There are times when you do everything right – and STILL, everything goes wrong through no fault of yours. Covid-19 hit and business owners are helpless as they watch the business that they have worked so hard to build, just disintegrate in front of their eyes. The orders stopped coming in. Whatever orders you did have got cancelled. Life is just not fair.
And neither is business. Doing business definitely has its challenges and stress! In my last blog, I talked about the Feast and Famine Cycle and how we can overcome it. We are right in one of those times now – Welcome to the famine part of the cycle. However, this time you’re not alone. Every business is either directly or indirectly affected. This is a crisis on a scale that most of us have never seen in our lifetime.
Is there REALLY nothing we can do? Should we just wait for the government to introduce whatever stimulus they can to overcome the Covid-19 crisis?
I, for one, do not believe in just sitting back and watching the world go by. Obsessing about it, worrying about it and panicking is a choice. I believe that as business owners, we can be leaders and be proactive. We need to grab the bull by the horns and do something about it!
Besides, the wheels of government move slowly and as Chaucer said, “Time and tide wait for no man.” If government provides something later, great. But I’m not about to wait and see. What happens if nothing is done by government? We, as individuals, have the capacity to act quickly and we should act. I believe that in the long term, the stage is set for unprecedented growth. Technology is creating opportunities everywhere for small business. However, for us to take advantage of that growth, we first have to survive the crisis.
Let’s get practical.
DEALING WITH FEAR AND UNCERTAINTY
The most important we have to deal with is our own mind.
There is no doubt that the current panic buying is caused by fear and uncertainty. We need to understand where that fear comes from. In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill talks of the 6 most dangerous enemies that rule our lives. He called them the 6 Ghosts of Fear – Fear of Poverty, Fear of Death, Fear of Ill-Health, Fear of Loss of Love, Fear of Old Age and Fear of Criticism.
Covid-19 hits at least 3 of them – Fear of poverty if you lose your business or your job and fear of death and ill-health especially for those considered in the high-risk age group. That is why it has caused such pandemonium.
However, we do need to get perspective on this. The birth of Instagram, WhatsApp, AirBNB, Dropbox happened AFTER the 2008 financial crisis. We have lost loved ones before. We have made bad business decisions and lost money on a business deal. Some have even gone bankrupt. I believe I would be right to say that you survived. You got through it. You will go through this too. Which of these fears is causing YOU the greatest concern? Napoleon Hill said, “An enemy discovered is an enemy half whipped.”
That is easier said than done. How do you get perspective in this time of chaos and uncertainty? The answer is and will always remain the same. Know your WHY. Why do you do what you do? Focus on who you are and what you really really want.
Among all the chaos, we can choose to remain steady or we can choose to follow the crowd and panic. You need to take control of your own emotional centre. It is so easy to do what everyone is doing. We must be responsible for what we do. Yes, we do need to react and do that which we must do to stay safe in this Covid-19 pandemic. However, we do need to stay focused on our own plans.
We might need to move our projects around a bit to accommodate what is happening in the world around us. However, we do not need to over-react and join the panic buying. The supplies are not going to run out. The only reason supermarket shelves are empty is because it takes time for the supply chain to catch up with the unprecedented demand. That will happen – then there will, no doubt, be excess stock!
The only crazy thing about the whole Covid-19 situation is that some of us are now unable to buy what we normally buy. For example, as a caterer, you would probably buy items such as napkins, gloves and kitchen towels in bulk. Try and do that today and you would be accused of hoarding and panic buying.
DON’T WHINE, DON’T COMPLAIN, DON’T MAKE EXCUSES BUT BE PREPARED
I’ve heard both sides – there’s the one side that says “I’m so over this. Don’t talk to me about it” and they bury their head in the sand and look to others to help them out when they realise that they WEREN’T prepared. Or they expect the government to bail them out. There’s also the other side – where they consume the news on this 24/7 but they actually don’t DO anything about it. The Scout motto “Be prepared” is a good motto to adopt in these times. In the bible, the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25 tell us to “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour”. As always, there is a balance.
Complaining and whining will do nothing to improve the situation. It won’t make things better. Making excuses is just a way of avoiding what is happening around you. But that doesn’t mean that you can ignore what is happening around you.
I am personally using this time as an opportunity for learning and to work on my business. I still tune into the news twice a day to get the updates – once in the morning to catch up with what’s been happening around the world whilst I sleep and again at mid-day. I’m sure that if something drastic happens in between those times that I need to know about, someone would tell me about it.
How much time did you spend with your eyes glued to social media and the news watching for news on Covid-19 instead of using all that “spare” time you now have?
WORK ON YOUR BUSINESS
Have a good hard look at your business (now that you got time on your hands!). What are the 5 things that you can do that you know will drive your business and grow your business? What are the primary drivers for your business? Double down on that and amplify it. Think about the 5 things that has worked for your business and keep doing it.
Of course, it’s possible that some things you want to work on immediately cannot be done and you may have to temporarily suspend some actions. Even if you do, make sure you are ready to RUN when this pandemic end. Don’t wait till it ends before you start working on it.
Stop playing defense position right now. Now is the time to ramp up your brand marketing. If there’s no marketing dollars available, there’s still plenty of organic marketing that can be done to build brand awareness. Just BE READY for when the good times come … it will! Covid-19 will not be with us forever.
MAKE THE HARD DECISIONS
Sticking your head in the sand will not do anything for you. We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. Think of it like a game of cards. You get dealt a certain hand – it may be great, it may be terrible. It is how you play your hand that matters. I’ve seen brilliant card players with the worst hand win a game.
