As human beings, we're a resilient bunch. That's why, when our environment changes, so do we. Think about it – whether it is an impending storm, a financial crisis, war, or indeed a pandemic – our outlook, our mindset, and our behaviors change in response to the environment, we then find ourselves in.
Right now, all over the world, our business environment has changed, and our customers have changed too. New environments demand new actions, and change is required. Responding to what your market now wants and needs is a must. Period. Frankly, we don't even get a vote. If we don't act, our customers and clients vote with their hearts, minds, and wallets.
While many will say the COVID-19 pandemic has created an "age of loss," and there is no denying the impact we've all felt from the pandemic itself (lockdowns, uncertainty, business closures), the crazy levels of change we've experienced, and more – I say this is also the age of opportunity!
With so much consumer change already having taken place and more to come across B2C - business to consumer, B2B - business to business, and even B2G - business to government, opportunities are everywhere! Call me ever the optimist, but whenever you see change on such a large scale, there are always opportunities for businesses willing to focus on adding value and taking risks.
"Risk," I hear you say? Isn't this the time to batten down the hatches? Focus on surviving the storm? Ride it out? Yes, it is. And one way to do that is to take risks! The dictionary defines risk as: "To expose to hazard or danger." As a verb: to expose (someone or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss.
In financial terms, risk is defined as the chance that an outcome or investment's actual gains will differ from an expected outcome or return. Risk includes the possibility of losing some or all of your original investment. In simple terms, risk is the possibility of something terrible happening. Risk involves uncertainty about the effects or implications of an activity concerning something that we value, such as our business, cash flow, health, well-being, wealth, and the list goes on. And more often than not, we focus on negative, undesirable consequences.
In my view, NOT taking risks right now creates the very situation of danger you are trying to avoid. NOT taking risks right now lifts the possibility of you losing any financial gains made to date. NOT taking risks increases the chances of something negative happening. Why? It's simple. So many businesses get complacent and comfortable over time. They lose their ability to innovate, shift, add more value, test, trial, and take risks. They get used to a standard level of sales, revenues, cash flow, and profits. It all becomes a given.
Worse, they think incremental growth equals success, never realizing that exponential growth is possible. Often in the process, they take their market for granted. But, of course, we've seen huge household name brands disappear purely from this level of complacency and comfort – think Kodak, Blockbuster, and so many more. Now COVID demands – and affords us a chance – to lift and sharpen our game. The market has moved, we must move with it, and any change requires taking risks.
Anyone committed to results and continued success must look newly at what's possible, how to stand out, how to do better, and then have the courage to take risks and implement change, to go that step further, and in the process, better secure the business and its future in an ever-changing world. Bottom line: if you want your business to come out of this global paradigm shift powerfully positioned, you need to take risks, refresh, and renew your company. Right now, not later!
Here are some suggested risks to take immediately:
Be vulnerable. Ask the hard questions. Then act.
Talk to and survey your customers and prospects to find out what they want now genuinely. Ask them what would make a more significant difference, how you could improve, what would add more value to them, and how they would like to do business in this new world. Even better, ask your team honestly and openly for their opinion on what's working and not working. You can even go a step further and ask what they would do about this if it was their business. If you let them, your team has solutions like you wouldn't believe. Take the feedback, the good, the bad, and the ugly, then implement as many changes as you can.
Assess and test.
Conduct an eyes wide open assessment. Take a good hard look at what you're offering – your products and services – and the value they add. If, in light of day, they come up short, look for and test alternates asap. Or, indeed, look at how you're offering what you do and provide other ways for people to explore and purchase from you. For example, if you're not online, get online.
You could go even further by researching and implementing faster ways to give your customers their desired outcomes. Now is the time to test new products, services, and ways of doing business. Right now, people understand these are challenging times for business, and many are very supportive. People are quite forgiving if you try something and it doesn't work, so it would be now if there were ever a time to try new things.
Be of greater service.
Try this for a minute - exchange the word sales for service in your mind. In this kind of environment, every lead must be treated like gold and converted. However, many businesses fail to have well-developed sales processes with appropriate touchpoints, systematic follow-ups, and attention to detail. Further, many fail to have their attention on adding value, educating, and supporting the prospect.
Instead, the salesperson's attention is on winning the sale, "crushing it" sometimes with an "at all costs" approach. The best salespeople and processes focus on adding the most significant possible value to the customer. No matter what type of business you're in, from retail to manufacturing, to online, to professional services, look at how you sell. Learn to take some risks to change and improve that process, so it adds more value and watch the conversion rates lift.
Where's your war chest?
Many businesses don't have deep pockets. As such, now might be the time to transform that. First, consider how much working capital you will need for the next 12 to 24 months, especially if tough times last longer than we all hope. Then, consider how you could secure that. Perhaps you could go to traditional sources, apply for Government grants in your region or, find an investor for a specialty loan or a percentage of equity. Then, you could offer people the opportunity to invest in your business with the ability for you to buy back that equity in, say, 3 to 5 years.
Investigate and invest in technology.
There's so much more than the pandemic that is changing our world. AI, robotics, and automation are already changing how we work, live, and play. The future of business, the future of work, is on the move. As such, you need to investigate how you can leverage technology to allow your business to grow, scale and serve more people in more markets. To not do so increases the risks to your business and its longevity drastically. Consider, even what we'd call brick and mortar businesses must be thinking about how they can leverage tech to expand their reach and results.
A mentor once told me: "all lack comes from pace - either moving too quickly or too slowly." In my view, now is the time to move quickly. Now is the time to take some calculated risks. Risks that will secure the business into the future long beyond 2023.