Businessmen meeting and planning

As an eternal optimist, I can’t resist imagining the business environment after this “storm” has passed.  My career has been focused on building and rebuilding businesses, so I’m hardwired to think this way.  And because of the wildly varied experiences I’ve had working with startups and some of the largest corporations in the world, I see a major obstacle or opportunity (depending on your perspective) ahead once we are clear to resume our lives.

While most companies, and their employees, are in crisis mode, the small to medium-sized businesses are largely fearing for their survival. Many of these companies have been in existence for many years and are starting to lose all that they spent a lifetime building. Few companies have grown to millions in revenue overnight, so it is heartbreaking to see it all go away so quickly. The “opportunity” side of this crisis is the thousands of companies growing very quickly, virtually overnight. Will you be on the obstacle or opportunity side? This sounds like a business climate of startups, doesn’t it?

For those companies that have not been in startup mode recently (especially those that are decades old), I’m here to tell you, THINGS WILL BREAK – and you need to think about that before the breaking occurs. If there are weak links in your business, this crisis will act as a stress test and your company’s weaknesses will be exposed. In my experience, here are the four most vulnerable areas:

  • EMPLOYEES – Some of your employees are simply not equipped to be in a startup environment and some will thrive in it. You WILL have a crisis with your staff if you do not take the time to think through who fits into each category, and then challenge yourself and your leadership team to recognize and support everyone through it. If your business has been forced to close, take this time to train your leadership on this mindset. Your employees will need you and your leadership team now more than ever.
  • VENDORS – Remember that your entire supply chain is likely going through what your business is experiencing, so make sure to communicate often with them during this crisis.  Some in your supply chain may fail, some will sputter, and some will thrive. Know who falls into each category. The last thing you want to do is impose a “Don’t sell more than this amount” sales quota for your sales team. I have been there, done that, and I’m here to tell you that is not a fun place to be.
  • CUSTOMERS – The same concept that applies to your vendors, applies to your customers.  Get close to them – especially your top customers. Your sales team needs to reach out to them frequently, checking-in on the state of their business, while also reassuring them that your business is here to help them in any way they need – THEIR success is your goal. If there is ever a time to set proper customer expectations, this will be the time.
  • LEADERSHIP – Just like employees, leaders are not always wired the same and most thrive in different situations. Business owners and senior leadership teams may not have ever experienced a startup or launch phase of a business in their careers. When a leadership crisis happens, it cuts across the entire organization, internally and externally. That’s why it’s vital to have daily huddles and consistent messaging. You also need your leadership team to be flexible, understanding that roles may need to be different, given that you are in startup mode again.  Communicate often, letting your leadership team know that egos need to be set to the side while you ramp the business back up. Remember, not sharing information or updates, regardless how big or small, will only cause confusion in an already chaotic environment. 

Utilize forward planning and thoughtful analysis of your business while in this moment of “crisis pause.” While it is always better to have done this planning before a crisis, there is still time. If you treat this crisis as an opportunity and plan effectively, you will likely enjoy a tremendous surge of revenue, in a way that you never thought possible. 

I have lived through many business crises before, and I know what good and bad preparation looks like.  If you plan and communicate well, you will experience firsthand how exciting the rocket ship growth curve can be.

Until then, be safe, stay positive, and turn this obstacle into an opportunity – you won’t regret it!