Launching a small business during a crisis
How entrepreneurs thrive during tough times
There are two types of people: those who let a crisis define them and fold, or those who get inspired to get creative and find a way to make an impact. Coronavirus shows us where people fall on the spectrum.
The pandemic has made it tough on small businesses and many are closing because they cannot stay open or do business as usual. Even during rough economic times and a public health crisis, entrepreneurs can find a way to persevere.
Can you grow a business during economic turbulence?
I think a better question might be, do you want someone else to be in control of your success during turbulent times? Do you trust that someone else will have your best interest in mind when the world seems to be falling apart? Or do you think that your knowledge, skills, and desire to succeed can flourish even in tough times? Can you stand apart and hold on to see it through?
I’ve been a full-time, salaried employee and had the golden handcuffs of benefits and perks for the job. Work-life balance was rarely a thing even though that was always a “perk” and HR will always tell you how awesome the company culture is. But when the going gets tough (and that doesn’t always mean a national crisis), that job is no more secure than the optimism of doing something on your own.
I started my LLC but would keep getting drawn to the golden handcuffs and hope that the next company would be a better fit, but it never was. Maybe it was me and my personality type — the thought that I could create value on my own time and in my way with the clients of my choice. I didn’t think it would be easy, but to do it, I had to put everything into it. I went all-in on myself last year, turning down full-time, salaried positions along the way.
You can go your own way
I have a current client who wanted me to work in-house. I said that I couldn’t, and CEO-CEO we worked out an agreement for me to consult and still meet his marketing and communications needs. It was a win-win and seemed like no concession on either end at the time. When the coronavirus spread, businesses closed, and the landscape changed, he considered pay cuts for his salaried staff. As a consultant, changes in my rate include a change in time but also the ability to work with other clients to make up the difference if needed.
So during an isolated time when the markets are in flux, I am earning fair pay from clients and doing work I like. But I’ve also been unemployed after being laid off when the economy was great.
Don’t let current situations dampen your hope or keep you from succeeding and choosing your own path.
I’m just a tiny example, and I offer a service not a product or physical location. You might even say that my services and ability to work remotely are made more attractive during this time. So while at the moment things are great, I was in a situation where things weren’t and I had to make a change. Other more well-known brands also have figured out how to make it through a recession and re-brand during a crisis to come out on top.
Not to say that I’m the Netflix of quarantine, but I’m living a pretty good life at the current moment, and Netflix is getting memes and quarantine anthems. “Netflix and quarantine” anyone? Life wasn’t always like that for either of us though.
Things change during unprecedented times…but you can set the precedent.
Which brings us to the first success…
Twenty years ago, Netflix almost got bought out by Blockbuster (ironic, I know). Blockbuster pulled out of the deal, and Netflix tweaked its offering from direct mailing DVDs to streaming on-demand. Not only did they capture the market, but they also reinvented the way we watch movies and shows. In a twist of fate, the company that was going to buy out Netflix no longer exists and Netflix continues to rise. You can be the last one standing if you stay the course and pivot when necessary.
During the 2008 recession, Airbnb took an idea to rent out air mattresses in their high-priced San Francisco area. This concept expanded to helping people both make money and find nicer digs that were more price-friendly than some hotels (and with more space!). This unique way of thinking caught VC eyes and then grew very quickly. Despite a rough economic climate, their solution helped both owners and people looking to travel. An idea to make a few extra bucks revolutionized travel trends.
Founded in 2009, this tech startup launched towards the end of the 2008 recession. The company is now owned by Facebook, but the founder was rejected for a job there before launching his own company. Irony is great in entrepreneurship. Can you imagine being rejected for a job, so you build a product that said company ends up buying for billions of dollars?
We all know Apple. The company was around for decades but in the middle of the dot-com crash, it rebranded and doubled down on innovation — the iPod. The music player and iTunes would become instant hits and pave the way for continued products such as the iPhone and iPad. The company went from its worst recorded losses to being a leading brand.
What these companies show us is that disruption can be either a good or bad thing. If you let an outside force disrupt your business, it could wipe you out. But if you cause the disruption in a good way and bring innovation to the public, you could find success. All companies go through ups and downs. Even now, these companies who started or thrived during the last recession are making difficult decisions today.
Netflix stock is up and people are staying home so their usage is benefitting from quarantine. WhatsApp is also seeing a bump in use case as people aren’t able to see their friends and family in person right now. It even has been used in healthcare as a form of telemedicine.
The Apple stock has ebbed and flowed during COVID-19 but they continue to advance and test products that are potential solutions.
The Airbnb industry is the hardest hit, with travel halting during this time. The company cut back 25% of its workforce, but even during a difficult time, leadership showed how to make decisions and show compassion.
Challenging times means that difficult decisions have to be made. At times that means layoffs. But how you handle those show your resiliency and capability. Both as a leader and an individual. That’s why so many entrepreneurs have multiple startups. They either learn from it or they scale it and move on to something else.
If you’re unemployed right now and thinking that your normal life is in ruins, consider what other options you have. Be your own leader or find a way to pivot your traditional role.
If you’re considering selling out to a bigger company, think of Netflix. If you’ve been rejected or let go, think of WhatsApp. If you’re struggling and looking for a way to make rent, think of Airbnb. How an idea to make some extra cash turned into a large, billion-dollar company.
If you’re a leader in an industry like Apple, think of how to keep innovating and pivoting with the times. And don’t forget that even they went from zero to hero in multiple waves.
Now is the time where creative thought leaders shine. Don’t let dark days keep you from pursuing a goal or dream or hunch. There will be struggles but you can persevere.
Set the precedent.