COVID-19 is a bit of a monster. Not just medically speaking, but also from the crushing blows this pandemic has caused in the economy. It's highly likely that business as we knew it will never be the same. Entire companies have “pivoted, changed operations, and made uncomfortable decisions with an hour's notice. This monster is ultimately killing some businesses, but the real question remains: Is there an opportunity to use this time to make your company kill-proof?
You are unlikely never to have a better time to change/fix/reinvent/reimagine your business than right now. Regardless of what people want to think and believe, there will be a very different post-pandemic economy. The way things were before won't be how things are in the future, and with your current success standard, there will be a shift.
Change is a given in business. The faster you accept that, the quicker you'll be able to get back on a track toward success.
Here are eight secrets that will help you take advantage of new opportunities to thrive during and after the pandemic.
1. Forget the Pivot – Reinvent. In times like these, pivoting isn't enough. You also need to reinvent yourself. I like to say that I have no idea how to do whatever it is I'll be doing seven years from now. And you can bet that whatever I did seven years ago is something I didn't know how to do seven years before that.
The first step in reinvention is deconstruction. Break down every part of your current business model and product/services. Look at your ideal customer profile, value proposition, revenue channels, contracts and pipeline, key employees, key partners, and fixed and variable costs. Be brutally honest about what is working and what isn't. Then get creative. Pull together a long list of alternatives for each part of your business. Brainstorm with employees and colleagues.
A good example is my wife's digital marketing agency. She and her team looked at her Facebook marketing product suite and figured out how to use it to help her automotive clients sell cars virtually through Facebook Messenger. Doing this provided an alternative to driving customers from the platform to the car lot.
You must be willing to take all your products and services and have them fill new needs based on unique consumer buying and engagement patterns.
2. Lean More Toward Variable Costs: As a founder of EpekData, I've found that a quick path to changing your business comes from being nimble, and that starts with shifting more of your fixed costs to "variable" ones. Selective outsourcing of certain functions (including significant ones like digital marketing, data services, along with social media management) can help you be more flexible and also gain access to higher-level talent without creating fixed payroll costs.
Never forget that, no matter how great your business is and how smart your team might be, you don't know what you don't know. And a sure-fire way to find out is to explore outsourcing some of these items above and see how you stack up to the rapidly evolving technology vendors are building on top of today.
3. Use Technology to Move Forward: Thinking that you can continue to build your $20-$100 million company without embracing data and technology is—to be blunt—borderline delusional. Data gives you facts. And actionable data gives you results. During times like Covid-19, you can't afford to operate with anything but the facts. It doesn't matter what the crisis is; you have to move quickly and swiftly, using real-time actionable data to analyze things as they're happening.
4. Don’t Hesitate—Evaluate then Act! But analysis isn't enough. You also have to be quick to make decisions. Lingering, staying stagnant, having a wait-and-see mentality—that luxury doesn't exist in today's economy. One example is your digital media ad spends, which up to 30% or more can be wasted on non-human traffic from online bots and other bad actors in the space. In an excellent economy, you might not feel the pinch of this bad data. Still, when changing your business
post-pandemic, you have to consider how that loss of real customer interaction is impacting your bottom line. Investing in people-based, digital marketing agencies, like Oracle or BrandLync, can help protect against these types of fraudulent engagements and ensure maximum ROI.
5. Focus on Customer Value: If you have been relying on the stable revenue of your average customer, ditch that notion now. Instead, now may be the time to identify the ideal market segments that you can and want to serve and create perfect customer profiles and personas for each of the chosen segments. You can't assume that what you did for any client in the past is good enough to earn their business in the future. It's all about seeing the new client needs, then filling them.
6. Embrace Automation: Whether in sales, marketing, or operations, you must implement automated processes both from a controlling fixed costs standpoint and also for efficiency. Automation gives you and your team more bandwidth. Post-pandemic, you will be shocked at the job loss created by positions that can be automated. My prediction is that up to 25% of the US working population will lose their jobs to task automation. I'm not in favor of job loss, but when changing a lousy business model to a good one, you have to reimagine every part of your business.
7. Get the Right Systems in Place. Running a business should be systematic. To thrive post-pandemic, you need to focus on growth and make sure the business systems are in place, so you don't get sucked into the roles and responsibilities of others in the company.
One of the things that set us apart when we were opening our restaurants years ago was that I took the same approach that I used to build software and applications and applied that process to the systems we were using to run our restaurants. It was an assembly line, and there was accountability at every single step. You need systems that work flawlessly at scale and training systems that teach employees how to run and manage those scalable systems. You also need managers who oversee those employees and their training to make sure everything runs seamlessly. My mom taught me a long time ago: "People expect what you inspect." If you fail to inspect every step of the process, ultimately, people will get away with what they can—that's just human nature and business. Once all that's in place, the company will scale as a whole, grow, and get where it needs to go.
8. Remote Offices: You can't ignore the many advantages that have emerged from employees working from home during the coronavirus outbreak. The benefits have been tremendous, and I believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A great example is that the talent pool is now endless because people don't have to commute. You can get better talent and, many times, for less compensation. Many employees are finding that they are more productive working from home, have less stress from commuting, are saving money on gas and eating out, and have less 'in-office' distractions. Business owners see how the company can function virtually and the benefit of eliminating fixed costs like office space rent and office supplies. All of this leads to better profit margins. Covid-19 gave companies the time to reexamine the traditional office and adjust to monetize this productivity.
As a business investor, I'm always looking at companies that have great products or services but weak systems. We invest in their revenue potential, then we go in and fix the broken systems. We add automation and technology where we can and reduce expenses by exploring remote work options and variable cost reductions, all to add profit through customer value fulfillment.
In this time of crisis and reinvention, I believe that evidence matters now more than ever. Data should not only motivate the way you seek to improve your business but should also serve as a filter for the advice that you consider from others.
And remember, data doesn’t lie, people do (and usually to themselves.)
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