For better or for worse, history shows us how periods of recession are nearly always selective.
So far, in the wake of COVID-19, we’ve already seen how businesses in sectors such as e-commerce, logistics and technology solutions are faring better and fostering resilience, while the travel, tourism, sports and entertainment sectors are probably at the ‘worst affected’ end of the spectrum.
It’s also worth noting that some of today’s biggest brands were founded during economic turmoil — such as Airbnb, which launched in the middle of the GFC to offer a solution for travellers priced out of hotels.
As goalposts continue to shift for many businesses — to varying degrees — now is not the time to hold on to ‘business as usual’.
While we’re not yet sure about the extent to which the pandemic will impact the economy and for how long, navigating the next few months is all about preparedness and building for resilience as new opportunities emerge and others vanish.
Here are some tips to develop a strategy for staying successful in a business environment that’s anything but status quo.
Be open to new opportunities
This isn’t about building a brand-new business from the ground up.
Instead, it’s about adapting your products, services and business model to suit the needs of a changing market or even target new customers.
For example, over the last few weeks, we’ve seen many cafes and even some restaurants pivot from in-house diners to offer takeaway sales and deliveries instead.
Of course, easing restrictions is bringing things back to a degree of normality in this space, but the point is, these businesses now have the blueprint to cope with future restrictions or respond to changing consumer habits in a post-pandemic world.
Be cautious when looking for efficiencies
It can sometimes be a problem when businesses approach the idea of becoming more efficient with aggressive cost-cutting tactics.
While pressures can make this unavoidable in some circumstances, it’s important to be careful not to tighten the belt so much that you stunt the type of innovation and workforce morale your business needs for long-term growth.
Paring back business too much, such as sidelining all new projects, could make it harder to bounce back and seize opportunities when times are good — especially if you’ve also fallen off your customers’ radar in the meantime.
For this reason, Live group, for example, has continued to place emphasis on engaging with our customer base throughout COVID-19, irrespective of whether this generates new sales.
Strategically invest in growth, where possible
In a way, this is the inverse of cost-cutting.
Rather than looking for ways to reduce your business’ spend, this is about proactively looking for opportunities to direct funds into new strategic growth areas, based on the current climate and forecast consumer trends.
By taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to diversifying, you could get a head start with a more competitive and relevant business model.
Stick to your customer-centric values
You might ordinarily believe in putting the customer first, but during tough times, there can sometimes be a conflict of interest between looking after the business’ bottom line and helping customers.
We’ve already seen this play out in the travel sector, where some people have had difficulty obtaining refunds for involuntarily cancelled bookings. It can be damaging to a brand.
So, think more along the lines of how you can sustainably help your customers right now, beyond just adopting catchy slogans like ‘we’re with you’.
For example, can you waive certain fees in exchange for loyalty?
Can you implement flexible booking policies to reassure customers against risk?
Or, can you offer free deliveries to support a shift to online?
Lead with clarity and meaning
If one thing is certain, it’s that businesses need the full support of their workforce to be able to adapt and move quickly.
But staff can quickly become disengaged when change happens without reason or explanation, or they lose sight of the business’ goals or priorities.
This is exactly why I’ve been hosting virtual ‘town halls’ for Live group, during which, every staff member has a chance to ask questions about the company’s direction and performance, or even put forward suggestions for what could be done better.
So far, they’ve been great for boosting engagement, morale, and keeping teams aligned. We’re even using Slack to conduct ongoing polls and check-ins.
If coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that technology can lend nearly every business a helping hand if we embrace what’s out there, whether it’s improving internal operations or discovering new sources of revenue.
or example, while remote working tools might bolster efficiency and lower overheads, pivoting to online sales and digitised solutions could help you stay competitive as consumer habits change.
A carefully devised recovery strategy will be key to emerging from the other side of this pandemic-induced uncertainty stronger and more successful.
But, above all, it’ll require ongoing positivity and vigilance to make it work for your business model as the goalposts shift.