It was a Thursday afternoon at my local supermarket at 4pm, a time when normally things were quiet and uncrowded, but not today. Today the store was packed, shelves were 20 percent empty and there was a subtle buzz of nervousness in all the store patrons.
It was tangible. I felt it. Now I consider myself a fairly calm and rational person and still I felt it. As I left the store I stopped for a moment to gather my thoughts on how this mood and new reality might affect my business. I'm also in a special position of working with a large number of business coaching clients who run small and midcap companies.
Here are 5 questions that I think every business owner and entrepreneur needs to ask about how the Coronavirus is going to impact their business:
1. If my economy takes a serious hit, how will it impact my customers?
Notice I said "my" economy. For some businesses, with a customer base that is very localized, the "global" economy matters less than the local economy. For others, any global economic wave is quickly transmitted to their business.
When you consider the public anxieties and "social distancing" measures many local, state, and national governments are taking, how will this impact your customers' lives?
For example, one of our business coaching clients Russel runs a large outdoor guiding service that takes individuals and groups on wilderness experiences. With travel greatly curtailed this is going to mean much fewer people will be flying into his area to go on tours and adventures. (I'll share with you in a moment how he's planning on dealing with this under question five.)
Another client who owns a midsize medical practice in the Midwest with a dozen dermatology clinics. Will his patients really want to come into his clinics to get their normal skin cancer screenings, or will they more likely delay to a later day?
2. Understanding this impact on my customers, how will it affect how, when, and what they buy from me?
Based on your answers to question one, game out how this will likely impact the buying patterns of your customers over the next 6-12 months. For example, with the above dermatology group, they will likely still have a significant volume of their more acute patient visits, things like surgeries to remove skin cancer and other acute skin cases. But they can anticipate that a core part of their practice -- cancer screenings -- will be significantly reduced.
While you can't control the world outside you, your job as the leader of your business is to anticipate and get ahead of the situation to help your company thrive. Which leads me to question 3.
3. How can I take steps today to best position my company to best and most profitably serve my customers as these shifts are happening?
With the above dermatology group, in many of their clinics they have a three month wait to see a dermatologist. Now would be a good time for them to start planning their patient outreach to fill the increasing holes in their schedule by bringing future patients in sooner. Of course, they'll have to reassure their patients about the proactive steps they are taking to keep any visiting patient safe from corona exposure.
4. "What steps can I take today to mitigate the risks to my company born out of Coronavirus?"
Do you need to create a cash buffer by reducing non-strategic expenses or expanding a line of credit just in case?
Do you need to find several new clients to offset a concentration risk with a specific customer who is vulnerable to the current situation?
Perhaps you need to delay development plans for a new product or service offering until you see how and when the market settles down?
What happens if local schools shut down in your area and your workforce is torn between caring for their kids and coming in to work, how could you mitigate this? Do you need to give them options to work remotely? Brainstorm with them childcare options? You get the idea now.
What are the three biggest "threats" you face today, directly or indirectly, that come out of this outbreak? How can you take a few simple steps today to mitigate these risks?
5. "What big opportunities exist for me and my company born out of this situation?"
I remember the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession. I saw a large number of businesses who were crushed by the economic crisis. But at the same time I watched several of our most creative coaching clients use the market meltdown to help them buy competitors, snap up market share, recruit talent, or otherwise scale their companies. The same possibilities exist inside this current scare.
Take the example of Russell, who runs that large outdoor guiding company. One big opportunity for him is to reach out to his marketplace and promote a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity to enjoy this pristine section of wilderness without the normal crowds of out of area tourists who normally flock to this popular area. Because of the nature of what he does, this is perhaps the safest type of travel experience because there are no large crowds or other virus transmission vectors to worry about. He gets to share with his market that if they've ever dreamed of doing a trip like this, there may never be a better time than now.
Or take the example of Blake Schwank, who runs Colorado Computer Support, an IT services business (and a coaching client). Blake is now sharing ideas and information with his market about how to quickly scale up their remote work options for their employees. Obviously this is an extremely timely and door-opening subject with which Blake's company can sell through their IT services.
One more example because I want to hammer home that if you look for it, you will find a positive benefit for your business in this scary moment. We work with a financial services company based in North Carolina. For the past three years they have been trying to move more and more of their clients to do "virtual" planning meetings with their financial advisors versus in person because this would allow them to serve a national client-base with a centralized staff of advisors in their high quality of life, but lower wage area. This is a perfect time for them to get their more reluctant, change-adverse clients to try out virtual planning sessions, and form new habits before this outbreak is over. The potential impact on my client's business is huge if he can make this shift work. There is an analog opportunity somewhere in this mess for your business.
Take a moment and brainstorm 10+ potential opportunities that this massive outbreak generates for your company to profitably serve your market. The opportunities are there if you look for them.
The bottom line is that this is happening. You, me, none of us can control that. We can only take clear steps today to position our businesses to best succeed in a very turbulent moment in history.