Change may be inevitable - but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Business owners who have grown accustomed to seeing success and profitability after following a specific model may be especially reluctant to test out uncharted waters.
As the pandemic has shown us, however, being agile, adaptable and innovative isn’t optional - it’s essential. Brands that have embraced new digital offerings and diversified their products and services have discovered unexpected bonuses for their businesses, reaching new customers and making profits in uncertain times.
“Whenever there is change, we go through a process of loss, then a time of being in the unknown, until we begin to have a new vision for ourselves,” explains Jenny Garrett, a career coach, leadership trainer and author. “Being more aware of these stages helps us understand how we feel and embrace change as a necessary process. Often that starts as painful, but ends up much better than we could have expected.”
We chatted to Garrett and small business owners who have had to make dramatic changes in order for their businesses to thrive during lockdown to get their advice. The consensus? Don’t be afraid to pivot from the way you’re used to doing things - you could learn a lot.
Give yourself a chance to get used to change
Human beings may just be the most adaptable species around. That isn’t just apparent in how we’ve come together in solidarity over the past several months, but is evidenced as far back as our ancestors 1.85 million years ago, who adapted to survive extreme changes in the climate. Just because we’re good at it doesn’t mean we like it when we have to change things - especially if it feels like change was forced on us, rather than a choice of our own making.
“It can be helpful to think of the last time change was imposed on you, what you did to respond to the change, what skills and qualities got you through and what you learned and use this on your current situation,” Garrett tells HuffPost UK. “Another way to look at it is to ask yourself, ‘if I don’t change, what will my business be like in a year’s time, will it even survive?’”
Garrett also flags that periods of adversity can have some benefits for business owners. See what opportunities there are for collaboration with other companies and individuals and use any extra time you may find on your hands for research, development, or online learning with MOOCs (massive open online courses).
Find some positive in the negative - and look at potential new sources of cashflow
Tim Rundle-Wood started Twoodle, a natural home fragrance brand, when his dog, Henry, nearly died from toxic shock after sniffing a synthetic diffuser four years ago.
Rundle-Wood ran Twoodle - named after an affectionate nickname friends coined for him and his husband, Tom - from home since its inception and had plans to move to a small workshop space. When the pandemic hit, the space fell through, which Tim now sees as a blessing in disguise.
“It was probably one of the best things that ever happened. I instantly started looking for other places where I could sell my products,” Rundle-Wood says.
Having only sold through his own website and at markets previously, Rundle-Wood used lockdown to take a chance and try some other online retailers: Etsy and Amazon - and Etsy really took off.
With the volume of orders immense, and still doing everything from home, Rundle-Wood managed to find the workshop of his dreams: part-shop, part-workspace, it allows customers to see how the vegan hemp candles and home scents are being made. The new shop opened its doors on Cheshire Street in August.
Not only did he change where his products were sold, but Rundle-Wood completely automated his sales during lockdown to save time, using Greenback to feed his sales channels, which include WooCommerce, Amazon, Etsy, eBay and Square, into one feed.
“The time saved gives me more free time and more time to work on the bigger picture of my business,” he says.
Rundle-Wood also refused to panic in the face of uncertainty, seizing the opportunity to emerge from the pandemic with a stronger business model. He is a big fan of meditation and NLP techniques, which he credits with helping him keep his cool in the face of uncertainty.
Don’t be afraid to change your business model completely - and ditch the old ways of thinking
Jenny Maxwell is the owner of Nordic Muse, a lifestyle store based in Manchester offering a range of brands, from jewellery to stationery, which take inspiration from the simple, clean Scandi aesthetic. Maxwell was hit with supply chain issues from February, which prompted her to be reactive and change her business model swiftly, closing her Manchester shop and focusing her business purely online.
“Retail became less experience and more transactional, but digitalisation doesn’t mean we should remove human contact. I had to mirror the same personal experience we offer face to face and embrace change through a series of touchpoints,” Maxwell explains.
She achieved this personalised-yet-remote approach using a variety of tech tools, like live chat and videos, as well as Square’s merchant services, which were responsible for contactless payments in-store and integrated with Maxwell’s website. People craving socialisation in lockdown were happy to participate in Nordic Muse Google Hangouts sessions, clearly enjoying meeting the woman behind the business and getting advice on everything from gifting to personal styling.
Maxwell adapted to the changing trends around her by taking an academic approach, analysing data of real-time inventory performance, maximising SEO and quickly establishing direct-to-consumer vendor accounts - all of which paid off. The business outperformed last year by 24% (with no physical presence), with the online channel at +90% like for like.
She also responded to changing consumer behaviours by looking at company reports from Square, which detailed top and bottom performing categories: candles, plant accessories and home-beautifying items did very well in the beginning, while jewellery became popular in May, as people started getting outside more.
“This gave me the confidence that I was developing ranges that would be in high demand, with the customer in mind. The retail model has changed forever - post lockdown retail is a whole new ball game, a new world with new shopping habits. I believe many independents have been the real winners of the online boom, with a link to the community, personal service and the agility to react one day and see the results the next,” she says.
Maxwell also looked at what large retailers were doing and extended her returns policy for online purchases, so shoppers wouldn’t feel as rushed and could take the time to decide how they felt about their buys, illustrating that not only are businesses changing their models, but the whole online shopping experience is evolving towards something more interactive and experiential.
Managing demand while adapting to this new way of doing business proved to be the biggest challenge for Maxwell. While she used to run her physical and online stores in parallel, now the two sides of her business have firmly merged.
Ways to protect your business against uncertainty and boost profitability
As any business owner will tell you, there will always be something around the corner that requires you to think quickly on your feet.
Garrett gives us her top tips for business owners to keep business booming in the face of adversity - and to improve efficiency.
Charge the right amount, so that you have a surplus to provide a buffer for you and your staff.
Make efficiencies, don’t pay for what you don’t need to have, such as office space, staff, or products, and keep an eye on cashflow. Look at all expenses and cut where possible (phone data, office expenses etc).
Keep yourself informed, continually look outward to what is on the horizon, attend courses, conferences and listen to thought leaders about future trends. Keep curious.
Have a multi-generational work, and diverse workforce who can provide diversity thought, creative solutions and access and insights into new customer segments.
Reach out to existing customers and see if there are opportunities for long-term relationships that can create business sustainability.
Ask current customers how they can support them in this time of change, and move quickly to provide solutions.
Negotiate faster payment terms - some corporates pay in 75 days; this is crippling for small businesses. You can find other options out there; Square, for example, ensures business owners see money in their account the next business day.
Ask staff if they are willing to reduce hours.
Tap into the ideas of the whole team, don’t just rely on the leader for the creative ideas.
Maintain positivity, have a clear vision for the future and keep working towards it.