What a few days it's been. Sunday evening, as I sat at my desk watching traffic flow and planning for morning, I had no idea the surreal turn that current events would take by the end of the week. Whether you believe the virus is a threat or not, our society has undoubtedly been turned upside down.
As the saying goes: Adversity builds character, and we are living in one of the most adverse situations in recent history. If you own a business, especially one that relies on a physical location or contact with the public, your world has been upended. It's become apparent that this is a defining moment for small business. Some will end up stronger, some weaker, and some will not survive. What you choose to do over the coming days and weeks will largely determine your chance of success.
I'm not going to jump the gun and claim that conducting business will be forever changed by the chaos and panic, although some have claimed this. The world has seen pandemics and recovered, sometimes rather vibrantly. I won't give advice on staying well; there's plenty of that. And if you or loved ones are affected by the virus then that is the priority and you have to do what you have to do. There are two things, however, that most business owners should spend the next few weeks doing: Focus on building and prepare for next time.
Focus on Building
The world is on pause. Instead of taking a break while you are in this involuntary virtual quarantine, use it to focus your attention on internal projects. If you have a physical location, you may have projects that can be done that would normally disrupt business. There are also a lot of things that can be done remotely yourself or with your team:
Define Your Brand
Many small business owners start quickly and never have the time to completely define their brand. One component is a well-defined logo package with all variations and source files. You need to have this and know where the original copies are at all times. Taking it a step further, you could have a brand or style guide created to expand on the branding guidelines that will define how your brand is used on anything and everything. You should make sure your brand is correctly represented everywhere it's used. Now is a good time to go over all of this.
Create Marketing Materials
You can always use brochures, pamphlets, sell sheets and other printed things. Do you advertise on billboards? If you do, now may be a great time to create some nice designs to use later. Learn how to create templates and you can have a library of marketing content to carry you through the next year, even if you just save it to have printed later.
Work on Your Web Site
This is an important one because in this day and age, most of your customers will find you online before ever calling or visiting. You will be judged by the web site they find, or don't find. The opportunity cost of not having your web presence in order could crush you. Aesthetics is not the game. Your site must be functional and send key messages to your prospects or you will lose the opportunity before you even knew it existed. One of the biggest mistakes made by local businesses is to build a beautiful site but leave location information so obscure that it confuses visitors. Ironically, the confusion is usually proportional to how well the site is built.
Define Customer and Employee Policies
Now is a great time to pull up the ancient contracts you may be using every day and give them a good review. Not only does the legal environment surrounding your business sometimes change, but your business has probably grown and changed as well over the years. If you can't hire a lawyer to help, at least organize things and make notes that you can address later when things return to normal.
Study and Define Your Strategy
If you have downtime, it's the perfect time to read those business books you have accumulated over the past few years. Nobody performs well in an echo chamber. Taking time to soak up stories and ideas from industry leaders or great business minds can help you strategize and prepare for what's next. Many don't have time to do this through the normal course of the work week, but now may be your opportunity.
Prepare for Next Time
This isn't the first crisis and won't be the last. If we have learned anything when this is over, it is to be prepared for anything:
Develop your Business Continuity Plan
Every business that handles customer assets or ongoing services should have a continuity plan. This defines what will happen to your business in the event that dreaded scenario employers always bring up to explain why you should prepare for your departure when they start the process of secretly phasing you out actually happens (you know what I'm talking about). This doesn't have to be a legal document; you can do it yourself and build it over time if necessary. Unlike some things, this is a living document.
Take Advantage of the Cloud
You don't have to go all in, and you definitely have to be careful dealing with random SAAS companies that come knocking on your door promising to make all your technology problems vanish with the promise of the cloud. I'm talking about strategically introducing cloud services and shifting data and workloads to the cloud, creating resiliency and mobility in your business. One of the most useful cloud services is cloud business telephone. The first system I installed for a client was in 2015. I was quickly sold on the benefits and haven't looked back. Since then, I have helped several of my clients become truly mobile with the flexibility to keep business running no matter their location.
I hope all our friends, clients and readers stay safe. As for us, we are working overtime to help bring our family of clients together with their customers, clients, patients, vendors and partners. I hope you can find sanity and success in these uncertain times, and if there's anything we can do to help make it happen, please get in touch.