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What COVID-19 has taught me about building a robust business

- May 25, 2020 4 MIN READ

The landscape is shifting under our feet. COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation we have been dragging our steps on. You have probably already seen the meme going around asking the question who led the digital transformation of your business with COVID-19 as the answer!,writes Sara Berry, founder of Marketing Sense.

As a marketing coach and business advisor this has certainly been my observation over the past few weeks. As a digital specialist working with disrupted industries for the past five years, I have witnessed first-hand the collective ‘dallying on digital,’ especially with some of the older, legacy businesses that existed before digital, as they grappled with understanding how best to transform their business as a result of the changes being driven by the consumer. Now for many businesses there is a fervent dash to ‘get transforming,’ as with global lock-downs business survival in many cases depends on it.

Back in 2012 Deloitte took a look into the future with their ‘short fuse-big bang’ scenarios which reviewed the threats and opportunities to business and for how some sectors, such as retail & professional services, digital disruption would be explosive and threatening. COVID-19 has lit the fuse and it is a short fuse for most now!

Whilst there are certainly some heartbreaking stories about businesses having to shut up shop literally overnight, many of the businesses I have been speaking to and working with over the last few weeks have quickly tapped into the government hibernation packages, reduced their outgoings where possible, contacted and shored up customer and supplier relationships and are slowly but surely shifting their mindsets to the opportunities that present themselves as a result of this strange new world order.

Australia has been relatively fortunate, as so far our experience has not been as crippling for business as it has been in other countries, some of our cafes and retailers are tapping into contactless social distancing home deliveries; developing care packages and takeaway meals – the opportunities presented by Facebook groups for marketing and the enthusiasm of people to support local business is gathering momentum by the day. And for me personally as a long-time small business advocate this is really heart-warming to watch.

Zooming out a little though – what do we see? The reality is, disruption is all around us. Throughout history the existing ways of doing things are continually disrupted by ‘new’ technologies from the building of the canals and factories to the Gutenberg printing press to Ford’s mass production of the car, and with each disruptive burst came shifts in economies – booms and expansions -recessions & depressions. And sure whilst this is a simplistic review of hundreds of years of industrialisation it is also our reality.

And it is in this reality in which we germinate and grow new business, new innovations and new ways of doing things. And whilst we may feel like things may never be the same again and that everything will look different – check out your history books, and take some comfort in the fact that ‘change is the only constant in life.’

History has also taught us, that this is exactly the kind of environment businesses are built on. We can no longer rely on the ‘way things have always been done’. We’re all going to be forced out of our comfort zone and into a space where real growth happens. Adaption is not just possible – but exciting. In the midst of real heartache and confusion, businesses can and will adjust to this new climate. Change comes with challenges and grief, absolutely. But, it’s not the enemy. With some smart thinking and a good dose of compassion, we can learn from this, together.

Research compiled by LSE found that small to medium size businesses during and post the GFC small businesses recover quickly as they are more responsive and resilient. Resilience, despite a relative lack of resources, relates to entrepreneurial characteristics such as the desire for independence and to be in control of ones’ own destiny.

The research illustrates that within the small business sector there is evidence that periods of economic instability are precisely the times when the best entrepreneurs are able to take advantage of new opportunities. However the research also shows that in recessions, low quality, marginal, entrepreneurs exit the market. In short only the fittest survive.

Certainly, that has been my experience so far. Strong business models, with a solid market offering and some cash reserves are able to pivot by running scenarios to determine opportunities to leverage from strengths and assess opportunities during this period of high uncertainty. By way of example, some businesses are able to move from offline to online fairly rapidly in order to continue, as long as they are not reliant on foot traffic, but for some the hits will be much harder (and perhaps insurmountable). In reality the ripple effects in terms of the global economy are to a large degree still unknown at this stage. But it is possible to rework your value propositions, then test quickly (whilst leveraging from your business intelligence).  You can use my free brand statement process multiple times to get clear on your scenario.

As a long-time business strategist there is one thing I do know and that is that right now our world needs business owners and entrepreneurs who are willing to tackle the challenges presented by this pandemic. With smart planning and analysis which involves experimentation before execution while seeking evidence from your existing clients and communities, you can get clear on your path.

As Steve Jobs said:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

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