We are all in the same storm, but not the same boat.
That’s true for your customers and your potential customers, too. That’s why branding guru Bruce Turkel’s advice during a recent BizHack Academy Zoom talk made so much sense: You need a strategy for yourself and your small business.
“There are likely parts of your business that won’t come back. “We can yell and scream, we can cry, but if we want to move forward and be successful, we need to accept what is going on, change what we can change, and need to understand the difference,” said Turkel, author of All About Them and other books.
How can you create certainty in uncertain times?
Turkel’s top advice:
- Don’t go it alone. Look to what others have done, says Turkel. “Each one of us needs a personal BOD (board of directors). Each of us needs to put together a group that looks out for our best interests and we can count on when we need to get something done… Understand you are not in this alone. Stand on the shoulders of giants and make sure you are taking full advantage of your tribe.” Turkel is a member of a mastermind group and encourages entrepreneurs to find or form a similar kind of group within their networks where they can openly share their fears and challenges.
- Have a plan. Know where you are going, and we’re talking well beyond this current crisis. He suggests an Optimal Outcome Exercise. Put your goal out there and your time horizon – for example, I want to be a national brand in five years – and then work backwards. What practical, clear and strategic steps will you will need to have completed in year 4, 3, 2, 1, and today. to get there. If you are conflicted about which way to get there – in our example, you may be considering nationwide franchising to expand or growing your business by targeting enterprise customers — build out two exercises, work backward and the path you select will likely become clearer, Turkel says.
- Reinvent your business for the long-term, not a short-term pivot that has nothing to do with your brand, Turkel advises. And with whatever you do, make sure it stays within the fundamentals that got you where you are. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy who you are,” Turkel said. Make sure your customer can see and feel a difference and you can tell a story around it, how you emerged from the eye of the COVID storm. Learn from Cornflakes: How can people try you again for the first time?
I thought about this advice as I thought back on all my discussions with startups and small businesses during the pandemic. Many of them had a plan. In some cases the plan came together quicker than they would have liked due to COVID-19, but they were executing thoughtfully. In some cases, it was about speeding up plans that were already in the works, or taking advantage of technologies they already had developed. They also didn’t pivot to doing anything that was not authentic already to their brand, but they did take advantage of opportunities. And they can all tell a good story around it.
BizHack Academy is one of them. Founder Dan Grech and his team have always offered 12-week in-person digital marketing training courses but had to pivoted hard to online classes. He recently launched and sold out his first 5-week accelerated online course and will be doing another one in June.
Lacrossewear of Broward is another. The manufacturer of clothing for sports teams believes their business will come back when kids and adults are able to play again. But what to do now, with the dozens of their employees who are excellent seamstresses and clothing makers idle? They reconfigured their production line and are making masks using the same materials they used for their clothing – and thriving at it. They’ve since added options for team or company logos to be added. Lacrossewear also donates a mask to first responders, government workers, health-care workers, grocery store employees, schools, and others in need for every one it sells.
I interviewed Pilar Guzman Zavala a few weeks ago. As the owner of a food business, HalfMoon Empanadas with a number of physical locations in South Florida, she has a two-part plan. Part one was getting through the closures of her locations because of the COVID-19 crisis. She applied and received a Florida bridge loan and a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan, which enabled her to keep on her managers and hire back some of her staff. Part two is using the time to set her business up to be sustainable long-term – for her that means accelerating a national expansion strategy through airport locations, updating her website and branding and adding a more robust online ordering strategy. Read her story here.
Like Guzman Zavala, Adam Garfield is also in the eye of the pandemic. He founded SpeedETab, a Miami-based technology startup that empowers restaurants to be more successful by helping them create their own online ordering channels. Business is increasing. “Our product pre-COVID was in the right position to help… But [during COVID] our platform became a pure necessity as a lifeline for restaurants to transact. Our focus has been on depending our product offerings.” Restaurants need their own online ordering more than ever because in a takeout-only situation under COVID, they can’t afford the fees of Uber Eats, Postmates etc that can take 25-30% of the ticket. And now that restaurants are opening, SpeedETab’s focus will be on helping them make the ordering process safer in the restaurants too, Garfield said.
Maxeme Tuchman’s startup, Caribu, brings families together in virtual playdates, including for reading, playing games and drawing together. It has users in 160 countries. When COVID-19 shelter-in-place began, Caribu made the platform free, rather than $6.99 a month, and usage 10Xed literally overnight. With the 10X growth comes 10X customer support tickets — and 10X expenses. Fortunately, she and her team did not have to go it alone. One of Caribu’s investors, AT&T, offered a $500,000 donation so Caribu could cover those expenses of going free while Tuchman’s team scaled up customer support and executes on a strategy for retaining the customers for the long-term. Says Tuchman: “In Miami we rise from the ashes and we get innovative and create our own destinies.”
READ MORE ON GROWBIZ: How to market during the COVID-19 crisis, and the recession it brings