I’m naturally a skeptical person and so my response to the emerging threat of Coronavirus at the end of 2019 was a cool one. Up until last weekend the UK Government’s response could be described in the same way.
They say things move quickly in politics, but perhaps not as quickly as the current pandemic. Scientists at Imperial College London delivered a stark message to the Government this week that has had a profound effect on its strategy.
And so things are changing more quickly now than ever. As small business owners, we are familiar with constant change and uncertainty so to a certain extent we are well placed to weather the storm.
But we are in uncharted waters here, and nobody seems to know exactly what’s going to happen. So how can we respond?
Put fear to one side
Reading the news these days is scary. It’s easy to allow ourselves to become gripped with fear to such an extent that we become paralysed, or worse, we begin to panic.
Truth is, it’s okay to be afraid. I used to live my life in fear, to the extent that I was petrified of meeting new people and sometimes reluctant even to speak to those I did know. I know fear. But one day I also realised that everybody else is afraid too.
The fear response is natural – it’s what kept our ancestors alive and to a certain extent it keeps us alive too. It’s just another tool in our self-preservation toolbox. It has its uses, but not for every problem and certainly not for this problem.
It’s normal to feel afraid when we listen to the latest news about the pandemic. But we mustn’t let that fear drive us. We cannot make good decisions when we’re in a state of panic, it’s simply not possible.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt from Buddhism is that all things must pass – both the good times and the bad times. So use this opportunity to plan ahead for when things change again.
Use this opportunity to be different
You have a golden opportunity to differentiate yourself by making a difference. Now is a great time to show your customers or clients you genuinely care about them and their wellbeing beyond their ability to pay your invoices.
Reach out to your customer base and offer your solidarity and support. The most striking thing I’ve noticed about the response to C-19 so far is the efforts people are making to help one another. At the moment we’re seeing people start fights in supermarkets and hoard far more than they need. If nothing else, your kind actions might just reaffirm somebody else’s faith in humanity.
Watch out for the pitfalls of virtue signalling, however. Make sure your actions are genuine and your gestures are understated. This is especially difficult to achieve when you’re trying to market yourself, as you have to shout about what makes you different. The golden rule is to show, not tell – nobody wants to be preached to, but everyone appreciates a helpful attitude.
The cynical opportunists will show themselves up for who they really are. But you can be different, so make a difference.
Invest in your business
If things are quieter for you at the moment then now is the perfect time to make a list of all those things you’ve been meaning to do and get them done! Every small business owner and entrepreneur has a laundry list of tasks that keep getting put on the back burner – we’re so used to spending time working in our business that we forget to work on our business. You’ve probably been waiting for years for the time to magically appear, and now, perhaps, it just has! Make the most of it.
With regards to their marketing strategy and execution, your competitors could well be taking their eye off the ball. Now is the ideal time to double down on your marketing efforts.
Planning and executing a successful marketing campaign takes a lot of time. So, whilst your business day-to-day is quieter now is the perfect time to get started. Even if you hold off on the execution until after the main pandemic threat has passed, by having a solid marketing strategy in place you will be able to steal a march on your competitors when things return to normal.
If you can afford it, now is the time to find the right external service providers who can take charge of various areas of your business, for example marketers or virtual assistants. You’ll have the time to find the right vendor who fits your needs. What’s more, you’ll also have the time you need to brief them and bring them up to speed with your business. As soon as we come out the other side of the pandemic, your business will be fighting fit and ready to attract new customers.
If your finances have taken a hit as a result of the global panic then you don’t have to make a financial investment right now. Here are a few things you could do:
- Invest your time into documenting and systemising your business, with a view to automating as many processes as possible. If needed, you’ll be able to bring in external help with the actual process of automating later on but having clear documentation to work to will put you streets ahead.
- Update your website. Post an article about how you are responding to Covid-19. Make it clear that it’s business as usual (so long as that is the case!)
- Go through your list of current and past customers and reconnect with them. Don’t send them a stuffy “Message from CEO about Coronavirus” boilerplate email, take the time to write to them personally. Show an interest in learning about their problems and offer to help in any way you can.
Invest in yourself
It’s not just our physical health that we should be concerned about. Anxiety about the disease itself, the toll it might take on our loved ones, and the impact it could have on our business and home is a huge burden.
At the best of times, mental health issues are another huge risk factor for the self-employed and small business owner. This has never been more true than right now.
Shortly after I started my business I quickly came to realise that every minute I spent investing in my health is another minute invested into my business. It’s a good idea to spend just a little bit of the extra time we might suddenly have available for ourselves by investing in our wellbeing.
Google Digital Garage are currently offering a free mindfulness course. I’ve practised mindfulness for years and it truly is a great way to give yourself the time and space you need to recuperate from the stresses of life.
In dire times it’s important to find the positives. I’ve been reaching out to friends, business associates and clients to offer my support and solidarity. Old relationships are being rejuvenated, new bridges are being built.
If nothing else, it’s nice to know that other people care and are thinking about you. Bearing in mind how lonely it can get when you run a business in the 21st Century, any opportunity to reconnect with others is a welcome one.
Whether it’s time, cash, energy or all three, now is the perfect moment to invest in yourself and your business. Catch up with all the things you’ve been putting off, execute on your plans that got set to one side and formulate new plans to move forward decisively.
Things might not be good at the moment, but things will change, just as they always do. Seize the moment and set the wheels in motion to make your change in the world.