This isn’t the first time the economy has been in trouble. This is actually the third time small businesses have been impacted by financial chaos since the 2000s started. There was the dotcom bubble, which began in 1995 and burst in 2001. During this time, some tech stocks lost more than 80% of their value. The second event you’re no doubt also familiar with: the Great Recession. This meltdown was largely the result of irresponsible mortgage lending compounded with a housing price bubble. Now, we have the COVID-19 pandemic to contend with.
Even with these downfalls, small businesses have carried on, adapting as needed. In 2019, there were 30.7 million small businesses in the United States, accounting for 99.9% of all U.S. businesses. As of 2015, they employed 58.9 million workers. Small businesses feel the crush of tough financial times, but as a whole they have always found a way to pull through.
The entrepreneurial spirit that burns inside people who start their own businesses is something we can all learn from: the refusal to give up when the going gets tough, the grit, the patience, and the vision. And the people who work for these firms are just as tenacious. You won’t find groups of people more committed to customer service and hard work than the people at these places.
During these difficult times, we can all benefit from seeing what small business leaders are doing to not just survive but thrive.
Should You Change Your Business Plan?
While you should not change your business’s long-term strategy because of hard times, it is important to re-evaluate things in the short term. Hari Ravichandran with Forbes says to “reframe” your plan for just two years. Looking further than two years, he says, is not helpful since we don’t know exactly where you will be in two years’ time. Heck, we don’t even know exactly what will happen during those two years, let alone after. But things have changed—and are changing still—so you need to adjust.
While rethinking your short-term plan, you should do two things. One, resist the urge to make cuts to survive. Ravichandran says to think about cuts differently, instead focusing on cutting costs to facilitate growth. This seems like a luxury, he admits, but it’s the only way to come out of the pandemic successful. Manage your costs in the short term in a way that can give your long-term strategy a boost.
Speaking of your long-term strategy, the second thing you should do is slow your rate of investment. Keep your long-term goals intact, but don’t try to do too much at once. Scale back your timelines for some of your annual goals, and don’t try to do everything you want to all at once. If you had five main objectives for the year, focus on just two to start.
While we’re talking plans, the final addition you need to make if you haven’t already is to create backup plans. Don’t quickly abandon plan A, but have plan B and plan C in writing just in case. This way, when the unexpected strikes, you don’t have to panic. You can simply “break the glass” and know your next steps. And while you’re at it, you can back up your data too. It’s the most surefire way to protect yourself against ransomware attacks, and it’s a vital part of your business’s resilience and continuity plans.
How Should You Manage Remote Teams?
If some or all of your workforce is still remote, there are a couple things you can start doing today that can help coordinate everyone’s efforts and boost team morale. Both will require extra effort on your part, but the payout will be well worth it.
The first way to help your remote team is to communicate, communicate, communicate. As Ravichandran says, there is no such thing as over-communication. Now, don’t let this confuse you. Nobody is telling you to micromanage. Micromanaging happens when your team is boss-obsessed rather than customer-obsessed; all that matters is what the boss thinks. If you bottleneck your team with excessive meetings, force them to check with you for every little decision, and stifle creativity or opinions, then you are micromanaging.
This is actually a big loss. A team that is micromanaged is usually unhappy, and this negativity and need to please the boss can sponsor a dishonest company culture. When you are not customer-obsessed, you create lower-quality products and make unhappy customers.
In order to overcome the dreaded micromanagement, positive attitudes and behaviors need to come from senior leadership. Employees should feel like their boss cares about what they are working on and wants to hear their feedback, be it positive or negative. Imagine if your waiter or waitress rarely checked in with you, forgot your order, and made you feel uncomfortable complaining about your experience. You probably wouldn’t go back to that restaurant. That’s how micromanaged teams feel. The difference is, they might not be able to afford to leave.
Join successful small business leaders in sponsoring a healthy company culture instead. You can do this by providing a forum where employees can offer their ideas and ask questions. Take action today by trying one of these fifteen options for engagement software. You can even make employee feedback anonymous if you are having a hard time getting your team comfortable with the idea.
