At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the forecast for entrepreneurs was dire: Expect major shutdowns and downsizing, said governments and business leaders alike. Nine months later, however, many of those predictions have proven to be surprisingly inaccurate. Rather than shuttering en masse, more than half of startups told researchers that they were financially on target or doing better than expected.
Want more uplifting, albeit unexpected news? Data from Bloomberg indicates a downward trend in bankruptcies among organizations. In other words, despite COVID-19 being heralded as an utter doomsday, entrepreneurs have carved out niches and bucked expectations. Really, it’s not the first time this has happened. Disney held strong during the Great Depression. Uber grew during the last decade’s Great Recession. And plenty of other organizations unearthed or created niches during uncertain periods, too.
So what does this mean for your business? Quite a bit, and especially if you’ve been convinced that you couldn’t possibly scale until well into 2021 or beyond. After all, you might be in a better position than you thought. To be sure, you can’t afford to ignore what’s happening around the world—or in your backyard. But with a bit of planning, you might be able to leverage the changing conditions and carve out your company’s new pathway toward success.
Bolstering Your Organization Through Tough Times
For a bit of inspiration, look at Automation Anywhere. The 17-year-old robotic process automation provider finished a Series B funding round in 2019. And when COVID-19 hit, Automation Anywhere saw an opening: It would push its cloud and hybrid cloud solutions rapidly to the expanding remote work market. The reward for switching focus and being pragmatic? G2 heralded the company as one of the best software companies and one of the fastest-growing products in 2020.
Ready to do likewise? The following steps will help you identify (as well as take advantage of) great opportunities:
1. Renew your corporate continuity plan. Perhaps you didn’t have a continuity plan in place before. Regardless, you need one now. COVID-19 showed just how quickly everything could change socially, financially, and transactionally. Having a business continuity plan to lean on during future crises will ensure that you don’t have to start from square one when you’re picking up the pieces. Even better, continuity plans also assist you in mitigating risks to your assets and stakeholders.
Remember: Your company might never have to deal with something like COVID-19 again. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll be immune from some other catastrophe, whether that’s a natural disaster or a large-scale hack. Therefore, spend time with key personnel identifying potential risks and fleshing out operational safeguards. If possible, try to validate your hypotheses by testing some of your safety scenarios. And as Dan Johnson of Ensono advises, dust off your continuity plan regularly. As he explains, “When a disaster does occur, you will be prepared for it.”
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2. Ruminate about the big picture. Do you feel like you’ve spent the past three quarters playing catch-up? Slow down so you can start strategizing—and get ahead of the pack. You’ll want to block off time and dive into the big picture. By affording yourself the time to analyze where your company is going, you’ll be able to make wiser decisions based on long-term guiding principles. Sure, you’ll have to make changes every now and then. Nevertheless, you’ll have a lodestar to sustain your business and stop you from letting short-term challenges derail your long-term growth.
In his article for StartupNation, Ascend Venture Capital general partner Dan Conner notes that “foresight is an essential skill for founders, and it stems from understanding an industry in-depth: the market forces, competitive landscape, technical roots, and customer profiles.” Conner recommends entrepreneurs routinely reflect on “big picture” considerations, particularly if they want to be poised to scale when the moment is right.
3. Remain adaptable. Even if you wish it weren’t, you have to accept that success is usually a winding road. Often, you’ll have to reset your GPS to realize your ultimate vision. This vision sometimes won’t look like you imagined once you get where you’re going, so the only way to ride this type of unpredictable experience is by staying nimble. Businesses that pivoted during the pandemic—including restaurants and retailers that had to reinvent fast—fared better than those unwilling to change.
Imagine if Twitter’s founding team had stuck to their original idea of a podcast discovery and creation site. The company might have fallen by the wayside. Instead, Twitter’s leaders reimagined the platform as a place for real-time, crowdsourced information. Their willingness to let go of what wasn’t working allowed them to make room for something the world had never seen—and couldn’t wait to try.
This type of reinvention is certainly tough when you’re dedicated to your product or service, but it’s essential if you want to survive and even thrive through market and economic uncertainties.
If you want to grow your operations, you don’t have to sit back and wait. You just have to make a few practical moves to protect your business. Then, you can comfortably experiment with different ways to stay relevant with current and untapped audiences that are eager to become fans.