I’ve been making a lot of calls lately, checking in with friends, family, clients, colleagues—pretty much anyone I can. Everyone is scared. Everyone is worried. Everyone is feeling stressed. But I’ve noticed that not everyone is dealing with that fear, worry and stress in the same way.
Let me give you an example. I recently talked to two realtors I know. When I asked one how they were doing, their answer was basically, “This is terrible! Business is down. No one wants to be out right now looking at houses. How am I supposed to close any deals right now?” The other one said, “This is hard! Business is down. No one wants to be out right now looking at houses. So I’m getting creative. I’m offering online tours where I walk a prospective buyer through a house, live via FaceTime or Zoom.”
I talked to both of these people within just a few hours of each other. They were getting the same news; they were in the same industry, in areas with the same kinds of restrictions of movement. What was different was how they were dealing with it. One was being a victim to very real barriers to doing business; the other was looking for solutions to overcome those same barriers and be a victor.
Victim vs. Victor: Which Will You Be?
I’ve been in business long enough to have gone through some tough times, like 9/11 and the Great Recession; I’ve had personal challenges that have impacted my business. In some ways, our current crisis is different because there are so many limits on us physically. What doesn’t change, though, is how we can embrace the human spirit when we’re faced with a crisis.
Will you see these challenges as an insurmountable wall or one that you can figure out how to get through or over? Will you be stuck in your regular ways or will you be flexible and agile? This isn’t a case where some people can and some people can’t; how successful you will be in this crisis—in any crisis—is about mindset and determination.
Of course, some business owners have it a little easier than others, just because of the industry they’re in and how that industry is impacted by closures. As I’ve talked to people, I’ve noticed that businesses can be categorized in three ways: businesses that can’t operate at all by their normal model, businesses experiencing significant slowdown and businesses that are pretty much able to go about things as usual. Each category brings its own challenges but also its own opportunities—and that’s true even of businesses that feel like they’re completely closed down.
Are You Closed Down? Reinvent Yourself!
There’s no way around it: There are very few of us who can keep doing things exactly the way we’re used to. It can be especially hard, though, to see how you can keep going at all if you provide a product or service that doesn’t seem, at first glance, to be adaptable to our current circumstances.
Let’s take massage therapy as an example. A massage therapist’s whole business model is based on the ability to be physically with someone, to be able to put their hands on a customer. Or is it? If you ask a massage therapist what service they provide, they might say that they apply pressure and movement to manipulate muscles, tendons, ligaments, tissues and skin. When you put it like that, you can see why it might seem impossible to keep providing this service when we’re all supposed to stay six feet away from each other. There are a lot of businesses right now—realtors, hair stylists, yoga instructors, contractors and all kinds of service providers—who feel like this: that what they do depends on being face-to-face.
If you’re in that boat, ask yourself What is it that I really do? In the case of a massage therapist, what does massage therapy bring to someone’s life? Pain relief is definitely one. Stress, anxiety and depression reduction. Relaxation. An increase in general wellness. In an ideal world, a trained and licensed professional massage therapist does that by performing in-person massages. Unfortunately, we’re not in an ideal world right now. We need to adapt, to think not about what product or service we provide but about what benefit our customers get from the product or service.
By drilling down past the physical thing that they do, to get to the benefit they provide, a flexible, creative massage therapist might see an opportunity. They could create online videos demonstrating how someone can self-massage their hands or use common household items to relieve tension in a shoulder muscle. They could teach family members how to give each other basic massages. They could work with small businesses whose employees are working from home to provide online classes and videos on breathing exercises that relieve stress. This probably won’t bridge the entire gap in income, but it will help build relationships that lead to future customers—or even current purchases of gift cards to be used when things get back to normal.
I want to say it again: This isn’t ideal. It involves compromise. But if you stay focused on the essence of your business—like making people feel better, in the case of a massage therapist—you will come out on the other side of this. And you will have made a difference in people’s lives and helped them come out on the other side, too.
