The long and winding road to start a business used to be a familiar one. Come up with an idea, find a place to sell your wares, market to the community at large, gain loyal customers, put your competitors on the defensive and rake in some dough.
If only it were still so simple. COVID has turned the road into something of a minefield. Even as I write this, a new strain of the virus – one even more rambunctious than Delta – is causing a new round of lockdowns, travel bans and closed borders around the world.
It’s beginning to feel like we’re all stuck in a roundabout, not a road. We are still moving forward, but we can’t find an exit. Even though we have learned to live in a world of social distancing, online ordering, masks and new safety measures over the last two years, we still can’t get out of this merry-go-roundabout economy and move on.
It’s becoming clearer by the day that we can’t wait for an exit sign to magically appear. We’re going to have to blaze our own trail and find a new way of doing business. This isn’t just about making a living or serving a customer; it’s about becoming so resilient that you never have to worry about another disruption to your business or livelihood again.
Sure, you may learn to weather yet another wave of COVID, but there are other disruptors out there that can have just as much, if not more significant, impact. Just look at the recent atmospheric rivers that flooded downtown cores, cut off communities and caused damage to infrastructure and precious farmland.
I’m not trying to be a Grinch during the future of our economy or small businesses that are its lifeblood. What I am saying is that the pandemic has provided small businesses with a chance to reinvent themselves from the ground up so that they can weather any event that comes their way, whether it’s another pandemic, a period of social unrest or the “Big One” that seismologists say will shake, rattle and roll us like nothing before.
Many business owners are already thinking about resiliency as they restart, recover and rebuild. The Great Resignation means many workers aren’t coming back, at least to their old jobs or careers. Online shopping is here to stay, as is home delivery. Remote working looks like it is here to stay, too, at least in some form. That means workers can live where they want, meaning new customers in smaller, more rural communities that have a lower cost of living and high-speed access to the Internet.
New ideas are being tested and embraced by small businesses everywhere. In Shoreline, just north of Seattle, CaliBurger opened its latest restaurant. Its cook is a robot, which can cook chicken and beef burgers, fries and onion rings 24 hours a day without a break. Facial recognition technology is used to match orders with customers. There are still humans at work, but they are front of house rather than working the grill.
Thousands of small businesses rely on Amazon to handle their orders and fulfillment already. The company has a new program called Local Selling for those still on the fence, which allows small businesses to offer local, in-store pickups of their products their customers order on Amazon.com. Amazon handles all the back-office functions, freeing up local businesses that haven’t yet mastered e-commerce on their own website.
Smart businesses can’t wait for the road to success to show itself. They need to build it as they go. What worked in the past isn’t going to work in the future. It’s that simple.
Traction Tires Advised
My advice: Go off-road! Figure out where your customers are and meet them there with the right product, service and price. Don’t wait for them to walk through your door. Learn who they are and how they want to buy goods and services. Be there for them before someone else sweeps them away. You need to be the one who leads the way, figuring out how to deal with constant change, improvise on the fly, reinvent when something’s not working, and be the change agent, the last to the party. Your competitors are already trying to outthink you. Don’t let them.
As you build a new road to success, remember to build in flexibility. Use your entrepreneurial mind to consider all the angles. Continually ask yourself, “what if…” this happens or that. Troubleshoot your business and find its weakest points, the ones most susceptible to natural or human-made crises that can affect your operations and your bottom line.
Building flexibility, responsiveness and redundancy into your business as you restart and rebuild will ensure that you will be stronger and more resilient down the road, ready to take on anything that comes your way. Every crisis has its own personality and impact. Learn how to identify their likelihood and their potential impact on your operations. Then, institute measures to reduce the impact or shorten the time the crisis affects you.
To help you learn these skills, we have an online Disaster Planner to help you think about crisis management so you can prepare for any eventuality imaginable. Our Restart Academy may offer you ideas for keeping your competitors awake at night.
To quote Bob Dylan, “the times they are a-changin’,” and it’s time to throw that old roadmap you had in the trash. It isn’t going to show you the road ahead. You’re going to have to create one of your own if you’re going to get off this pesky roundabout we all seem to find ourselves stuck on. Find the road less traveled, throw caution to the wind and put your foot to the floor. Your competitors will eat your dust as you find new opportunities just around the bend.
Somewhere north of Seattle, excited for what the future holds, even if the map flew out the window,