It is true. In 2020, a big acorn identified as coronavirus hit us on the head – and many of those with the biggest bruises from the acorn falling are entrepreneurs. Many lost the businesses they had dedicated their lives and fortunes to. Lesser injuries included loss in revenue, inability to function as in the past due to physical restraints and the sheer panic of business owners that the sky had truly fallen and their lives as they knew them were over.
As Chicken Little did with Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey and the others, business owners shared stories of distress and fear with their peers as they sought the emotional and financial help needed to get through the trying times. (Many entrepreneurs have shared stories of PPP – the application, the collecting of documents, the accounting of records for proof and the dreaded forgiveness process.)
A few entrepreneurs got caught in the fox’s trap – they succumbed to all-too-attractive offers for help. Businesses sprung up out of nowhere pledging to coach you through the crisis, complete documentation required, or provide a plan guaranteed to save your business, and all at a fee, of course. There are plenty of seasoned coaches with legitimate programs that are valuable and necessary to grow and thrive. But legitimate or not,capital protection was critical to survival through the pandemic. 2020 was not the year to spend reserves or borrow funds. 2020 was the year to focus on the bottom line, and those that did so are for the most part, still standing.
2021 is the year of hope. We are not yet through the crisis, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Entrepreneurs are resilient by nature. They get knocked down again and again, yet keep getting up to fight another day. History tells us that most successful businesses are the result of their leaders learning from failure. Think Henry Ford, JK Rowling, Walt Disney and George Foreman. Even if a business struggled or died in 2020, the entrepreneur lives on.
While the story of Chicken Little may have resonated in 2020, why not make another fable, “The Little Engine that Could,” the favorite story of 2021? Although it will be tough climbing the steep hill in front of us, don’t stop working. If you believe you can, you will soon be coming down the other side. Here are some pointers on where to begin:
• Examine visibility and branding. Does your audience know you are still in business? In the downturn of 2008, the first thing many companies cut was their marketing budgets. Problem was when the recovery came, the customer forgot about those companies. If there’s no budget for marketing, become the marketer. Spread the word. Start with calling customers to see how they are doing. Be empathetic. Respond to social media posts. Begin somewhere to start getting seen again.
• Energize and re-engage team. It’s probable the team was forced to work very differently last year. Team-building activities were practically nonexistent. You may have been forced to cut back. It’s almost certain your employees and vendors are shaken and insecure about their future. Talk to them. Let them know about the company and its plan to move forward and how they fit in. Ask them how they are feeling. Maybe they like working from home because it offers flexibility. Brainstorm about how to help them help you.
• If you haven’t focused on profit in the past, it is imperative to do so now. Commit to “never again” being in a vulnerable financial position. Examine expenses. Spend less than you make. Put money away for the next rainy day. There’s no doubt they will come. Be ready next time.
• 2020 made outsourcing normal. Will it work for your company? You can now hire experts worldwide to work remotely with your business. The best of the best is at your disposal. If you don’t need a full-time marketing department – outsource it. If you don’t want the expense of office space, computers, software and salary for an accountant – find a reputable firm that can efficiently and accurately do the work and save you the overhead and headaches.
• Be selective about your offerings. Evaluate each product or service line for profitability. Choose the most profitable and dump the rest. Your business will be more efficient and your bottom line stronger.
2021 is the year of hope. Keep chugging away, and soon, instead of “the sky has fallen,” you can say “I thought I could, I thought I could, and I did!”
Ruth Urban is president and CEO of On the Money, an accounting advisory, bookkeeping and profitability consulting firm in Phoenix. The company’s mission is to help businesses take control of finances. Ruth serves as a trusted advisor to clients, helping them build highly profitable businesses.