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Use the Calm to Prepare for the Storm: How to Test Your Business Processes During the Lockdown

The long-term effects of COVID-19 on society and the global economy are yet to be fully seen. What is certain, however, is that as markets plummet, businesses of all shapes and sizes are facing a harsh reality–rapidly adjust or risk going under. 

Yet, even in these challenging times, there is a silver lining. While the current slump in new business may be affecting startups’ bottom lines, it is also offering founders extra time to deep dive into the current health of their business.

Self-isolation can be converted into a time of reflection; to honestly assess what is working and what isn’t in your business. Founders should use this slow period to prepare their businesses for the potentially tough times ahead by focusing on the following elements of their businesses. 

 

Revise Employee Training and Documentation

While remote working was once a flexible perk for employees, it’s now commonplace amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The result is a mass experiment whereby companies have to coordinate teams in separate locations and still function efficiently. 

Having a remote workforce does not have to impact your business negatively. An experiment conducted by Stanford professor, Nicholas Bloom, actually found that employees who work  from home are more productive than those in an office. However, what matters is that remote teams have the knowledge and tools to make the transition from office to home. 

Although it may sound obvious that insufficient training poises a company to quickly buckle under pressure, it’s often overlooked by startups that prioritize fast growth in their early stages. The importance of training cannot be underestimated: The majority of people actively seek good training, with 68 percent of employees saying training and development is a company’s most important policy. As a founder you should harness this interest to create a productive and prepared workforce. 

You don’t necessarily have to provide the training in your company, but you, as the founder, are responsible for ensuring it’s up to scratch. All documentation should be up to date, accessible and clear. Whether your policy on PTO, social media, remote work or technology, the guidelines should be discussed with employees in person, as well as stored in one space for all employees to use. These documents should have links to resources and contact information, as well as details about workflow and best practices. 

Concise documentation means your employees have a point of reference when they’re working remotely and can continue day-to-day processes independently. It also means there’s a set form of instructions if employers and employees are suddenly unable to communicate. 

For example, the cloud-computing company, Nutanix, created its own intranet site for employees working remotely. The intranet has details about how to access its VPN, log into companywide applications and load video conferencing tools.

 

Refine Long-Term Target Customers

Your client relationships are likely to be strained during a crisis. They, like you, could be dealing with fewer sales and unexpected disruption. Keeping regular contact with your clients is crucial. Be extra conscious if people are losing contact with you or if you’re beginning to see increased client drop-off.

Using feedback from client conversations, consider if your business is viewed as a luxury rather than a utility. Ask yourself what real value you are providing and if people prioritize your product/service at this time. If you come to the realization that your business is not “essential” to clients right now, you need to take swift action to reframe things. 

Coronavirus is thought to be a short-term market depression, so the downtime can actually be a blessing to give you time to reassess your market position. Although your value proposition is under the spotlight in these hard times, you have the chance to make changes without interrupting a busy period. Moreover, you stand to increase your business longevity. 

Look at the clients that are staying with you: How are these profiles different from the ones who have left? Create new buyer personas based on these clients and then look at areas where your company can be better tailored to their consumer behavior. Essentially, this is you refining your long-term target customers. Make sure that throughout the process, you prioritize those who are staying with your business–after all, their recommendations in the space could help you build authority in your newly defined customer base. 

 

Repurpose Your Spare Time

Many founders are panicking and making impulse decisions to counter temporary shortfalls in revenue. While a dip in earnings certainly calls for reactionary measures, knee-jerk reactions implemented in the hope of immediate returns are not the answer. Instead, ask yourself if the time could be used for other activities that deliver more value in the medium and long term. 

Slower business can give you time to highlight areas that need improvement. For example, you could develop new products, improve the UX of your website, review your messaging or concentrate on SEO optimization. Alternatively, take the time to survey your audience–this could be via phone, email or chatbot and is extremely valuable to shape your business around changing customers expectations in the pandemic. 

For example, travel startups like TravelPerk and GetYourGuide have begun channeling their efforts toward localization, customer service and expanding flexible cancellation packages. The move means customers can still book getaways and be assured they’re eligible for a refund if lockdown continues. Speaking to TechCrunch, Johannes Reck, co-founder and CEO of GetYourGuide, said “the way we’re seeing this internally is with every major crisis comes major opportunity.” 

A quiet period definitely does not have to equate to stagnation. Think of the tasks you haven’t been able to complete before now, and look at which has the potentially strongest effect over the longest period. Whether an audit or something more creative, a different strategy can motivate you and your employees through hardship.

 

Review Your Expenditures

Any downfall caused by the coronavirus is not due to last as long as a recession. The advantage here is that the pandemic provides a snapshot of your company’s current weaknesses. More significantly, it gives you the chance to fix those weaknesses. The situation may even reveal that you don’t have any financial buffer built into your business. If so, now is the time to start planning how to add one. 

A financial buffer is the wall between your business and economic instability; basically a financial lifejacket. Unfortunately, it’s all too common that companies overlook having a financial buffer–which can be disastrous in trying times. Every business should be saving money on a regular basis to act as insurance if sales unexpectedly fall. Having one client as a safety net is not secure enough. If you haven’t been saving prior to the pandemic, you’ll need to make cuts elsewhere.

Take an in-depth look at your costs and draw attention to areas that are overspending. Do you have any unnecessary expenses? Try to be brutally honest–does cutting these costs affect how your business runs? If the answer is “no,” cut it back. This is a great exercise to figure out how to operate your business on a leaner budget without compromising quality. While cuts are never easy, the reality is your business has a much higher survival rate with them. 

 

Coming Out The Other Side

Once the social limitations of COVID-19 are lifted, businesses are expected to witness a boom as consumers flood back to markets. Undoubtedly, the time in between will be testing for any founder and their company, however, smart decisions are the gateway to successfully coming out the other side. Revising staff training, refining long-term target customers, repurposing spare time and reviewing expenditures are core steps to stress test your business as coronavirus spreads on an unprecedented scale. By preparing your company now, you don’t only brace it against present-day threats, you also protect it from future crises. 

So, what kind of company are you going to be?

 


 

Dan Wheatley is CEO/co-founder of StraightTalk Consulting, a SAAS operations and growth consultancy which works with B2B founders to implement long term data-driven growth strategies.

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