Reinventing yourself and your business takes courage. It requires you to stretch beyond your comfort zone; it requires you to move quickly; it might require you to embrace new technology and learn something new. That can be scary, but it will also make you stronger and more flexible so that you can weather the challenges you face. If you’d like to explore reinvention more, check out the book The Road to Reinvention by Josh Linkner.
Are You Slowed Down? Communicate the Safety of Your Service.
There will always be HVAC, plumbing and electrical emergencies, even in a crisis like this. If you’re a service provider, you might find that you still have business but that people are only calling you in emergencies; they’re skipping services that they can choose to do later.
Your goal is to get as much of the business that is still out there, and the way you do that is by communicating how you will take care of the health and safety of your customers. Send out an email to your database to let clients know about your service and safety protocols; post the information on your website and social media for prospects who are looking for a provider. Right now, your service isn’t fixing an air conditioner, plugging a leak or selling a house; right now, your service is taking care of your clients and your workers and, by extension, their families. Communicating about safety communicates that you care.
What should those safety protocols be? For contractors and service providers, they involve, above all, requiring your workers to stay home when they are sick. Workers on the job should wash their hands thoroughly and frequently; they should wear whatever protective equipment is appropriate: masks, gloves, booties, eye protection. When they arrive at a home or business, they should avoid shaking hands or otherwise making physical contact, and they should maintain six feet of distance whenever possible. A printer friend of mine is making up stickers and cards service providers can leave behind to designate that something has been sanitized after a worker has touched it.
If you’re a realtor, jump onboard with the great technology options out there. Offer livestream walkthroughs to give potential buyers a feel for the flow of a house. Communicate with sellers what you will do to keep their home clean and safe when you do need to bring someone physically through a home. Explore remote options for closings.
It has always been true that trust is a huge part of what gets someone to buy. By communicating to clients and prospects that you are dedicated to taking care of their health, you become someone they can trust.
Are You Business as Usual? Serve Others.
If yours is one of the fortunate businesses operating as usual—or even seeing an increase in business— congratulations and thank you! You’re helping keep our economy chugging along. Celebrate your success, but I also encourage you to be grateful and to look for ways to serve others.
This can be as simple as continuing your networking efforts. My referral group has embraced online meetings, and we’re finding that keeping our connections is vital to keeping our spirits up. What is also happening, though, is that members are helping each other brainstorm about how to keep their businesses going. You might see opportunities for someone in your referral group that they can’t see themselves; you might have ideas that will make the difference in how someone else’s business comes through this.
Look for ways of serving your customers, too. A property manager client of mine set up a GoFundMe to raise money for residents in need. He can’t personally forgive rent, but by connecting people who have money to donate with those who are struggling to make their rent, he is helping keep people in their homes.
We’re all stressed and worried, but we can support each other with our attention, our creativity and our hearts.
Whatever the Shape of Your Business, Look for Love and Joy
I try to stay optimistic, but I have my rough times. Last weekend I was sitting at home, alone, and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I’ve been trying to lay off the TV, but it was seven o’clock at night, and I was wondering how I was going to fill the hours between then and bedtime. I ended up online, and before I knew it, I was totally lost in looking at—and laughing at—the hilarious memes that have popped up. (If you haven’t come across the Brady Bunch Zoom meme, go find it now!)
What struck me was how, in the middle of this horrible crisis, people were using so much of their energy and time on creating things to make other people laugh. That’s another way of embracing the human spirit: finding and sharing humor and joy even in these dark times so we can get through them, together. I love that, and if you’ll allow me to get a little sentimental for a minute: We need more of that, and I hope we’ll remember to hold onto that even when we’ve conquered this virus. Let’s keep sharing love, joy and happiness instead of hate; let’s keep caring for each other—and showing that. Let’s keep using our creativity to grow our businesses, deepen our relationships and enrich our lives so that we can all be victors, every day, no matter how good or bad things are in the moment.