John: First off, talk to me about how you think companies are feeling right now.
Tom: Over the last few weeks, I’ve had many conversations with our clients across many industries and business types, and at this point in the game, it’s been a similar story across the board.
They (and we) have faced the initial wave of all these economic changes and have landed in some sort of “middle ground.”
A better way to phrase it might be that we’re entering the eye of the storm now where the gravity of everything that’s happened has sunk in, and it’s now time to operate the business in the “new normal.”
And when combined with the fact that there isn’t a solid time table for how long our companies or the economy will have to endure it, it creates uncertainty.
I think that would be the one word I’d use to describe how companies are feeling right now.
At the same time though, this “new normal” is giving companies time to look inward — and for growing companies, it’s never easy to find time to "work on” the business.
As physical becomes virtual, companies of the older generation are forced to adopt modern ways of doing things, and companies that have rested on the merit of their products and services thus far have no choice but to rethink how it could be consumed or delivered.
So, I also feel many companies are sensing opportunity at their doorsteps, but probably not in the way that they wanted it to appear.
John: In hard times, the relationships we've built can be tested. How has this crisis impacted your work with clients?
Tom: When it comes to our client relationships specifically, I think it comes down to balancing both the short-term, protective measures we have to take as an organization for the sake of sustainability, along with the long-term, opportunistic measures we have to take for the future-state of these relationships.
This balance is extremely hard — and there really isn’t a formula for this.
Ultimately, it comes down to being flexible, but with a commitment to our own sustainability and stability first — the short-term stuff.
The one thing we have to remember is that without our own stability, we’d lack the ability to deliver in a way that our clients need us to, especially in these times.
As humans, it feels a bit selfish and weird to think this way, but it’s the best way to ensure we (our whole team) can continue working effectively with clients.
On the long-term side, we’re constantly thinking about all of the tough decisions our clients have to make, which again, as a human, is heart-wrenching.
This is the flexibility I talked about before that helps us to ask the right questions like, “if we extended their payment terms, would it help them make payroll over the next month or two?” or “could we temporarily deliver these same services in a different way that would be more cost-effective?”
The word I like to use here is “creative.” How can we get creative about navigating these tough situations together?
What stays the same during a crisis
John: Amid such upheaval, what hasn't changed in the way that we're working with clients right now?
Tom: Peter Drucker said it best: “Business has only two major functions: marketing and innovation.” Pandemic or not, that isn’t going to change.
Our clients, and businesses in general, are still wanting (and needing) to invest in building trust through their marketing efforts and innovating from a sales perspective to win more.
It mirrors investing in general. It can be scary to invest in a down-market, but committing to do so is what nets the greatest long-term outcomes.
The challenges businesses are facing
John: Can you talk to me about the real challenges that businesses have right now?
Tom: I’ve talked to so many companies across all industries and the specific challenges vary pretty dramatically, but if I were to think about some of the common threads, there’s nothing more real and challenging than making the shift from physical to virtual or digital.
It can mean life or death for a business in a time like this.
This is a major challenge, especially for companies with an older workforce, those that operate out of physical locations like retail, or those who have yet to establish a digital version of their company culture.
With it, comes stipulations, and rules, and guidelines, and requirements that businesses are having to navigate and unpack for the first time — and having to do it quickly!
I mean, we've had economic uncertainty before, but this feels different and I think companies are struggling to know how to plan for the changes they need to make and how they can be supported in doing so.
The COVID-19 pandemic as compared to previous downturns
John: How does this current situation feel different than what we would consider a more standard economic slowdown?
Tom: Well I think the main difference here is that the current economic slowdown was driven by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
This is in contrast to the last major pandemic which was the Swine Flu (H1N1) back in 2008 / 2009 where the country was already in the midst of a downturn (The Great Recession), and beginning the road to recovery
And so, the feeling of this current situation, as a business owner, or anyone in general, is like you’re battling on two fronts instead of one.
The first is navigating a complex pandemic safely, while the second is preparing for the long road of economic recovery.
With these two things happening almost simultaneously, it goes back to what I mentioned earlier which is the feeling of uncertainty.
We can look back at the historical data of economic downturns and forecast, in some way, an expectation of when the markets would return, but when you add in the coronavirus as the catalyst, it’s important to use our levels of “uncertainty” to adjust our timelines and plan more conservatively in order to sustain.
Should this be ‘business as usual’?
John: To what extent do you think companies should operate with the business as usual mindset during these times?
Tom: I don't think businesses should operate business as usual right now. I think it’s about recognizing the elephant in the room and committing to becoming the absolute best planners they can be over the next 18 months.
Leadership and management should be meeting more often to get ahead of everything that is going on, and we should be doing more to enforce the culture of the organization and connect people.
I think of it as “business as usual plus.” It’s an amplification of business as usual. It's going above and beyond business as usual in times like this. You're still following the same principles, just even more adamantly than you did before.
One of my major takeaways from this pandemic so far is to remind ourselves, once this is all done, to continue to ask the question, “what would we do in a COVID scenario?” This helps us think in ways that force us to innovate and make smarter decisions.
What we can’t allow to happen is that we become complacent when this is over and go back to business as usual. I would hope this forces us all to become better.
Advice for SMBs
John: What's one piece of advice you have for all businesses out there?
Tom: I would say that your community is more important now than ever.
We’ve leaned so heavily on the expertise of our coaches, mentors, industry experts, and our audience because we know that the best advice and results come from an amalgamation of everyone's knowledge.
At the same time, it’s our duty (and yours) to be that coach or mentor for others. Community is what will bring us all through this.
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