Remember, it’s not enough just to get feedback and questions; you need to listen. If you’re someone who struggles with listening—especially to people you disagree with—here’s a TED talk on how you can improve your active listening skills. What’s nice is that many of these ideas carry over from in-person discussions to video calls.
The second thing you can do for your remote team is invest in your company culture. Ravichandran argues that it is more important than ever to make this investment and facilitate the “fun” that employees love to complain about. He writes, “Particularly for those who are new to remote working, the risk of boredom, sense of isolation and loss of community are high.” It’s your responsibility to fight this negativity in your small business.
We’re all familiar with “water cooler chat,” even if you didn’t know the name for it. It’s that casual back and forth conversation you have with your colleagues in the office. The water cooler is a communal place, so it’s where you bump into people and strike up a conversation. But what happens when you remove that communal space? Well, we all found out right around March 2020.
You’ve been robbed of the traditional water cooler chat, but there are creative ways to get it back. Vantage Circle provides a list of five ways they say you can encourage this casual conversation once again. They are:
- Using team chat apps (like Teams or Slack)
- Scheduling informal team breaks
- Having virtual team building activities. (they recommend book clubs, movie nights, virtual team lunches, and more)
- Connecting with a virtual happy hour (here’s a happy hour guide from the New York Times)
- Creating virtual clubs (for movies, books, Star Wars, whatever you want)
Here’s how Ravichandran recommends having a little more fun with your remote team:
- Begin the week with a team meditation
- Host BYOB coffee breaks or happy hours over video call
- Conduct virtual events where employees can introduce loved ones (or pets)
Leading (and Relaxing) by Example
We’ve seen that positive attitudes and behaviors need to come from senior leadership. That’s why you can’t micromanage. Workers look to you for cues on how they should react to stressful times. A boss that inspires rather than frightens will get the best results from his or her team.
When the going gets tough, it can be easy to hyper-focus on the negatives. When you do that, though, you set an example to everyone around you that that is what they should be doing as well. “It’s OK to show that difficult decisions are painful,” Ravichandran says, “but ultimately, it’s your job to show the path forward.” There are often net positives to even the hardest decisions, and you should do your best to balance your focus between these. Doing this will give your team hope for the future—critical to a surviving (and thriving) small business.
In redefining your approach to leadership, you need to be the be the first to “unplug” after work. No, we’re not talking about special treatment for the boss. We’re talking about balancing your professional life and your personal life. If you never give yourself a break, you’re going to get burnt out, and your team will be able to tell the difference. There’s the obvious signs like getting emails from the boss at 9:00 pm on a Saturday, and then there’s the more subtle signs like you forgetting important items or making uncharacteristic mistakes. Your team is mindful of small changes like these from senior leadership, and they will react accordingly.
You don’t want your team to be burnt out, so you can’t let it happen to you either. It can be all too easy—especially when working from home—to blur the lines between work and play. Learn how to shut off after 5:00 pm (or whenever your shift ends). Mute your notifications, close your laptop, and spend some time doing the things you enjoy. Then during one of your virtual breaks on Monday, share what you’ve been up to with your team. When your employees see that the boss knows how to unplug and destress, they will feel more comfortable doing so themselves.
Putting It All Together
Once you start thinking and behaving like a savvy small business leader, you will:
- Adjust your short-term strategy by making cuts to facilitate growth, setting more realistic timelines for projects, and having backup plans
- Lead your remote team effectively by communicating, avoiding micromanaging, encouraging feedback, and investing in company culture.
- And inspire others to be hopeful of the future and relax once the workday is over.
Doing this together means a lot of hard work, commitment, and maybe even some self-reflection. Maybe you realized that you do micromanage your team. Maybe you don’t do much to create a fun work environment. You might not know how to unplug after everyone else has gone home. But by recognizing these flaws and knowing that they are working against your goals is the first step towards changing them.
Have you been able to not only survive but thrive during this crisis? What have you and your team accomplished through the hardships? We’d love to hear your success stories. In fact, we’d love to be a part of your success story! You can tweet us @MachadoConsultg or connect with us on any of our other social media. And of course, if making your IT work for you is on your wish list this year, we can help with that too.