It is May 2020, and we are in the middle of a global pandemic, nothing like the modern world has ever seen. The global economy has all but come to a grinding halt. For the US, entire industries have all but collapsed, leaving both employers and employees without revenue and income. No one saw this coming. No one. Yes, this too shall pass, but it still stings and will do so for some time. For those familiar with the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy Stoicism, one must at times practice some form of suffering in order to obtain the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. If we are fortunate, such suffering is self-chosen. Cold showers, fasting, exercising in the rain, sleeping on the floor. Temporary suffering of which we can control, both in form and in duration. This situation is different. It is not self-chosen and the duration is unknown.
For the purpose of this article, the suffering we speak of takes the form of a dramatic decrease, or complete cessation, of revenue. The implications of such are almost unimaginable if it weren’t for the reality that they are actually manifesting at this very moment. A lack of cash flow to cover operational expenses, including payroll, utilities, and the purchasing of much needed materials to fill existing orders, are just a few. Orders that have, or will, come to a trickle or cease altogether. What is a business owner or executive management team to do? Ignoring or fleeing from the horror is not an option. In the fog of war, true leaders cannot run or surrender. True leaders must accept the dire reality of the situation, take a stand, develop a plan in the midst of chaos, and lead their troops to fight. What follows is not a ready-to-go plan, but rather a some suggestions to guide you in the formation of a plan, and the subsequent actions you can take to prepare your business for when the economy rebounds.
First, conserving cash, down-sizing, and other possible bottom-line measures are self-evident. What about taking proactive top-line measures? Why not position yourself to be resilient, prudent, and prepared? Again, this too shall pass. From a military perspective, during battle there are times in which the fighting ceases, if just for a few moments. This is referred to as a “lull in the action”. This is a time when a soldier will load his magazines, re-tie his shoes, hydrate, eat, and nap. It is a time to reset, reposition, and refocus. There is ALWAYS something one can do to improve his probability of victory.
Second, be honest, open, and authentic. Now is not the time for ego. Ego always makes things worse. And yes, it can get worse. Now is the time to practice humility and seek solutions from others, both within your executive team and from outside trusted advisors. Now is the time to look to history for lessons gleaned from the past. How did businesses survive during the two great World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Great Recession of the late 2000s? Now is the time to get back to the fundamentals and revisit the tried and true best practices we know always work in any situation. Cull through the fluff and the noise and get back to basics. Your life depends on it.
Third, for those of us whose careers have been focused on the top-line, we have learned that there is always a market. I was once told by a real estate investor, the best time to buy property is when there is anarchy and revolution in the streets, when property values are plummeting. Again, there is always a market. There is always opportunity. It may not be the market you are used to, but now may be the time to look at new markets and new opportunities. Look at your existing targets from different angles and work to find variations. How can your existing platform serve a new customer, or an existing customer in a different way? Where are the gaps you may have missed when times were good? Many businesses should be able to pivot quickly and take advantage of the circumstances, provided their leadership team is focused and resourceful. Are you light, nimble, and quick, or have you become heavy, clumsy, and slow? What does your business need you to be?
Lastly, after exploring alternative external opportunities, look within. What can you do today to improve yourself and your business? Now is a great time to cull unprofitable SKUs and customers. You can document, categorize, and improve your internal processes in all departments, especially in the areas of finance, sales, marketing, and operations. You can create or update your org chart. You can refresh your offering, tighten up your marketing plan, and invigorate your marketing message. You can call customers and suppliers and engage in meaningful conversation. There are many low-budget and no-budget actions you can take that will put you in a position of superiority for when this too shall pass. Spend a few minutes in front of a whiteboard with your team or trusted advisors and you will quickly identify several proactive and impactful actions you can take. These actions will most certainly have a positive, motivating emotional and financial benefit, both today and tomorrow. As the Stoics would say, do not waste the pain. Do not waste the suffering. Use this time to learn, grow, and prosper. Fortitude is what separates victors from victims.
This is a difficult time for many and it is my wish that this article stimulates your thinking, gives you a jolt of energy, and brings you hope. Every one of these suggestions is an action that you can put into motion today. You do have some control of your situation. You have the choice of how you will respond, which will have an effect on the top-line when the economy gets back up to speed. Taking action, however small, leads to a higher state of emotion, which then generates momentum. Once momentum is sufficient, the actions you take will create an energy of their own, leading to the positive changes and outcomes you seek. By then, the economy will have restarted and you will be on your way, ahead of the competition. You cannot afford to lament and sit idle. Let your competitors do that. You, on the other hand, are taking the advantage and investing the time to reflect, to create a simple plan, and are taking proactive action. Rally your troops for the fight. This is what will lead you to victory. If you have invested the time to read this, I encourage you to take action. I salute you for your valiant efforts.