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COVID-19 Pivot Part 4: Disrupt Your Business, Before You’re Forced To

Following is the fourth in the Economic Alliance’s six-part “COVID-19 Pivot” entrepreneurial support series. Read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

By Jesse Erickson

As we begin a second full month of quarantine in Illinois, you have almost certainly taken steps to make changes in your business. You may have simply shifted your delivery methods or you may have pivoted entirely. Regardless of how much your business has changed, it has no doubt crossed your mind that the world we will enter into when the stay-at-home order is finally lifted will not be the same one in which began the new decade.

Will the shifts you’ve made become permanent? Of course, the answer isn’t as easy as yes or no. These shifts could have long-term impacts on everything you do. Maybe the changes were made just to make it through, or maybe they don’t provide as large a margin as your previous model. Maybe you’re realizing that the overhead costs of your office aren’t as vital as you once thought they were.

Just as the Great Recession of 2010 saw big disruptions emerge across industries, I believe that we will see disruption again in the coming months and years. Some experts have begun to suggest that only platform business models are pandemic proof. While I agree the platform model is a great one, it is also a very tricky and expensive road for most small businesses to even consider. But, we cannot ignore the need to change our thinking in order to grow or ride out any future disruptions to our business or our way of life.

Businesses that think through the needs of their customers in an ever-changing and adapting world will ultimately outlast their competition by offering solutions that work well both today, post-pandemic and in the next big world change, whatever it may be.

Small businesses have the advantage, even though it seems like they don’t. It initially appeared that a shutdown would close many small businesses permanently. But most adapted within days – adopting carry-out and delivery (and not just for restaurants), Zoom and Docusign to “do business,” and new methodology and digital platform usage to bolster the sales funnel. Many larger companies had a more difficult time shifting, unless they already had. Their cumbersome systems made it hard for workers to access their files, and large chains couldn’t offer delivery without a platform.

Use your ability to pivot quickly to your advantage even AFTER we get back to normal. Consider the following:

  1. Diversify your business. Businesses with limited options ended up failing almost overnight. Diversified and quick-on-their-feet businesses adapted with relative ease. While they may have lost revenue, they are managing to remain afloat.
  2. Consider disruption. At a minimum, consider how you could be disrupted and put measures in place to avoid it. Or go all out and become the disrupter. As a small business, how can you change how your community engages with your industry?
  3. Cut costs or increase margins. Have you realized your large office may not be as necessary as you once thought? Perhaps you could save a couple hundred dollars a month. Did your customer experience change during the pandemic, and did that change what your customers thought about your service or product? Maybe this is a chance to offer the same service with at a better margin.
  4. Adjust your funnel. As we discussed in Part 3, adjust your marketing funnel and gain new customers in ways your competition just can’t. Some of the best companies were not built around differentiated products but on differentiated sales and marketing methods.
  5. Develop strategy for change. If you didn’t know it before, surely it is clear now that everything can change almost overnight. Your strategy should consider the longer term while allowing for flexibility. Build new product/service testing and marketing campaign adaptation into your strategy so that you can stay the course without becoming rigid.

Disruption and change is hard. Weathering the storm requires hard work, dedication and a lot of creativity. Just a few months ago, not one of us foresaw where we are today. The most valuable lesson we can take from the pandemic is to build our businesses to be recession-proof, adaptable and strategic. Continually try to disrupt your own business before the next big thing does it for you.

Join the ongoing conversation at Catalyst’s Facebook page.

JESSE ERICKSON is president and CEO of Catalyst, a Kankakee, Illinois-based business and organizational consultancy. Catalyst leads clients through business and strategic planning, development of new revenue streams and cost-cutting tactics, the implementation of better financial management processes, and the integration of strategic initiatives to improve organizational visibility, data analysis and overall growth. Jesse is a Quickbooks Certified ProAdvisor, an Asana Certified Pro and a Certified Business Incubation Manager. He holds a Doctorate in Business Administration (Strategy & Innovation concentration), Master of Engineering Management (Technical Entrepreneurship concentration) and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.