Pivoting Your Business Amidst A Pandemic
By Shelby Matsumura
In April 2020, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) estimated that around 43% of small businesses are temporarily closed and that, on average, businesses have reduced their employee counts by 40% compared to January 2020. According to CNBC, nearly 7.5 million companies, across all industries, are at risk of closing their doors for good. The COVID-19 pandemic is at fault for these heartbreaking numbers. As Coronavirus concerns remain the top priority for the U.S., many small business owners will continue to confront a grim and uncertain future regarding the livelihood of their businesses.
But, what is often overlooked about small business owners is their drive to succeed and their passionate, entrepreneurial spirit that inspired them to become a small business owner in the first place. Every small business owner can reflect on how hard it was to start their own company and how, at times, it felt like everything was against them and their dreams. This pandemic has undoubtedly had a negative impact on small business owners, but it’s important to remember that the goals of these individuals have not substantially changed. They still want to find success on their own terms, even under challenging circumstances. For some small business owners, shutting down their business may make the most financial sense. But, others may want to rekindle the perseverance and creativity that helped them open their original business and consider how they can adapt to this new COVID-19 “normal” that no one could have foreseen.
While the negative effects of this pandemic are widely known, what if this period could also represent a critical moment for small business owners? What if these individuals were able to learn from their business experience pre-COVID-19 and pivoted their business model in a way that would help them survive the pandemic while ensuring future financial stability? To successfully pivot one’s business and keep up with the new environment created by the Coronavirus, small business owners must be motivated enough to recognize and act on this opportunity while acquiring the resources that will be needed to fulfill it. Here are a few ways entrepreneurs can begin to decide whether a pivot is the right move for their business during this pandemic. Read more on pivot planning at Worth.
Use strategic planning tools – It is likely that most small business owners are familiar with a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, as well as a Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths (TOWS) matrix. These tools can help employers weigh different scenarios to help them make decisions in both a short and long-term context. If a small business owner has an idea about how they could pivot their business, using a SWOT analysis can demonstrate the viability of this idea by showing whether this pivot will be more beneficial or hurtful.
Know your target consumers – Develop a strategy (if you haven’t already) for discovering target consumers. Steve Blank, an expert in entrepreneurship, has described some of the best ways to engage in the customer discovery process that you can check out here. Identifying your target consumers is essential in understanding how their needs have changed, so you can best pivot your business to meet their demands. Be aware, though, this pandemic has further muddled the relationships between businesses and customers because consumers are more willing to experiment with other brands and their different offerings during this crisis. Brand loyalty was already a challenging goal for small businesses to achieve prior to COVID-19. However, consumers are holding brands and companies to a much higher standard than before because consumers want to support businesses that are contributing to the social good of society. For small businesses that are unsure if they have the funds to completely rework their business model and pivot, examining the messaging around their businesses and aligning it with great social causes can also function as an effective, consumer-facing pivot.
Research resources for small businesses – As a result of this pandemic, there are quite a few resources offered to small business owners to help support their businesses. Although there may be some local resources from family foundations, government agencies, and local entrepreneurship hubs (depending on where your business is located), there are national and federal options for a small business owner to check out. Here are a few to kickstart your research:
· GoFundMe Small Business Relief Initiative: Yelp and GoFundMe partnered together to create this program that provides microgrants and fundraising tools to qualifying small businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
· Facebook’s Small Business Grants Program: Offers $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
· The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): This program resumed accepting applications on July 6, 2020. The new deadline to apply for a loan under the PPP is August 8, 2020. These loans are distributed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help businesses keep their workforce employed. According to CNBC, the PPP has provided more than $520 billion in loans that have been approved and distributed to over 4.8 million businesses since April 2020.
If you are a small business owner who is considering a business pivot to better meet the pandemic's demands, make sure you are thinking about both short-term survival and long-term resilience and growth. This pivot needs to create enough value for your business and your customers to share.
