time for it when you are starting a business,” he says. “Go in and introduce yourself—the commissioner, the code officer, even the police. Make the effort, and they will be there when you need it.”
Have people who can advise you
In addition to rallying your community, experts stress the importance of mentors during a crisis.
Because so many entrepreneurs are younger, they often lack a “gray hair” on the team who has faced disruption and crisis before, says Dean Shepherd, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. The more perspectives the better, he says, including suppliers and customers.
“Small-business leaders need to create a community of inquiry,” says Prof. Shepherd. “And be able to say to them, ‘I don’t have all the answers. Let’s look at this together.’ ”
Be ready to branch out
Small businesses should also be prepared to move beyond their business plan. “Don’t make the mistake of focusing only on your lane and assuming things will return to the same market opportunity for your product or service post pandemic,” says Alicia DeSantola of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, adding, “Take the feedback the market is giving you during the pandemic and be willing to adapt accordingly.”
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