As the pandemic continues to upend industries, daily life and consumer habits, the challenge of navigating business growth while protecting profits, core values and staff members might seem impossible.
But experts say there are plenty of opportunities for leaders to grow in times of volatility, particularly if they’re open to exploring new solutions. “The businesses that are willing to evolve and see the big picture are the ones that are thriving. I’ve seen it in almost every business model, without limitation,” said Elizabeth Hartke, a business growth coach and host of the podcast Scaling Up.
Here are some strategies for ambitious business leaders navigating this challenging era.
Double Down On Understanding Your Target Customers’ Current Pain Points—And Look For Ways To Scale That Don’t Necessarily Require Your Physical Presence
“So often, we’re conditioned to sell the one thing or the service or the product that we’ve always been selling and doing well selling,” Hartke said. But changing times call for asking: What is your audience asking for right now that you are not currently providing them? The goal is to be “the bridge between their pain and their greatest desire.” Hartke’s aim is for clients to be able to offer their “zone of genius” in a way that “you can still be earning when you sleep.”
For example, Hartke worked with the owner of a busy salon who had to close her doors when the pandemic started and stay-at-home orders were issued. However, that owner could transfer her vast styling knowledge to online videos that teach viewers to cut and style their hair at home, using products they may already own.
“She can’t service them in her typical way in the salon,” Hartke said, but “she’s opened herself up to a whole new market of people who didn’t have access to her previously.” And now the owner has a scalable online piece of her business that can continue to generate revenue even after her regular salon business returns.
Similarly, Dave Labowitz, a Los Angeles-area business coach, helped one of his clients turn offerings of in-person meditation and art experiences into an online model. The client now runs virtual date nights and other gatherings, a response to the hunger for experiences felt by many cooped-up customers. “His market’s so much broader. He can work with people anywhere in the country now, or anywhere in the world.”
Get Your Priorities Straight
When determining your business approach for 2020 and beyond, Labowitz says it helps to establish an order of priority. Ask yourself who comes first: your team members, your customers, or your stakeholders?
“I personally advocate for putting your team first, your customers second and your stakeholders third,” Labowitz said. “I believe that your customers will have better experiences if your team is really engaged and empowered and happy. And then, if your customers are having good experiences, your stakeholders will ultimately profit more in the long run.” Labowitz says doing that involves prioritizing the mental health of your employees and the need for flexibility in their work lives so they can deal with all the interruptions of caregiving and health issues.
Anticipate Supply Chain Issues In Advance
“Most people are pretty happy with having one good-performing supply chain because they’ve never seen major disruption before,” Labowitz said, adding that many leaders don’t realize how difficult and expensive it can be to establish a new supply chain. Acquiring samples and determining quality can be time-consuming, and vendors expect revenue in return for their work, not a no-profit backup position. In this volatile time for business, Labowitz said that he still advises many companies to employ a backup for crucial supplies and to be prepared to pay a fee to the vendor regardless of any purchases.
When Hiring, Tread Carefully
Hiring full-time employees in response to sudden growth could force you into layoff decisions later. Labowitz recommends that growing companies begin with part-time and contract employees who can be scaled up and down with demand. Hartke recommends a 90-day trial period before bringing on any employee: “In doing that, no one’s getting blindsided when things pivot again three months from now.”