The world is on a tough break. With COVID-19 ravaging healthcare across geographies, we are also seeing a massive economic downturn that is disrupting conventional business practices (enterprise and SMB alike) and causing financial and opportunity loss that a lot of businesses will not be able to recover from.
The financial crisis that is currently at the world's doorstep is leading a lot of businesses toward financial ruin, and also having a severe impact on businesses that are still afloat.
Since I am in the digital transformation and innovations space, I see a lot of firms regularly, ones that are surviving but still trying to make sense of the new normal.
I do not consider myself an expert. I have been blessed to work with people who have helped me deliver region-first/shaping products and services, and I will be leveraging this experience in hopes of delivering advice that I am hopeful may work for you.
1. Surviving: The hitchhiker's guide to riding out a pandemic
No one saw this coming, so don't be too hard on yourself. It is like an invasion, and we're on an interstellar ride that makes no sense. Up is down and down is up. Four months in, masks are the new normal. A few months back, our governments were telling us to leave the masks for the doctors, and now here we are – masks are on again.
The lesson here is to be prepared for anything during a pandemic. As a business struggling to find its fit, you need to experiment, adapt and evolve. The world is going through unprecedented change. For the sake of your family and the families that depend on you for their livelihood, pivot your process and build something that works for the time being.
The e-commerce landscape has seen phenomenal growth, but not across all categories. Luggage, travel and tourism, and apparel sales have taken massive hits. While some businesses have faced closures, others have pivoted to focus on categories that are seeing massive growth.
An example of this is Denny's, which has pivoted from the conventional dine-in model to deliveries.The time to play it smart has arrived: Focus on fast failure, learn what works and what doesn't, and start growing your business now. The sooner you do that, the sooner things will start looking up again.
When you can't pivot, lead with experience
Time is of the essence. Businesses are being bled dry with massive closures, new safety protocols, second waves and more to follow.
The human process has been disrupted, and people are not ready for a long-term commitment. This is the ideal time to reevaluate your market standing and work on synergies and alliances that shorten processes and let people enjoy better serviceability.
Customer experience comes to mind when we are discussing people and their hesitance to commit. An example of a company working on evolving the conventional user experience is Mil.k Alliance, a blockchain platform that aggregates reward points of service companies in travel, leisure and lifestyle sectors.
Imagine the hardest-hit industries coming together on one platform and telling their customers, "We will make sure you can collaborate across our services, with respect to loyalty and rewards." I have respect for a service trying to pull that level of sway across brands during a pandemic, which is what needs to be done.
This is not a time to fall back, but to rise up, build synergies and alliances that show your customer that you are in it for the long haul. In essence, you need to lead with great customer experience. Imagine the customers you're building strong connections with, the ones who have stuck with you on this crazy ride.
2. Thriving: School is out, and that's a good thing
A lot of you might be very familiar with learning being led from homes, and that is a good thing – no one wants to send their kids out during a pandemic. But the strain on parents to manage learning at home is immense these days. It's the same when we talk about work (for a lot of us in the corporate sector, the transition, though sudden, has been manageable).
Every action being performed in schools and offices has to be replicated in the home environment now, so homes have become learning and work centers. The struggle is real – I am going through it personally – but to be fair, we were wasting time commuting to our jobs. We also have to understand that there are ways to boost productivity from home now, if we can figure out how to optimize the practice.
This is something I was already working on with respect to my own startup – a three-year struggle that saw me pitch to family and friends and successfully build a beta platform meant to evolve the way we work and learn forever, Writesmiths (currently in beta and looking for synergies). The idea was to build a digital work and learning space where people can finally evolve past physical spaces and turn their digital tools into their offices.
As an organization, you have to understand that getting something done in a day is an effective way to scale (organizations that get more work done grow), but with limited time in a day, this is a challenge that should be solved – optimizing a work or school day helps everyone scale. Though fragmented, the tech is there. Organizing it and turning it into a palatable experience is what will help us evolve – and this pandemic has given us a test bed of sorts to make this into a workable solution.
What we're building is the future
Question one and two are linked. Businesses that can look to survive this onslaught will be part of a different global structure. There are countries that we're massively behind with respect to internet connectivity, financial inclusion, telehealth and virtual services, etc.
This pandemic is pivoting the planet; this is the silver lining on this horrid gray cloud. Convention is out, because it no longer works. Don't go to a bank to transact; doing it from your home is the safe thing to do (imagine this statement if you were in a third-world country, where the mere mention of digital payments would result in stories of hackers sitting in Russia, rerouting money from your digital account or wallet).
What we are seeing now is one of the most aggressive, multi-country, decentralized digitization drives ever. In essence, we are building the future right now. It will be digital, it will be agile, and it will be new. As a business looking to survive and thrive in this new world, you need to strive to understand technology and put your best people on it. I am not someone who believes in first-mover advantages, but I do subscribe to the notion of being timely, and I believe the time for digitization has arrived. If you're looking to kill your business, don't invest in an omnichannel future, and slowly embrace the abyss (a bit of an overkill, but you catch the drift).
This isn't a good time for us. But disruption isn't expected, it can't be factored in completely – but it does ask us to go back to the drawing board. I'll be blunt: As a business, if you show rigidity now, you're in for a horrible time.
The key to survival is to adapt and evolve. If you are a small or midsize business struggling to stay afloat, look at what you can do. Can you pivot? Can you make your brand or service irreplaceable in these tough times? Learn from others in the field, but don't just copy what's out there: Study up on what can work best for you and make it your own.
This is a tough battle. Many will fail. But I'm optimistic. We're a resilient species, and business will go on!