Whether you’ve been in business 10 days, 10 months, or 10 years, it’s time for a “make-over” for your small business. If you’re going to survive and thrive in the Covid-dominated economy, it’s time to think of your small business as a startup.
Remember what it was like? You had an idea, a dream. You didn’t know how it was going to turn out but you seized any opportunities that came your way, continually changed as you learned more about your business, and worked long and hard. But you believed in yourself.
It’s time to do that again, given that customers’ buying habits and needs have changed—often dramatically. It can be scary, but it can also be exciting. And most of all, it’s necessary.
I recently examined the kind of steps small business owners need to take now while writing my just-released new book, The Sh*t’s Hit the Fan: Now What?! 99 Recession-Proof Tips for Small Business Success. I realized that it not only took tactics, but also attitudes.
And the most important attitude: think of yourself as a startup. In a recession—in a vastly changing economy and society—no matter how long you’ve been in business, you are actually starting fresh, anew.
** Actual startups: If you are just starting, there’s a good chance you’ll have to veer away from your original concept, change your business model, even dramatically change the kinds of goods or services you thought you were going to offer. That’s OK—most startups have to change course early on, regardless of economic conditions.
** Existing businesses: Sure, it’s going to be more challenging to think of yourself as a startup—but it’s a good way to approach running your company right now. Of course, you probably have some baggage that real startups don’t have: leases, bills, inventory, employees, and more. But you also have a wealth of resources startups don’t have: loyal customers, vendor relations, experienced employees, industry knowledge.
Even if you didn’t have to “pivot” before, as Covid-19 cases start surging again, we’re likely to see more business closures and customers changing their habits. That means embracing the idea of pivoting and pivoting again.
For example, restaurants have been particularly hard hit, and small restaurant owners have to think like a startup, continually changing. During the past closure of restaurants caused by Covid-19, many restaurants “pivoted” to begin providing take-out meals, even if they’d never done that before. That was a first step for most. The next step was creating outdoor eating spaces. Now, many restaurants have to figure out how they can change again.
Startup thinking needed!
Some restaurant and food service owners found other sources of new revenue: online cooking classes, selling meal kits, offering groceries. A small chain of ice cream stores in Seattle—which made their own ice cream—started packaging and selling their ice cream to grocery stores. In doing so, the owner added a new long-term line of business, helping her not only survive in the short run, but grow substantially.
That ice cream store owner may have been in business for many years, but her grocery ice cream business was, in essence, a startup.
In my business, we too have to embrace startup thinking. I’m in publishing—and if I were starting my business today instead of 20 years ago, I would certainly be thinking digital first. So, with our new book, we first thought of it as an ebook and are putting our marketing efforts into digital sales.
Embracing the idea of being a startup gives you more energy and a more positive outlook. Like a startup, you’ll learn lots of new things. The way your business—and yourself—will thrive, not just survive, is by growing in new directions.
Yes, like a startup, you’ll have to work hard. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ll probably have to put in more hours than you did in some recent years. That can be daunting, but hard work never frightened any entrepreneur.
So think of yourself as a smart, experienced startup. Let that experience and knowledge guide you—not handicap you—as you launch the next phase of your business.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2020
This article originally ran in USA Today on December 2, 2020