Four Ways to Keep Your Business Afloat
We face a forever-altered landscape of communication and commerce. As a native of Ukraine, I have survived difficult times. As an entrepreneur, I have kept my company alive in the face of war and revolution. And, though the details and depth of our situations differ from day to day and person to person, these steps can offer a port in any storm.
1. Examine everything... Line by line
Rather than elimination, consider adaptation whenever possible.
As we wrestle with unpredictable finances, many of us have already scrutinized our spending. We have cut what we can cut, and made plans to pinch every penny. Sometimes such extreme measures are the answer. And other times, they aren’t. If everyone runs about hacking and slashing everything, the end result can be a bloody mess with few survivors.
Instead, ask yourself, “Can a temporary ‘world-crisis price’ be agreed upon?”. Can you find new terms that allow you to keep moving forward? Some funding must flow and a trickle is better than none, so take the time to assess which channels truly need to be turned off, and which ones can be altered for the survival of all.
In 2014, my team and I found ourselves in the midst of a revolution in Ukraine. Our company consisted of one fund and an accelerator with over 40 portfolio companies. Our monthly legal retainer was previously deemed both necessary and attainable priced, but now we had to reevaluate the situation. Our lawyers were still absolutely necessary for the continued functioning of our company, but the monthly retainer was impossible.
As CEO, my answer was to pick up the phone. I explained to our lawyers the reality we faced, and my desire to adapt our agreement into something that would allow our company to remain operating and allow their firm to retain a client and an income.
Not only were our lawyers grateful for our honesty and communication, but they were also eager to work out new terms with us. A significantly reduced monthly retainer was agreed upon, with plans to regularly review and adapt it as current events required.
2. Polish Your Business Processes... Yes, all of them
Put on paper exactly what you are capable of and every action and ingredient required to get there.
Do you have documents that reflect your company’s full potential? If not, use this time to reflect on your business processes and write them down.
Don’t think of 'business processes' as endless lists of tasks and inventories, manuals, or 'SOP’s' (Standard Operating Procedures).
Instead, envision a recipe book that encapsulates the true scope of what your company has to offer, from appetisers to main entrees, and from drinks to desserts. Each recipe within requires an ingredient list and a set of very organised and explicit instructions. What is the current state of your company’s recipe book?
Keep in mind that people will always pay for expertise, that transparency is good policy, and that honesty pays. In an age when anyone can claim to do anything, having polished business processes will add value to your company, aid in your survival, and act as proof that you can deliver.
The survival of our company was a direct result of this detailed polishing. Our company 'recipe book' was presented to the Ministry of Innovation and Energy in Kazakhstan when they began seeking assistance in nurturing startups and building a new culture of innovation. We could show them every piece of the puzzle we were capable of assisting with, and it landed us an amazing three-year position.
3. Connect with everyone... Contact by contact
Offer information, updates, contacts, or inspiration.
For some, the process of connecting in a crisis needs to begin with compiling all company contacts in one place. Once your contacts are no longer strewn between employees, emails, and random business cards, organise them in terms of the type of support you can offer.
Prepare something useful to share with each person. This is your network, and crisis demands that you nurture it.
Startups might need inspiration. Board members might want insight. Clients often desire some actionable advice. Others might need you to share a contact or updated information.
The goal is to find something helpful to offer, but also to ask a few questions about how they are surviving, their experiences, and their insight into current events. Listen intently to the answers they provide and aggregate that information.
This method of connecting serves to create a pool of experience and support that benefits the survival of all. It is great to schedule zoom meetings or to write emails to reconnect, but it is even better to do so with something valuable to offer.
4. Host Regular Survival Strategy Sessions
Come together with your team in a shared reality.
Utilise familiar communication tools and strategies, yes, but don’t stop there. You must find ways to (gently) push your team into the present moment. What facts must be absorbed this week? What segments of our reality, market, or product have drastically changed since the last meeting? And most importantly, how can we adapt?
My team and I regularly utilise well-known tools like SWOT analyses (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), and business model canvases that help us focus on all the moving parts in our company and product plans. These methods are familiar and comfortable, and they help us to find our footing before we jump off into the unknown. But in order to survive, we know that we must jump.
Endless brainstorming is required to articulate what we have, what we don’t have, what we can do, and what is simply no longer possible. We have wiped 'maybe' from our vocabulary. There is no 'maybe when things return to normal', or 'maybe sales will resume in the fall'.
Instead, we are spending our survival strategy sessions focused on new visions, generating fresh ideas, and creating innovative answers that don’t involve the word 'maybe'.
It takes a sheer force of will to acknowledge the expansive new reality we face. And it takes concerted effort to absorb all of the facts and situations that have been presented; it truly is a complex labyrinth we find ourselves in. But, with perseverance and a positive attitude, we can find our way through this together.