Perspective is everything.
“The circumstances of our lives may matter less than how we see them…
the power of reframing things can’t be overstated.”
– Rory Sutherland, Ogilvy UK
The power is in the ability to see things in a different way, to bring meaning and allow new possibilities to emerge.
When the COVID-19 lockdown first began, we shared our campsite analogy, which helped to create a perspective of what was happening, gave meaning to our feelings and allowed us to consider a new way forward. Since then, our team has donated many hours talking to over 50 small businesses and social enterprises across Australia and the Pacific to support them through this time. We believe in their significant contribution to life and the economy and want to see them succeed now more than ever.
Here are a few perspectives that small business owners have found particularly helpful during these conversations. We hope that they help you too.
1. Staying afloat is a remarkable achievement
Decisions made by government departments and society as a whole have frozen certain industries, transformed others and tripled the sales of a rare few. It’s one thing to operate a business well, but if your customers are suddenly outlawed from shopping with you or have greatly reduced budgets, then you suddenly have a crisis as well.
If you can find a way to remain trading, you’re doing a tremendous job.
There is no expectation that you need to walk away from 2020 with a cute story about “Corona was the best thing that could have happened to my business”. You’re in this business because it matters to you, all we hope is that you are able to stick around.
2. Grief vs. Blame
There is a lot to grieve for right now. Friends who have lost their parents, plans that have been cancelled, not being able to see others so as to avoid risking their health.
This is different to blame. We’ve been talking to people whose businesses have closed or will have to close and are unlikely to re-open. They’re experiencing failure, but they themselves are not a failure.
For businesses who have seen a 30% + drop in sales, there is nothing you could have done to prevent this. Raising prices, cutting costs etc are good ideas, but they wouldn’t have made big difference.
If that’s the case, perhaps it’s worth starting the process of forgiving yourself – you’ve taken a hit that you didn’t deserve, and the loss you’ve experienced is not a representation of your worth or your talents as an entrepreneur as a person.
3. Take stock of the assets you’ve accumulated
For business owners who have experienced the 30% + decline, it’s worth spending some time in reviewing the assets you’ve accumulated. Broadly speaking, we can break these into tangible (inventory, machinery, equipment) and intangible (reputation, brand, intellectual property).
The important one here is to recognize your own value as an asset – so much of what made your business valuable is you. Eg: if all your equipment was washed away in a flood but you were safe, it’s possible to rebuild a new and improved business within a year. However, if your equipment remained but you stepped away, could a graduate take over your role and run an improved business?
Taking stock is important, because if you are the asset then you have options for what you build next.
4. Preserving your staff can outweigh the need to break even
In discussion with one founder who runs a café, he told us that he’s reopened his café knowing that he’ll make a small loss each day, in order to retain his team.
They usually do a roaring trade, and part of their success comes from having genuinely great staff in both front and back of house. Shutting the doors might be better for their cash position, but it would mean saying goodbye to some of their most valuable assets, and in the end the choice became obvious.
5. Old productivity metrics no longer matter
We’ve spent decades using the same measurements for output; time spent in the office, time spent in front of your boss/your team, narrowly beating last year’s performance, meetings per day, number of social media posts, etc.
Then all of a sudden we’re all working from home, isolated in a physical and mental sense.
There is no expectation that our productivity will match or exceed what we used to do.
There are pros and cons to remote work, but the sudden shift was bound to take a toll on our productivity. We’re likely to be doing less, or if not, doing the same tasks but with less enthusiasm and joy.
What’s interesting is that since everyone else is going through the same experience, nobody is judging your drop in efficiency. You have time to breathe, time to regroup, time to reset your goals and expectations.
6. Social entrepreneurs can’t pour from an empty cup
There are a lot of social entrepreneurs who are leaders in their community, and currently swept off their feet. The exhaustion comes from a good place – they’ve seen that if they don’t intervene in a situation, then nobody else will.
The challenge here is that “you cannot pour from an empty cup”, or as they say on planes “secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others”.
Unfortunately, there is no formula for the exact moment when you need to step back or say “no”, every circumstance is different. But perhaps the principle of treating yourself the way you’d treat your friends can help – if you wouldn’t tell them to go hungry, why say it to yourself?