Has Your Business Just Been COVIDized?
If your business is like most, COVID has changed it, its market, and the way you interact with your employees and customers …forever. And that has negatively affected growth in most businesses.
While we have no clue as to when things will return to normal (whatever that might be), make no mistake, the way companies used to operate is and will be dramatically different. And with it will be the answer to the biggest question – how do you get back on a growth track? And you can’t wait until the “new normal” shakes out because you might not be around to see it.
You have to find a way to jumpstart your business’ growth.
However, you can’t use the pandemic as an excuse. In fact, quite the opposite. While you can’t control the environment in which you do business, you also can’t ignore it.
In fact, for many businesses, they leveraged it early, turning their business either into selling different products (manufacturing companies building Personal Protective Equipment, for example) or delivering their services in a completely different way – virtually. In essence, life threw a basket of lemons at the business owners, and they found a way to make their own form of lemonade, whether they have had ever made it before or not.
And that’s the critical message, you can’t control your environment, but you can and should use what it gives you.
Many small businesses were closed because of the shutdown; some never to open again, often just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like many restaurant owners in New York. Others just went limping on, with business as usual, hoping that the government would continue to bail them out as it did with the various PPP and EIDL programs. Well, that can’t go on forever. The status quo is a ticket to oblivion. So, what do you do?
Here are four key areas you need to focus on that build on the notion of a new normal…a new environment in which you must adapt to get back on a growth track.
Protect and Grow the Existing Customer Base
This was the message I gave clients from the beginning. In short, it’s that your existing customer base is the biggest asset you have. Protect it like family and build on it as you can. While it’s tougher because you are now interacting on Zoom or the like, you also have an opportunity for more “touches,” with a series of shorter visits (calls), more often. Even if you just maintain what you did before the pandemic, you have solidified your foundation, and it will become a platform for your growth.
New Customers from “the Ashes” of Failed Businesses
During this time, you will have competitors who may not have the foresight you do with a protect and grow strategy. They will invariably fail, worst case, or certainly not protect their whole customer base. And that’s where you can chase some new customers, saving them from the “failed marriage.” A little harder to do, granted, without an ability to visit their facility, but it pretty much works the way most of your new client activity starts…with a referral. Set up a referral fee program for your current customers, who you’ve now gotten closer with, to introduce you to folks they think would be good customers for you. Maybe offer these potential customers a “try it you’ll like it” discounted or free product or service for a minimal period of time. At the same time you continue with a “high touch” campaign with Zoom calls with the prospect, to help them get trained and acclimated to your product or service. If they stay past the discount or free period and become a full-paying customer, pay the referring customer with a reduced fee for a period of time or a cash bonus.
Fewer Seats on the Bus…with the Best People Filling Them
With revenue not growing, it provides ample reason to use the pandemic as a vehicle to do something you probably hadn’t considered. Re-aligning your costs while re-assessing your team and upgrading your staff. Where, over time, you may have brought in some team members who were just filling their seats, it’s perfect time to do some re-alignment. Stealing a notion from Jim Collins’ seminal work, “Good to Great.” It’s an opportunity to get the right people on the bus in fewer seats with the best people filling them. And those people are out there now. Remember, two “goods” equals one “great!”
Suppliers You Can Count On
Just like you need to protect and grow your customer base, so, too, do your suppliers. They want to know that you’re going to be around and, therefore, may be much more flexible with payment terms and delivery schedules, helping both sides out. You want to establish a relationship that’s benefits both parties, and each of you will remember the other’s loyalty during the tough times when the good times return, as we all believe they will. Again, frequent Zoom calls will be the answer to strengthening what may have been just a casual relationship. Now, it will be a more important one for both sides.
You can’t use the pandemic as an excuse. It’s just a changed external environment that you can’t do much about. But, you can leverage it and use it to your advantage, focusing on the four key areas that we’ve addressed to get you back on a growth track.
“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” knows these things. He’s been there. May success be with you!