• Julie Boake

The art of business in a pandemic

It is an art... being a business owner at the best of times can be a high-stress time for business owners, let alone in the worst of times.

As the pandemic and the level of seriousness ensued in March 2020, many business owners were in shock, disbelief, and paralyzed thinking about what their businesses could face, would this be the end of the years of hard work, their sacrifices, and savings...

Taking the final bow, and bowing out.

This seemed like a good time for those considering retirement to take a bow, to recognize their hard work, and to graciously thank the community for the years of loyalty and faithful service but that this was the final call. This was done proudly and with no shame, it would seem futile to struggle for a period of time to close your doors after, so saving the trouble and minimizing risk, and savings, seemed like a wise course of action, and I respect those that chose this decision.

Tenacity. Determination. Perseverance.

There are some business owners that were new to the game, new owners and entrepreneurs that had everything on the line, they have put everything into their business and to close the doors now was simply not an option.

These business owners faithfully watched the news, piecing together the changes, the new rules, the new normal of how they could still operate their businesses. The doors closed and the online stores opened. Curbside pickup, curbside shopping, and personalized delivery became the new handshake between their customers, all with a smile and a safe 6ft distance.

Everything is disinfected, wiped, washed, and sterilized. Plastic barriers went up, masks went on.

Established business owners changed their model, were forced to adopt changes they had never considered. A cashless operation emerged, adapting to the new precautions, and technology was graciously adopted as a new way of doing business going forward.

Changes needed to happen, and they did.

For some businesses, the changes were inevitable to stay modern and cater to the new customer, the one accustomed to quick, online, and seamless transactions.

Business owners learned to bend, without breaking, to smile without using their mouths but their stories and pride still shone through their eyes. ... and their worry.

The art of business... now.

1. We have lost the personal touch of the pat, the handshake, the hug. Loyal and long-time customers are asked to wait in line with person/space restrictions. They have adopted the online world of shopping in sweats and door delivery, so with all the design created to keep them from our storefronts and physical locations, how do we encourage them to return?

We remind them, we show them, we encourage them to remember and return to the experience that can't be replicated online, the feeling, the smells, the small chit chat, the views, the browsing, the moments... these need to be stronger, more personal, more exciting and create enough of a desire to return.

2. We can't stop and won't stop. These are the days when there are opportunities but they don't happen if we are not prepared to see them, embrace them, and own them. People are still people, they still eat, they still shop, they still crave connection, chocolate, and coffee. They are consumers, if not just from necessity, from choice.

In the slower moments, we prepare, add the operations and tools into our businesses that will help us adapt for busier days. Our processes become streamlined and we negotiate terms with our suppliers and stabilize our business now and for future growth.

3. Advertising and marketing don't stop. The businesses set up to make the most out of a challenging economy are the ones that are strategic with their spending, smart with their locations, and clever with their communication, they will emerge having embraced more market share when their competitors are overly cautious, silent, and waiting for better moments.

It's not about stopping, it is about being smarter and seeing where the best allocation of resources should go.

4. Our goals still exist to shape our direction, push us forward, and remind us of our potential. They encompass where we are today but include directions we can take and may include opportunities in new markets/products/services.

If you do not know where you are going, you will never get there. Keeping goals alive not only helps give you direction, but they also open you up to seeing what is visible and making decisions quickly.

5. Money first mindset. This includes renegotiating terms and payment options, extending credit, or taking advantage of assistance programs to keep your business finances healthy.

Look at your fixed expenses, what can you modify? It may be as simple as paying on 60 day terms versus 30 day terms, paying annually rather than the additional cost of paying monthly.

Variable expenses should be reviewed at this point, what expenses directly relate to the growth of your business versus some that are 'like to have' versus must-have. This could be small changes like saving money by using a coffee maker versus individual pods, taking on some of your administrative costs or with fewer people in the office, you may not need the top tier internet plan. Little cutbacks can lead to savings.

Adjusting to the new customer.

Post pandemic we will have new customers, and we will adjust to new customer behaviors. Customers have gone online, so an online presence is essential, whether through a website, social media or enhanced Google, your customers are online and have lived a period of time reliant on access to goods and services online, we are here to serve them, not vice versa.

Social media provides the constant reminder that your business is still available to consumers, and allows them to 'window' shop your business on their schedule.

Storefront vs home front

So should everyone work from home and move their businesses home? Yes or no. Not all businesses would benefit from being at home, and not all employees are more productive at home.

Perception is key. Businesses are deemed more stable and stronger when they have a location. While that location doesn't have to be as grande or fancy as it was before, the idea may look different but in a time when businesses are closing, the perception of a location provides a signal of strength and reliability. We are more likely to buy a gift certificate from a location that is perceived as strong and stable than one that seems to be on the edge or can easily close at any time. (This is an essential key point going into the holiday season).

There is not one pill or solution that will be perfect but doing nothing is the quickest path to the art of going out of business.

Julie Boake

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