As we start to transition beyond the initial shock and disruption of the coronavirus pandemic on our lives and we are adjusting to the fact that the world and the way we operated in it will be forever changed. We’re also realizing, that we must turn to our own communities, networks and ingenuity to create a new path forward. I’ve been reflecting on current events as well as consuming dozens of hours of literature and webinars by some of the leading business experts, forecasters, health and wellness professionals, economists and survivors from the recession of 2008 and here’s my take on the next steps to take on this journey.
1. Pause and take care of yourself – As "Ms. Super Boss Lady Mom Auntie Caregiver", I know you have been juggling a lot and holding it down over the last several weeks, but now is the time to be extra diligent about investing in your physical, mental and emotional well being. Entrepreneurs, under normal conditions face higher health risks for a wide range of issues. The coronavirus targets individuals with these conditions and has already ravaged the black community. While there are many aspects of the pandemic and subsequent impacts that you can’t control, you can and must invest in eating a healthy diet, implement strategies to reduce and manage anxiety and regularly exercise – even it’s walking for 30 minutes a day. Adapt the diligence you’ve been applying to hand washing, practicing social distancing and scrubbing down anything and anyone that comes in your house, to taking care of yourself and - you will be unstoppable! Checkout some strategies being applied by healthy and successful business owners to do just that.
2. Take care of your family and friends – There’s always that one independent sibling, uncle or friend that seems to have it all under control, but given that we are not dealing with normal times, they may be in need of some additional assistance or love - give them a call. Even better - Facetime or Zoom them to actually see how they are doing. And be sure to pay attention to the children in your life. Assess how they are truly feeling about the pandemic and the subsequent effects on their routines and relationships with other family members and friends.
3. Assess the damage - Write a list of the top 3 ways your business has been or will be negatively affected – drop in revenue, personal and employee/contractor health issues, business operations, new regulations are just a few potential impacts to evaluate. Getting these challenges out of your head is therapeutic and helps to provide clarity on the issues, giving you a canvas from which to start mapping out solutions. Enlist some trusted advisors and supporters to help you to problem solve.
4. Process – Create some space and quiet time to process the events of the last weeks. Reflect on internal changes and or improvements that you’ve been putting off or have surfaced as a result of the crisis and create a written plan for executing on the top three in the next 30 days – business operations and efficiency, skills and certifications, marketing and branding, product development, cash flow management , funding and/or legal needs. Know that the plan will change over time and that is to be expected – we are living in uncertain times. If funding is one of those items, be sure to explore the Get The Bag, “Funding and COVID Relief” resource that was developed to keep track of the general funding opportunities as well as the myriad of new COVID relief programs that are proliferating on a daily basis.
5. Pay attention - Conduct an environmental scan of what seem to be the new rules and norms as well as in-demand activities – how can you adapt these rules to minimize some of the negative impacts of COVID or to meet rising new demands? There are new negotiation opportunities and payment norms, exceptions to longstanding rules and procedures, lower prices on products and commodities such as gas, healthcare system – who’s getting serviced or information and who’s not? How can you fill the gap? Are there new opportunities to fill the need, such as the higher demand for PPE, home delivery, home decor, home repair, home office services, managing a remote workforce, re-purposing office space, virtual conferences, home hair care and career consulting. How can you help families balance the demands of work, home schooling, tech issues, cooking, food insecurity and additional housework? Folks are missing out on the small luxuries of life…lattes, good chocolate, snacks and grandmas home cooking. Explore opportunities to adapt your product, service or expertise to fill these new needs and desires.
6. Build your bench – Every great leading lady has a strong supporting cast of advisors and team members. In the rush to secure stimulus funding, many small businesses found themselves not in the know or not prepared to apply for funding on day one, which put them at a disadvantage against businesses that had the information well in advance and the documentation to apply for loans on the first day of eligibility. Who did you turn to for expert advice? Every business owner should have a strong core team of service providers, a "Justice League" of sorts for your business – including an accountant/bookkeeper, attorney, insurance agent, financial advisor/planner, marketing professional and that plugged-in and politically connected friend that always has the inside scoop. I suggest your explore CHIP Professionals, a new platform created to find and connect with finance professionals of color.
7. Refocus – Now write a list of the top 5 opportunities that you will explore. Work with your team to prioritize. Identify the top ranking three, create a plan with a timeline and execute. I’ve been using the Best Self Journal system to plan and track goals and actions for several years and have been pleased with my progress in achieving some meaningful goals!
8. Level-up your digital game… in the age of social distancing all eyes are onscreen. Ad costs for a number of channels are down (except Facebook and Google) and several companies are offering ad credits for small business owners, so it’s a great time to experiment with new digital marketing channels and messages. Leverage marketplace platforms like Etsy and eBay to compliment your current web presence and make sure your online payment systems are setup to capture all of the checkout options. It takes a village to grow a great business. Take advantage of the fact that college students are looking for opportunities to leverage their skills and unique insights to gain some practical work experience. Scoop up one or two as interns over the summer. Make it a great work experience and it will be a win-win situation.
9. Get The Bag - Build stronger relationships with your money, honey! Schedule an appointment to meet with your accountant or bookkeeper to take a deep dive of your financials, cash flows, expenses and financial tracking systems. I know that this aspect of running a business is tedious and sometimes just downright unpleasant, but this is the stuff that will have your business working for you and not the other way around. If you don’t have an accountant or bookkeeper that you feel good about or trust, ask for referrals from some of your most successful lady boss friends or your advisors/mentors. Just know that you may have to interview a few before finding one that is a good fit for you in temperament and expertise.
10. Get Ready for the Next Bag - Build stronger relationships with your customers and prospective funders – investors, bankers and other funding organizations. There is so much that is not in our control right now, but reaching out to your customers and prospective customers is something that you can and must do often, using various channels…direct calls, emails, newsletters, social and even text in some cases. Let them know that you are thinking about them and want to understand their current challenges and explore ways that you can provide value. You may discover your pivot from this kind of outreach and engagement. Over the course of the next few months, identify prospective funders and start to reach out and to let them know who you are, your track record and future plans. Credit and investments will be tight for some time to come, but if you invest time in building relationships with a diverse group of funders, they will know you and be more likely to lend or invest when the economy starts to grow again. Add them to your email newsletter or create a funder newsletter for just for current and prospective investors and stakeholders.
I'm personally excited to see how we are going to be out here getting this bag in the next decade - fresher, flyer, focused and better than ever! You got this, sis!