“Business as usual” seems a proverb of a long-time past—most business owners are navigating a terrain as foreign as the moon right now. “This isn’t like any other time we have ever experienced,” says Ted Kouri of Incite, an Edmonton-based strategy firm with national reach that helps small businesses grow into new markets and build brand loyalty.
“It feels different than H1N1 or any market crash that has come before because it hit us so fast,” says Ted. “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate geography or industry, we are all affected, business-wise and personally.”
Most people agree, this is not the time to be ‘making the sale.’ We asked Ted how he is keeping his business current and an asset to others, and personally navigating this time of uncertainty. Here is what he shared:
1. Keep your clan in the loop. Internal staff communication has looked like the following over the past weeks: Layoffs, down-sizing, uncertainty, and more layoffs. No question, there are lots of scared people. Ted suggests keep all your staff in the loop, whether they are laid off or not. “If your whole team is kept up to date, messaging regarding your business can stay consistent and transparent,” says Ted. “Don’t pretend it’s not difficult when communicating with your team, but don’t let fear rule the day. Be upfront, but positive.”
2. Repackage your services. Never has “adapt or die” been more true in business, however, according to Ted, “It’s a mistake to totally abandon your strengths right now. Instead, get creative about how to bring your new ideas or service segments to market,” he explains.
“There might be new needs your clients have never had before.”
Ted also advises, make short term pivots that have long-term value. “Don’t give your services or products away for free, but repackage them. A different version of your core services might be a four-week offering vs. a five-month plan.” For restaurants and grocery stores, it’s curb-side pick-up. For the beauty industry, it’s using training technologies such as YouCam A.R.T. to stay connected with clients and have them “try-on” new products. Fashion and retail industries are using new app, Streetify to give clientele a virtual shopping experience. 3. Make a game plan. “Back to normal” seems elusive right now. No one knows when that will be; however, having a game plan—a vision for what “later” could look like—can put the mind at ease. “Businesses need to think about market share that could be gained when businesses are up and running again,” explains Ted. For Incite, 3, 6, and 9-month contingency plans have given them a path forward, some options when it feels like there are none. “A contingency plan doesn’t have to be complicated,” says Ted. “Just a one-pager laying out some avenues to take once we have past certain gates.” Ted believes brands that go dark—those who don’t have external communication while they are temporarily closed—will have a harder time to hit the ground running when it’s time. “Decide how you can maintain relevance with your clients and stakeholders right now, and make an authentic connection.”
“The small businesses that choose to show up for their clients now will do better in the long term.”
4. Decide your personal mindset. “One of my favourite business pieces is Dan Sullivan’s ‘Scary Times Success Manual: How to be a leader when times get tough.’” How we decide to show up right now matters. A lot. “People admire those who can stay positive, shed light or solution on a situation.
“There has been no better time to show personal leadership and be of value to others than now.”
It may be hard to believe at the moment, but there’s a chance that this crazy time is an opportunity for businesses to get better at what they do. “What’s important is to focus on what is not different,” says Ted. When we are forced to downsize, get creative, save money in order to survive, we quickly see the holes in the way we operate. “There is opportunity that will come from this time. The trick will be to have your running shoes tied on the start line when the sun comes out, and all this is over.”