If you have to bunker down and cut costs, then do that now. Don’t wait. When SARS happened, travel agents saw a 90% drop in business overnight. The travel agents who took action and immediately retrenched their casual (and some permanent) staff are still here today. The travel agents who stuck their heads in the sand and kept putting off the hard decisions didn’t.
Being in a pandemic, does not mean we need sit and wait for everything to end before we start driving our business again. You can predict the future of your business based on how you’re going to show up today. TODAY DOES MATTER.
The Covid-19 pandemic will not last forever. It will end – as did SARS and MERS. A cure will be found. And it will no longer cause the fear to take over. Life will return to normal (whatever normal is) and you want to make sure that you are ready to ramp up your business and enjoy the boom times. For every recession, there is a boom. That is just the normal cycle of things in business.
You may have already discovered – your income will drop much faster than your expenses. My catering business income disappeared overnight. So, I do know what some of you are going through. However, I still have to pay for the rent of the commercial kitchen. That is not going to disappear overnight.
Therefore, you do need to make the tough decisions. Identify your cash-leakage hot spots. Look out for items that have recently increased in cost or expenses that costs a lot more than all the others. Look also for those expenses that seem to fluctuate wildly from one month to the next.
Are those expenses critical to the efficient running of your business? If they’re not critical, consider getting rid of it. What do I mean by critical? For example, if you’re a chef, then having a commercial kitchen is essential. You couldn’t run your business without it.
I do realise it is not as easy as it sounds to cull expenses. When you take a good hard look, it can be difficult to decide which expenses are important to your business. I tend to look at each and slot them into the appropriate section:
For example, a fancy coffee machine that uses expensive coffee pods in an office can be stopped easily (I’m sure your employees would understand!) – that’s a small gain and easy to do. Are you paying for a subscription that you’re not using? That’s another small gain that’s easy to do. Another example could be to make one of your staff redundant – that would be a big gain and difficult to do (nobody likes having to tell an employee their services are no longer required).
Obviously, your first priority would be anything that falls into the big gain and easy to do, followed by the small gain and easy to do. Work your way through the list and prioritise. You need to do this yourself. You cannot always rely on your accountant to raise questions about the way your money is being spent. Unless it’s a real big ticket item, the chances of your accountant spotting it is not great.
SWEAT YOUR ASSETS?
There’s an interesting term I heard recently – SWEAT YOUR ASSETS. What this means is use what you have. What do you know that would help others? Double down in sharing that. Now is the time to focus heavily on building your brand and becoming that person of influence. Build your credibility and build that trust. Remember, people buy from those whom they know, like and trust. Things will definitely get worse before it gets better. So be intentional about how you spend your time during this period.
Secondly, if you do have employees, you need to figure out how you can free up your productive staff to work on generating income. Delegate tasks down the line as much as possible. For example, when I operated the accounting practice, we templated much of the repetitious work such as checking of income tax assessments so it could be done by our administration staff, rather than the accountants.
For many, today is all doom and gloom. Restaurants are empty. People are scared and many are being asked to work from home and to self-isolate. Supermarket shelves are empty. Whole countries, towns and cities have or are being placed into lock down. Airlines have stopped flying. Borders are closed or closing. Yet, even as we hit the Covid-19 crisis, there will be opportunities. I don’t mean that you should be looking for opportunities to profit from Covid-19 (as some unscrupulous people have done), but rather for opportunities to profit DURING Covid-19.
Where are the opportunities going to come from? Ask yourself, what would you be doing if you’re stuck at home?
My guess is that social media is going to be very busy. After the initial period vegetating on the couch watching TV and flicking channels, after the fear subside (and it will), people are going to be bored and looking for things to do at home. Those who use to enjoy going out to restaurants will be miss having their food made for them. I hear that in China, people are learning the joy of home cooking again!
My question is … Can you identify and meet that need? Will you cling to the way you did business before Covid-19 or will you use this time to transform your business into an even stronger and more profitable business? There is no doubt in my mind that your business tomorrow will look very different to your business today.
BE A ROLE MODEL
Whatever you do, decide to be a role model – to your children, your colleagues and your customers. Before you react, or before you lose your temper when someone grabs that last roll of toilet paper that you thought should be yours, consider who is watching you. What do you want to project? Do you want to be someone that your children and your colleagues look up to – someone who has stayed centered and is a tower of strength during this troubled time? Or someone who crumbles and panic at the first sign of trouble? It’s not about do as I say, but do as I do.
James Lane Allen said, “Circumstances do not determine a man, they reveal him.” That is so true.
At times like this, do not let your fear of criticism dictate what you do – as long as you know that you’re being integrous. Be prepared. If you’re not prepared, you cannot help others because you would be joining the crowds that’s scrambling to do what they should have done before. Look out for those who cannot look out for themselves.
Let me quote from the Black Panther: “in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”
This is your time to show leadership.
About the Author:
Patsy Lim’s business and financial background (having qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1980), together with her entrepreneurial spirit enables her to apply a potent blend of strong financial and accounting expertise, deep practical business experience, and entrepreneurial flair and creativity to complex business problems. As an entrepreneur, she understands the issues that an entrepreneur faces. So, unlike some accountants who only know the theory of business, Patsy has had hands-on experience of what it means to be IN business, to start a business, to grow a business, and most of all, to manage a business when times inevitably get tough!