When we’re in a crisis like we’re in right now, the first thing you think of is keeping your family safe. If you’re a small business owner, that safety includes keeping your business alive. To this point, you’ve beaten the odds. You made it past the honeymoon period, you finally started breaking even, and maybe you even started seeing a profit as your business matured. Then, COVID-19 happened. Now, you’re faced with a challenge you never prepared for, and if your business is going to survive, you need to think hard and act fast.
Let’s think beyond the obvious steps that you’ve already taken, like working remotely, following sanitary social distancing procedures, and updating your hours.
Let’s think about what your business needs to look like if we stay in quarantine forever.
Is that a bit dramatic? I hope so. However, this thinking will force us to stop looking at incremental change and start building solutions that can last. If the new world was a stay-at-home world, what do you need to change in order to survive? Your business. Not you, personally. You’ve watched enough of The Walking Dead to know what you have to do to survive… find Daryl.
It’s an overwhelming thought, I know. Your blood pressure immediately began to rise, and that feeling of overload, when something immediately feels too “big” to even begin thinking about, rushes through your body from head to toe. You know this feeling though. You’ve felt it before, several times, and you’ve beaten it, enough times to still be standing today. You figured out how to make payroll. You saved that account. You made it work, even though it started off feeling way too “big”. Remember how you did it? One step at a time.
One step at a time.
Defining that first step is usually the most difficult. It’s a commitment down a path that doesn’t yet exist, except it’s not. The only thing we have to commit to is solving the problem. Our process becomes one of exploring the problems, and once those are clearly defined, we’ll build solutions.
Remember, we’re focusing on one tiny task at a time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, be mindful of how “big” you’re thinking, and try to pull yourself back down to one tiny little task.
Step 1. Define New Problems for Your Current Customers
No no, not your problems – the problems that your customers are facing in a forever stay-at-home world. What new challenges are they trying to tackle? Don’t limit this to the problems your business used to solve, or even problems related to those. Think about all of their problems. What do their lives now look like? What do they need? What do they want?
Remember, you are not your customer. You may have to have some conversations with customers to find out what they’re really facing, instead of guessing. You might have a great deal of insight and be able to answer for them, but reach out if you need to. Chances are that you have at least a few customers who will be more than willing to talk, and they will appreciate your effort.
Step 2. Filter for Skills You Can Provide
You won’t be able to solve every problem that your clients are facing, but you might surprise yourself by looking at your list of problems and asking yourself “do I have the skill to solve this?” If you can, advance this problem to the next round.
Don’t limit your “skills” to your current services. Thing about the things you have the capability of providing. It’s highly likely that you’ll find skills that you haven’t yet marketed directly. You might also find that you can’t solve their problem, but you know another small business owner who can. Your customer and the other small business owner will both love you forever, and this might be super important when the zombies show up.
Step 3. Open Up
It’s time to think beyond your traditional customer base. Look at the list of problems that you’ve determined you can solve, and think about who else is experiencing the same (or similar) issue. If you’re going to build a new solution, you might as well make it available to everyone who can benefit from it. With this kind of thinking, you can reinvent your services and actually grow.
Now is a good time to also identify new problems (not experienced by your current customers but experienced by others) that you can solve. Look back through the skills that you’re recently defined, and think of any others you’ve missed. When you find skills that aren’t linked to a corresponding problem for your current customer base, that’s the trigger to figure out who IS experiencing this problem.
Step 4. Develop Solutions
What are you going to do, specifically, to solve each problem? How much of your time and resources will this solution take? What’s the impact on customers? Is it worth it? Can you provide great value? Can you make it easy and obtainable for customers?
It doesn’t have to be pretty at this point. It’s an idea. A rough one. I like to call these “ugly versions” to make it abundantly clear (to anyone I may ask to review) that this is in development.
Step 5. Test Solutions
Pitch your ugly versions to customers who will give you honest feedback. You may find that it takes some tweaking, but so long as you stay focused on a true solution, you’ll find a sweet spot. More often than not, these will at least serve as solution conversation starters, and that’s all you need right now.
Develop MVP versions of solutions with the input of customers who are willing to beta test the flow with you. Make sure that they understand that this is a beta (ugly) test and that the point is to make it pretty through this process.
Step 6. Roll Out Full Solutions
Don’t treat these as Band-Aid solutions and services. Take them seriously, and operate on the assumption that you’re going to need to do business this way forever. Add them to your web experience. Create forms and automation. Give them polish. Taking them seriously will provide longevity and show your customers (and new customers) that you’ve gone the extra mile to adapt to their new lives.
You know your “why” because that’s where you started documenting this process. Messaging to roll your new solutions out should all but write itself. Of course, having a badass agency partner to help you roll this out quickly and efficiently is always a great idea. #winkwink
You might just find that, if and when the quarantine, a stay-at-home era comes to an end, these new services become part of your new “old” business. After all, we already need solutions that are more convenient for our customers. For some, these will continue to be that needed convenience. This presents an opportunity to actually grow your business during and after the “whoa Karen, back up” era.
Start thinking. Start talking. Start solving. Stay alive.
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