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Business as "Un" usual - Thoughts for Business Leaders

by Kathy Steele

As business leaders, we face many challenges. Still, the recent international health crisis is unprecedented even for those who have weathered other setbacks like recessions, business divorces, or losing significant customers. At first, it seemed like it would be business as usual, but it's not. Over the past few weeks, our company has gone from flex work to entirely remote. We have heard both fear and optimism from clients. We have discussed our contingency and recovery plans. And I realize how fortunate I am to have brilliant and supportive people in my network. 

A few key themes have surfaced over and over...

Working remotely is more challenging than it seems - 

Creating work from home or a virtual workforce is a process. If this is something your business has done overnight, you're likely experiencing some communication and cultural challenges. We have had flexible and remote work experience in place for years. But when we went fully remote, we experienced some frustration and communication hiccups. Despite the circumstances, our team morale has been upbeat. Using the right technology and the new communication habits we put in motion are working for us.  

There is an array of camera and conferencing solutions available, but we have found the Meeting Owl combined with Zoom video-conferencing to be flexible, reliable, and affordable. We love G-Suite Collaboration tools and the ability to work, share, and comment on the same documents. I have been missing our beloved office whiteboard tables and was recently introduced to the Jamboard app, a virtual whiteboard tool in G-Suite that could improve idea sharing during our remote work sessions. We use Google hangout chats for quick messages to groups and individual conversations. These tech tools keep our productivity levels high and frustrations low.

The moment we went fully remote, we began doing daily meet-ups to align on priorities for the team. We continue our weekly Great Game of Business Huddles, Culture Club, and a first-ever virtual Thirsty Thursday cocktail hour. These new meeting habits and visual interactions have been a great way to stay connected, collaborative, and supportive. The introduction of the Question of the Day, Hat Day, and crazy virtual backgrounds has kept us laughing. A great distraction from the continuous urge to look at the latest news feeds on twitter. 

How do we continue sales and marketing during a health crisis?

Business development is never easy, but the selling landscape is now different in an instant. Tradeshows and conferences are canceled. Industry events and face-time meetings may not be an option for a long time. Sales are the lifeblood of any business, and this could have a significant impact on lead generation opportunities planned for the first half of the year. If you have not added digital strategies to your marketing and sales plan, you need to catch up now. 

Host virtual lunches. Order lunch and have it delivered to your guest, and it's not much different from eating at your favorite restaurant. This is also an excellent opportunity to support local restaurants that are being impacted. Prefer Happy Hour? Send a custom cocktail box from companies like the cocktail box. I have been hosting virtual meetings as a way to stay connected with my out of state network for years. 

If your live event or conference is canceled, there are a few options to consider. Turn your content from speaking engagements into webinars or a short video series. Film virtual tour of your office or facility and share how each part of your business makes an impact. 

This concept is not new, but if you're prospecting right now, you need to add authentic value. Some decision-makers are carefully vetting expenses that don't impact short term revenue, and others are taking advantage of new growth lanes. Business is uncertain, so be sure to be thinking about each person in your outreach and what they need now. If you cannot bring immediate value or aid in their business recovery, this is not the time to connect.  

Guilt about prospering during a health crisis -

As an entrepreneur and conscious capitalist, I am so impressed by the innovation I see in our business communities. Restaurants, real estate, manufacturers, and even Broadway are having to turn their previous day-to-day operations into new delivery and work models overnight. We need businesses to survive and thrive, especially those in the mid-market generating over one-third of overall revenue in our US economy. These companies employ us, hire us, and ultimately will help our economy recover. 

This definition of capitalism was shared by Bo Burlingham and Doug Tatum at 2019's Gathering of the Games conference. Profit ultimately represents the amount that a customer knowingly provides a company for the value they have received above that company's costs. 

If your business brings value or is essential to your customers right now, there is no shame. I say, bring it on. 

The show must go on - 

There is fear right now and a great deal of uncertainty, but there is also optimism and hope. Our focus should be on perseverance and optimizing business performance. Develop a 90-day plan that lays out the action to take in a worst-case scenario, and moves your recovery plan forward. Stay informed and act on the stimulus options provided by your state and the US Government and resources like recent Inc. Magazine National Town Hall for what this means to small businesses. Connect and be generous with your clients, prospects, and community. No one will get through this without a little help from their friends.