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Opinion: How to never waste a 'good crisis'

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Let me be real for a minute. I’m getting pretty tired of this.

I’m tired of talking about flattening the curve and obtaining funding. I’m tired of talking about staying at home and thinking about what may or may not happen. I’m a small-business owner, and I’m hardwired for action. Let’s do something.

A friend of mine told me several weeks ago, “never waste a good crisis.” I know there is no such thing as a good crisis, and we certainly wouldn’t choose the situation we are in. But there are undoubtedly opportunities for every small business out there, provided that they can survive the current situation. How does a small business find those opportunities?

Contingency planning
The most important way small-business leaders can accelerate into the future is to protect the present.

A lot of business owners might be tempted to stay positive and optimistic and avoid looking at the current situation or how bad things could get. However, to protect the business, it’s more important than ever to look uncertainty square in the face. Since nobody knows what will really happen, I recommend forecasting multiple scenarios: the best case, worst case and most probable.

Then consider what options, or contingencies, you will have for each scenario to control cash flow and maintain the business. While it’s tempting to do this exercise alone in a dark room, I strongly recommend that you involve your trusted professional partners, such as your accountant and executive team.

This is not a fun exercise. Many small businesses are confronting terrible scenarios that will result in potentially very difficult decisions.

However, by establishing clear scenarios and key indicators that track performance, you will know what your options are when you will need to launch specific contingencies.

In short, this exercise will let you protect the present so that you can shift some of your attention to the future.

Innovate
Innovating on demand is challenging. Every business is in a paradigm, and thinking about doing things differently or completely new is not natural.

So where do you start? I recommend starting with a discussion among your team about what your company does best at its core. It’s important to continue to work within your unique value even if you have to do it a different way.

Once you have established a clear perspective of your unique value, it’s time to listen to your customer. I see too many small businesses trying to innovate and create new products or services without involvement from their customers. This is a hit or miss game that will require the company to later convince their customer that they need the new product or service. Instead, small businesses should conduct some customer intelligence. This involves talking with your customers and finding out what they are concerned about. What problems are they facing? Have your customers help you to innovate by focusing on their problems, instead of yours.

Execute nimbly
I recently was talking with a business owner about planning. He observed that just a few months ago, he was working on a three-to-five-year strategic plan. Now, he observed, he is focused on a three-to-five-day strategic plan.

In a crisis, things can change and evolve quickly, causing a need for us to be flexible. We recommend that small businesses create crisis core teams. It’s a cross-functional team of leaders within the organization that meet every other week to launch and track initiatives aimed at managing quick changes within the company.

These initiatives can be championed by different people in your organization to report progress to the Crisis Core Team. This system will allow your organization to move nimbly and adjust quickly to new information, opportunities and insights you gain in the process.

This crisis has been, and will continue to be, very challenging for small businesses. The reality we are facing is that many will not make it through. But for those that do, there are opportunities to bring your team together to protect your company while creating closer relationships with your customers through customer-focused innovation. Nobody chose this crisis, but if you take proactive steps and confront your fears, you will be able to accelerate when it’s over.

Don Harkey is the owner and CEO of People Centric Consulting Group. He can be reached at donharkey@peopleccg.com.

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