Business has Changed:
The announcement that Coronavirus (COVID-19) was at full pandemic status changed how companies — large and small — conduct their business overnight. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global concern on March 11, 2020. Seems like ages ago now doesn’t it?
Businesses in all corners of the globe in this era of Coronavirus are constantly being forced to rethink everything from safety in daily operations management for staff to value in supply chain management.
Quick thinking is producing fast business pivots. And these new strategies that companies are beginning to introduce to function in a social distancing economy will not take life back to normal, according to business leaders and experts. Instead, experts believe the crisis could permanently upend the way we work, shop and manage our businesses.
With business changing forever, many leaders from entrepreneurs to corporate executives, are looking for methods to not only keep companies profitable, but grow profits too, as the world finds its way in this developing new normal.
Since basically all of us are facing the exact same challenge — keep business alive during a pandemic with national shutdowns — I am going to take a closer look at how a tech startup not only did a quick pivot and is making it but also at some techniques that can help companies launch a new income stream in as little as three days.
Making Fast Pivots:
Clustered is a Berlin founded and headquartered technology company that specializes in professional networking and development. Initially Clustered focused just on women and it was mostly for the Berlin area. The company held many offline events when it was first launching to get people together and spread the word.
So when Rotem asked me to speak at her launch event in August 2018 to discuss the importance of personal branding through storytelling for professional networking, I quickly agreed to help support her launch and her blossoming community of awesome professionals.
Since her launch, Rotem has done what all good founders do: she has listened to her customers. Even before Coronavirus was an issue, she was already offering online content to not only accommodate the busy schedules of her professional membership, but it allowed for a wider reach (and greater impact). The company’s original focus for just women also underwent a major strategy pivot as the platform opened to all professionals. Clustered’s members are also beyond Berlin’s borders — she’s gone global.
Now with Coronavirus in full swing and the city of Berlin, like many other places worldwide under an official shutdown since mid-March, Rotem and the team at Clustered have been busier than ever focusing on delivering products/services that support their customers in a social distancing economy. For Clustered this includes quickly offering high-quality online workshops and other online sessions to help support their members and community of followers get through Coronavirus times.
One of these sessions was a group workshop for how to create a new income stream in three days. The event was designed specifically to help anyone in business from a freelancer, to sole trader, to startup founder, to business executive create and test new income streams in the social distancing economy.
Rotem did not email me the link to this event directly. Instead, I saw it float by on a social network, where many of Clustered’s community can also be found. Great low cost marketing where her tribe spends their time. The above graphic popped off the page. I instantly thought ‘what a great session for today’s business challenges!’ and I signed-up for it immediately.
How to Align Business to Coronavirus Regulations:
No business anywhere really had good contingency plans for anything like Coronavirus. Sure SARS broke-out in 2002 and impacted cities from Hong Kong to Toronto but it was short lived and quickly isolated. Then there was Swine Flu. MERS. Ebola. Those largely remained regionally isolated and were quickly controlled. But nobody was prepared for such a nasty illness like COVID-19 to achieve pandemic status so quickly and shut the global economy down.
Now in a world where social distancing of at least 1.5 meters is ‘the new normal’, without in-person interactions, no foot traffic allowed, and events cancelled — business must find a way to quickly stop losing money through a lack of sales.
I won’t get into various government aid programs for business which largely appear to be loan based (not good for smaller or younger businesses) and where grants are available to some most places seem to have poorly managed the grant process.
For example, Berlin had widespread fraud reported by the Financial Times for its fast early aid to the city’s startups. But this story seems to the same in far too many places around the world, so there is no need to list it all here one by one.
Business owners and executive leaders are told ‘there is help’ but after reading the pages of caveats, really there isn’t. Not for them at least. All of you who don’t qualify know who you are. It hurts. You have staff to look after. You have supplier relationships that need to be maintained. You also have your own families to support.
So, with the need to find a way out of this mess through sales, how can a business adapt to a world with completely different customer behaviors? How do you test and experiment with new revenue streams? And how do you make it relevant for the changing phases of the pandemic over the next 12–18 months?
