Let’s start with the obvious: Covid-19 isn’t the elephant in the room anymore. About a year and a half after its onset in the U.S., it’s a bit more like a woolly mammoth. Interestingly enough, we now have some data and find ourselves in a unique position where, while Covid-19 uncertainty is far from over, we have a better perspective on how companies can adapt and lean into their strengths.
This has (hopefully) given us the ability to see where we all can go from here. This period of seemingly endless time has been uniquely devastating, but there are also lessons to be learned. Global pandemics may be rare and uncommon, but as anyone making key business decisions knows, uncertainty comes in all shapes and sizes and is not uncommon.
That uncertainty has been palpable, starting all the way back in March 2020. We all had business goals in Q1, and overnight, those goals seemed to have completely changed. Some businesses were able to adapt and even thrive. Much of that adaptation required sticking true to your brand. I’ll dive more into that later, but the largest takeaway I want to emphasize is that if you let the wave of fear and change take you wherever it wants to go, failure is extremely likely.
If you focus on what you did best before challenging times, I believe you will have a better chance to succeed. And that doesn’t mean you don’t adapt at all to whatever is happening, but that you adapt while remembering what sets your business apart from others.
Here are four steps to take next time something difficult (or even devastating) happens that forces those in charge to right the ship.
1. Lean into the essence of what works for your business.
As the founder of a data-driven digital marketing agency, my work involves understanding e-commerce trends on a micro and macro level. In March 2020, I saw a lot of businesses from various industries shift their sales strategies completely to try to capitalize on Covid-19 trends (e.g., masks, emergency equipment, toilet paper and the like). Many of these businesses, unfortunately, had to close their doors months later due to lack of demand.
Had these businesses gathered enough information to make such a vast change? No. But did it feel like a bad decision at the time to shift to PPE and disaster relief merchandise from an unrelated prior business strategy? Honestly, I can’t say it did, and I don’t blame these brands.
However, that major shift didn’t go well for many brands due to the fact that they let the uncertainty make them uncertain. Sure, there are ways to editorialize and brand yourself with some kind of nod to Covid-19, but to veer away from what you actually do well will almost always lead to failure in my experience.
There are other companies that specialize in that niche, and they probably do it better than you. So why enter such a competitive market? Again, looking back it can seem obvious, but during the early uncertainty, I honestly understand how those types of decisions to deviate from old strategies could happen.
Do you. And do it right, as you hopefully always have.
2. Capitalize on consistency.
The best thing about things not going your way is that you can gain valuable insight and learn from your mistakes — tenfold.
Riding the same trends everyone else does will not lead you to the mountain top. If you remember why you started your business in the first place, keep that core philosophy strong, do right by your employees and work hard to continue persevering while learning from the good, the bad and the ugly, I think you’ll be better off.
None of us really knew whether Covid-19 shutdowns would last two weeks or two years (or more?), but what we did know is that we were put in a difficult position that added some major stressors to what we do.
But we worked through it. And for some of us, hopefully not as much changed as we initially thought it might. For example, many businesses started working from home, and leaders were left wondering, can my business still succeed? A few months later, many of us found out that yes, it can.
3. Write down what you desire from being a business owner.
You may have heard this before, but write down your “why.”
There can be millions of reasons why you decided to start or join a business. But beyond just profit and longevity, think about providing for your family, working for yourself, building something great, being able to say that you care about your employees and their kids, their livelihoods.
If you take a look at the things that drive you on a daily basis as a constant reminder, it can help you get through difficult times.
4. Remember that there are no shortcuts in business.
Even if those mask sales are coming in hot for a few weeks, if you’re running a travel company, will you be able to keep your business afloat forever selling masks? Probably not.
I’ve seen some of the best recoveries from travel companies and others like it that felt like they were uniquely hit by Covid-19. They didn’t veer away from their truth, which was that they specialized in travel (or some similar endeavor like events, etc.).
We don’t know how long this is going to last. Nobody has a crystal ball. But there’s no cheat code that can save your business. That cheat code felt like masks and hand sanitizer for a few weeks. But remember, what seems too good to be true, usually is.