This year has seen small businesses and startups close their doors for good, brace for gangbusters growth, and everything in between.
Notably, those that have seen success in the face of the pandemic have one thing in common. Put simply, it is resilience, and the ability to be nimble and pivot in the face of adversity.
Here’s what 2020 has taught these 12 entrepreneurs about surviving and thriving in a crisis.
In and amongst all the discussions of pandemics and dire times, it will come as little surprise that my biggest takeaway from 2020 is that adversity has an uncanny way of prioritising the things in your life.
In many ways, we are nearly ‘immune’ to the topic of COVID-19 now, but back in March when the world turned upside down, it was a matter of survival.
And in my case, survival meant a pivot to simplicity. Whether it was my personal life (fewer outings, fewer diary entries, but more quality family time) or my business (employing a less-is-more approach with a focus on the most critical elements), the last 12 months have taught me that stripping back the surplus, slowing the pace, and focusing on the few, simple essentials is the most important thing we can do.
COVID-19 has taught us perspective, and it has also taught us resilience. Put them together, and we have the strength to lean into adversity and see the opportunities where some might only see problems.
Something we have really learnt this year is how easy it is to get comfortable. Being comfortable is a significant barrier to problem-solving and business breakthroughs.
This year there was an immediate requirement for us to pivot and change our business model, but we ended up solving a problem which we have faced since 2013.
I think continually looking at how things can be improved, being bold in decision-making, and not being afraid to start something new from scratch, they’re my key takeaways from this year.
This year has been a uniquely challenging one for most businesses, and it’s shone a light on how you can never take anything for granted.
Resilience and adaptability have been the defining characteristics of business success, and I’d advise any business to remain vigilant and agile for what 2021 may or may not throw at them.
For example, many business models have been disrupted and we’ve seen an overall increase in online interactions.
If I had to offer a specific piece of advice, it would be to ensure that you’re working hard to maintain a connection with your customers.
Particularly for startups and SMEs, investing in an online presence has never been so important.
For SMEs that may not have access to the same resources as their larger competitors, having a buttoned-up approach to online interactions, underpinned by the latest technology, can act as the great equaliser.
This year was the best year of my professional life. Why? I lost my job due to COVID-19.
For a couple of years prior to 2020, I had been flirting with leaving the corporate world and starting my own business, but I was hesitant to take any real action in that direction. I had an excellent position in learning and development with an international company and a decent salary, yet I knew that I was bumping my head against the corporate ceiling.
I was no longer fulfilled in my role. It was time for me to spread my wings and accelerate into my potential, but I was scared to let go of my secure perch.
I had a burning desire to become a professional speaker under my own brand. It was a move that had me energized with possibility but paralysed with fear. I rationalised my procrastination by proclaiming that I was in ‘the beginning of a transition’ and wanted to be ‘strategic’ about my career move, not rash or abrupt.
Then 2020 happened and all of our prudent long-term visions went sailing out the window.
My redundancy came in April, rather early into the great coronavirus upheaval, which I’m grateful for in hindsight because the bandage was ripped off for me.
Once the initial shock of unemployment settled, I realised that life was handing me a choice. I could choose to see a setback that I lost my job and income, or I could choose to see a clearing of the path and courageously launch my own business and brand. The power would be in my perspective.
Over the next several months, I threw myself into learning everything that I could about speaking professionally. I allowed myself to be an awkward beginner.
I said yes to every opportunity and reached out to influencers and organisations that I could grow from.
I learnt that asking for help is the bravest and the wisest thing we can ever do. I learnt that when we lean in and show a willingness to be teachable, the teachers appear. I learned power is always in our perspective.
This year was a raging success for me because I chose to see it that way.
I chose to make sacrifices. I lived lean. I did hundreds of hours of work for free. Things didn’t happen in my desired timeframes. Sometimes it didn’t feel good, but I kept reminding myself that everything that happens can be either a setback or an opportunity, the power is in our perspective.
I sprouted a business. I filled my resume with dozens of virtual speaking events. I built a brand. I showed determination and resolve by staying true to my goal and weathered the storms of discouragement.
I learnt how to maintain discipline and focus for long periods of time. I succeeded because I kept the power in my perspective.
As we dive into 2021, I have supreme confidence that it will be my best year yet. Thank you 2020 for teaching me about the power of perspective.
The takeaway for me is to not be afraid to challenge traditional work conventions, and that just maybe, you don’t need to be chained to your desk to be productive.
I feel like I had blinkers on. It shocked me to question if what I was doing was working, both for me and the business.
This year has made me realise we were all working in ways that wasn’t conducive to positive mental health, or even to ideal productivity outcomes.
I also love that it’s OK to now say to a client or colleague ‘let’s just do a video call’, and save ourselves an hour in traffic.
Balancing time in the office versus time working from home is going to allow for a lot more flexibility and better work outcomes.
My most important takeaway from 2020 is that we need to shake up the traditional approach to doing business and be able to turn around on a dime if need be.
Reliance on old systems and thinking puts you at risk, especially when you’re in an industry such as communications and marketing that is often the first to be cut from a budget.
Instead, I think we need to be able to hone in on how we can really help clients and customers in a tangible way, and demonstrate very clearly what value we add.
It turns out that even in a global pandemic, you can still find product-market fit.
We went from having 200 restaurants using our digital menus in early-2020, to over 700 by the end of the year.
Timing really is everything.
Every crisis is an opportunity in disguise. Having lived through martial law, the fall of the Berlin Wall, financial crises, stock market crashes and now this pandemic, there is a familiar pattern across all of them. Namely, long-term plans get thrown out, and the faster you can do that the better.
What follows is a period of taking things day-by-day, and week-by-week, and soon, a new future emerges.
There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world right now and it’s heart-wrenching to see.
At the same time, however, businesses found new opportunities, new businesses emerged, and we have adopted new ways of working.
Life is too short to be risk-averse. You just have to lean in and give it a go. In the hardest of times, such as 2020, people will remember how you responded and behaved.
Being in the hospitality industry has been really tough this year.
For us, business was great, and then, within 24 hours, we lost nearly every booking in our system.
We knew we were going to have to act fast and work hard in order to keep our staff and save the business, so we decided to see if we could make ready-made meals work.
Blakeaway is now a key part of our business, and this weekend, we’ll open our very own pop-up Blakeaway store down in Portsea. This is something we might never have done if we hadn’t have taken a risk at a time when it felt like the odds were against us.
We can never assume business will be the same in the future as it is today, so hope for the best and play for the worst, and live within your means at all times.
Also, we’re more adaptive than we realise.
So many industries and businesses that technically should have crumbled during COVID-19 have survived, and even thrived, due to quick and strategic thinking.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that business plans and strict budgets don’t always go to plan.
You must be flexible, nimble and take every opportunity that presents itself to you. Even if 99 out of 100 of them fail, there might be magic in just one that can open a new door for your business.
More than anything, you must be resilient.
Challenges only make us stronger, so it’s important to take all of the learnings from this year and apply them to everything you do in the future.
All of my actions this year have been the result of acting quickly and then thinking.
I don’t believe this is an ideal way to operate, as good business requires thought and careful consideration. However, the pandemic pushed me to have a knee-jerk response, and I feel now I am working backwards in a sense, in that we are creating a business plan for an initiative we have already launched, and making sure its future is a little more considered.
I don’t regret this as what we created was very special and I feel very proud of it. I just don’t think I fully understood the enormous potential at the time.
My 2020 takeaway is that in business, you can never predict what is coming, so you must always be ready to be flexible and change the way you operate to make sure you survive.
Also, don’t panic, just continue to do what you do well.