Olivia Wong, innovation expert and Partner at San Francisco headquartered Prototype Thinking Labs, says it is critical business leaders do not forget that Coronavirus times are fluid. What works today might not be effective next week.
Olivia suggests mapping out the expected virus’s phases for the next weeks and months to be able to adapt when times change, because they will keep changing. Caution: this outline in the picture from the workshop is suitable for many cities in Europe and some of North America as lockdowns are expected to start easing in most of these areas over the next couple of weeks. It is not ‘one size fits all’ for the whole world.
After you set the timeframe for your specific geographic region, for example China is nearly two months ahead of Europe while parts of Europe are two to four weeks ahead of most of the United States and so on, then determine what business outcome you would like to achieve during each stage. Then to get there, decide what you need to action to move you towards your new goals.
Many businesses will be able to quickly launch a prototype for a new revenue stream within three days of articulating it. If a company is working in a complex B2B space or is a large enterprise, up to a week might be needed. Olivia suggests executing this using “Prototype Thinking”.
If you aren’t familiar with Prototype Thinking, it’s basically like the next generation of ‘Lean Startup’. It takes the prototype stage of ‘Design Thinking’ methodology and just runs with that process to test new ideas and concepts to get them to market cheaper and faster.
Once you launch or relaunch your product/service, make sure to get user feedback. Don’t get dispirited if you find yourself making iterations and relaunching again. Olivia says it is common to make up to five edits before settling on a new offering. Customer feedback, even if it is harsh, is good because it helps you get closer to not only a successful product/service but hopefully a profitable one too.
Hacks for Fast Feedback:
Start or reboot your company’s Facebook or other social network group/s. Getting your customers engaged is a great way to build relationships and loyalty — plus great products your people love. Facebook groups are wonderful because they are also free. So, there is no cost to get immediate feedback and insights from your users.
You can also run a group on LinkedIn or any other network where your customers spend their time. And do not forget to thank your tribe for their time. Also don’t be afraid to let people know that their feedback is valuable and adding value that other people will enjoy.
If you already run your business on a platform you custom built, you might consider deploying a user feedback area where people can chat and add comments about new or upcoming product releases.
Tools to Help Business Adapt Fast to Uncertainty:
There are a number of free or very low cost online tools that can help create a prototype in three days. The list below was shared during the online global workshop by participants as their current favorite go-tos. The participant cohort reflects a diverse group from countries around the world. If you have a favorite that isn’t mentioned here, please share it in the comments section below.
Strikingly: fast website builder
Convertkit: email marketing for conversion maximization
Calendly: schedule/automate scheduling of appointments online
Clyp.it: audio recordings
Figma: helps build products as a team all in one place
Trello: helps team work collaborative online
Unsplash: free picture database
Canva: graphic design platform that allows users to create visual content
Pixlr: online photo editor
Google Docs: online word processor that also allows for team collaboration.
Getting your COVID Business Pivot Started:
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or intimated by the daunting task of picking the right path when the system is changing at a pace that is faster than the speed of light, start simple. Just begin put the project title of what you would like to do down on paper.
Next, briefly explain that project. What is it? Who will use it? And so on. Then set a price for it. Keep in mind your production costs and delivery costs. If you are running a for-profit business you will need to make sure your price covers all costs and ideally leaves you with some profit.
Once you have articulated that, you are ready to get your first round of feedback! Even before you build anything, you can take this to your community of customers and start asking them what they think. Make adjustments. Keep going.
If you are in a position to build a fast prototype like a ‘Minimim Viable Product/MVP’ website, get that up within your three days and share it around. See if you get sign-ups. Stay close to your cutomers as Coronavirus times evolve and make sure your offering is matching their needs under whatever restrictions on daily life they are facing.
And finally, best of luck to everyone as we all find our way in a business enviorment that is completely different from anything we have ever known for up to the next 18 months at least. And even afterwards, we may never return to what we once called ‘normal’ just a few short weeks ago.
Want to work on wording for you new income stream? Read my article “Sales Storytelling for Startups”.
Cambridge MBA | Marketing Consultant | Speaker | Author | Ghostwriter
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