According to Harvard Business Review, there are three conditions that must be met for a pivot to work. First, the pivot should align the business with one or more of the long-term trends being intensified by the pandemic, such as remote work, shorter supply chains, social distancing, consumer introspection, and enhanced use of tech. If your pivot can complement any of these trends, your business will not only be meeting the needs of COVID-19 consumers, but also remain practicable post-pandemic. Second, the pivot should be a lateral extension of the business’ existing capabilities that affirm, instead of undermining, the business’ original strategic intent. Don’t completely scrap everything that helped create your original business. Lastly, the pivot should offer a sustainable path to profitability. There is no reason to attempt a pivot if it will ultimately bankrupt your business.
Nevertheless, there are a few things small business owners should be aware of in considering a pivot for their business. If the pivot you have in mind requires a drastic change in your business model or the type of services it offers, small business owner should check with their insurance company before seriously diving into the pivot process. Sean Kevelighan, the CEO of the Insurance Information Institute, advised, “Whenever you're changing your business model, you're potentially changing the risks associated with that business.” The level of risk posed by your business is important because that’s how insurance companies calculate your business’ costs and liability. So, if your business was once a flower shop, but you want to pivot the business into a glass blowing studio for artisan vases, then you should check with your insurance as this pivot may increase both costs and liability. Kevelighan also recommends getting liability insurance which "will help pay in case there are lawsuits that stem if there's bodily injury from the product or damage to the property," said Kevelighan. You can read more of Kevelighan’s interview at ABC 6 News in Philadelphia.
Another important consideration to make is that with any pivot, your employees may be asked to perform work that was different than what they were originally hired for. Is that okay? Can they help you run errands for necessary supplies to bring your pivot to fruition? According to Forbes, the answer is yes, unless the employee is a collectively bargained employee or they have an employment contract.
If the employee is an at-will employee, employers can ask them to help with personal errands and to work on tasks that are unrelated to the scope of their job as long as the employer continues to pay them properly under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and applicable state wage laws. Technically, at-will employees can be fired at any time as long as the reason is not illegal, such as being fired because of the employee’s race. So, as long as you continue to pay those employees, they should be able to assist you with whatever tasks you need. It can be helpful to include the words “and other tasks assigned” to the end of any job descriptions and postings to help manage employee expectations. But nevertheless, unless the employee is under a collective bargaining agreement or contract, employers can legally change employee duties. But hopefully, small business owners won’t receive too much pushback in asking their employees to perform tasks that will support the pivot because it will keep them paid and employed while ensuring future job stability.
Furthermore, if you ask employees to perform work outside their job description, the work should not be harmful to the employee’s health and must be something that they are capable of doing. Employers should never ask their staff members to perform tasks unrelated to their job if it would jeopardize the employees’ health because of potential liability under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. This Act requires each employer to “furnish to each of his employees, employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
This pandemic’s negative impact has affected everything from the largest corporate conglomerates to the smallest mom-and-pop businesses. Many small businesses have struggled to remain open and, unfortunately, our communities have lost many of these businesses to COVID-19. As small business owners continue to confront the realities of their business and to plan for its future, the Legalucy team wants to celebrate the grit and innovative spirit of these individuals who are trying to find success on their own terms. It was so challenging to build your original business and many small business owners can remember a period of time where they were simply operating in survival mode. If there’s one silver lining to all of this chaos, is that the Coronavirus is forcing many individuals into survival mode and small business have been there before and conquered it!
If you’re interested in pivoting your small business to stay afloat during this pandemic, just remember to:
· Strategically plan for the future using SWOT analyses or a TOWS matrix,
· Know your target consumers and their changing needs,
· Research financial resources for small businesses,
· Prioritize both short-term survival and long-term resilience and growth,
· Meet the 3 conditions provided by Harvard Business Review,
· Update your insurance needs as your business model changes, and
· Include your staff in this process and help them stay employed.
Small business owners are creative and determined individuals. Whether you decide to close up shop or to attempt a pivot, the Legalucy team is rooting for each and every one of you to survive and maybe even thrive during this pandemic.
--- Are you interested in launching or sustaining a pandemic proof small business? Spot issues, take action, stay safe, and thrive in a post Covid-19 world with Legalucy. Learn more at thelucyreport.com
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