Andre Chandra, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in San Francisco, is the founder and CEO of Propelo Media, an omni-channel direct marketing company that helps clients with lead generation, customer retention and brand building by creating standout marketing experiences. We asked Andre about the business survival strategies he recommends during the Covid-19 crisis. Here's what he shared.
Covid-19 has made these past few months unlike anything any business owner could imagine. While there is no magic wand to make the crisis disappear, there are actionable steps that businesses can take to make a difference in strategically positioning your company for the rebound.
Earlier in my career, when I wanted to scale and grow my company, I joined EO's business accelerator program. I learned practical advice on how to survive and thrive in business. I connected with business experts who mentored and coached me; I owe a lot of my success to their advice and experience.
To pay it forward, I created three free webinars to help struggling business owners. I included lessons learned and tips on business pivot and survival, how to work from home efficiently, and post-Covid comeback strategies.
In EO, we learn a very systematic way of examining any issue, such as running a business (or navigating a pandemic). By focusing on one thing at a time, you can make small, incremental improvements--which eventually coalesce into success.
Small Business Survival 101
The Survive and Thrive framework that I learned in EO takes the essential business concepts of people, strategy, execution, and cash, and asks specific questions around each concept:
- What advantages does your business have?
- What needs do your customers have?
- What opportunities can you see?
- What actions will you take?
This framework will not only help you focus on critical aspects of surviving the crisis but also on how you can begin pivoting to adjust to the new reality as our economy rebounds. Let's dive into each concept.
As an entrepreneur, people are your greatest asset. It's critical to keep your team intact, if possible. If necessary, spread out hours or reduce hours slightly across the board so that everyone can stay with the company. Layoffs and furloughs should be a last resort. Could you transfer employees to new areas of the business? Could existing employees leverage online education to gain a new skill that is now critical for your company?
Cash flow is the lifeblood of a business. How can you improve it even during the worst of times?
- Dip into reserves, if you have them. If ever there was a "rainy day," it's today!
- Scrutinize every expense line item.
- Take advantage of SBA and government loans and grants.
- Negotiate rent holidays from your landlord.
- Negotiate a loan payment reprieve from your bank.
- Renegotiate terms with vendors, including car and business insurance policies.
- Explore new revenue streams: Product bundling, subscription-based items, or discounts available now on services to be fulfilled in the future.
You may not think your business lends itself to a subscription-based segment, but here's an example of ingenuity: A local San Francisco bakery started a Bread of the Month subscription. It's a small but savvy revenue stream. Each month, subscribers receive a special loaf, which both keeps cash flowing and keeps the bakery top-of-mind with customers.
Your customers are still alive, but you have to get in front of them. This crisis presents not only a demand problem but also a logistics problem. Give customers a reason to buy: There are birthdays to celebrate, children to raise, pets to care for. Your business will be different because of COVID-19, so you'll need to adapt. Figure out how to satisfy customers' needs with your products and services.
- Be on the offensive: Proactively do something to stand out and get noticed.
- Promote that you are open for business to serve your customers.
- Leverage digital technology. The fastest, most nimble marketing method is your website, social media and email--make quick changes and provide daily updates.
With defensive and offensive strategies in place, how will you operate your business?
- Spread out demand. New business methods can take time; allow for this. If you're a retail location allowing a limited number of people in your store, offer appointment-based shopping.
- Offer discounts where possible. For example, on non-rush orders, if that helps your workflow.
- Ask for testimonials. Reach out to your followers. Loyal clients will want to help you. If someone wrote an excellent Facebook review, ask them to share one on Instagram. Maybe you want people to know about your tip-top hygiene, safety or speedy delivery--ask satisfied customers to mention that aspect of your service in their review.
- Cross-pollinate across all channels. More people are online and for a longer time, but there's excess noise, so target your efforts. It's critical to get in front of your ideal audience and provide them with consistent messaging and attractive offers across every platform. That's "omni-channeling," a marketing approach that is proven to work.
Be nimble. Be agile. Be flexible. There's a new normal, and some things have changed forever.
Look for industry changes that will play to your advantage. During the Great Recession of 2008, the food truck industry boomed. It was suddenly cool and socially acceptable to buy food from a truck. While we're not sure what will catch on because of Covid-19, it's a best practice to follow your industry and sister industries closely for developments and new ideas.
Yes, things look murky and bleak right now. And it's a lonely time for business leaders. Yet, at the same time, your team is looking to you for leadership and vision. Their livelihoods depend on you.
Leadership is needed most in times of crisis. Be a comforter in chief. You may find that you were made for a time like this.