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A Business Owner’s Playbook For Handling Unprecedented Uncertainty

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A business owner's playbook to surviving the quickly changing economic landscape brought on by coronavirus.

It’s hard being a business owner, marketer, and professional right now. There is worldwide dread from an existential viral threat that is spreading, that may overwhelm local hospitals in the US. We’re seeing that the coronavirus pandemic is spreading in the US. The primal fear of safety and physical health have come to the forefront of our lives. 

As a business owner, I have the additional concern of keeping our businesses operating smoothly, and continuing to serve our clients effectively. We’re going to talk about business in this post, and please know that health and family come first. These are four things I am doing, that I think are also prudent points of action for many business owners.

Keep Spirits Up

I keep my mind and my spirit up by recognizing the little wins we see along the way. I wrote about some silver linings yesterday. See them, and despite the bad news, and the impact to our day to day lives, see the good that is around us, and see the path toward a good future when we have solved this global crisis. When it’s tough to remain positive I rely on family and friends to pick me up. And when that’s not enough I take respite from news with games. One of the most beautiful parts of this change is the opportunity to spend more time with my family, and to cherish these moments.

Market My Business

We will survive this threat and one day sooner or later the world will go back to normal. If you’re lucky, your business, or vertical, may be in demand right now. It’s imperative that we continue to market. Building trust, nurturing relationships, and connecting with customers takes time. While customers may not buy now, they will buy in the future. Use marketing to activate the 20 to 600 consumer touch points that Think With Google is reporting consumers need before they make a purchase. Build good will. Be a leader. Educate. Inform. Entertain.

For B2B marketers and business owners advertising today will communicate foundational strength while competitors struggle. Here too, relationships are nurtured through messaging.

Multiple studies show that marketers who maintain, or increase, marketing spend come out ahead during economic downturns and after. In one example Toyota increased marketing spend during the 1973-1975 energy crisis. Even though the Toyota Corolla had received the second highest ranking of miles per gallon behind Honda, Toyota marketed themselves into the #1 spot for car imports by 1976. They continue to be a leading choice for car buyers in the US.

Make Hard Decisions About Financials

One of the biggest challenges, especially for private businesses, is cash flow. The big threat at the moment is that cancellations in the tourism, hospitality, and destination travel businesses are going to squeeze cash flow. Make hard decisions today to survive this moment of hardship in order to continue with your mission. Without your business and mine, a core group of people who rely on you and your expertise, will not get what they need.

Be Vigilant

Whether you call me a news junky, or just someone interested in human behavior, I am keeping on top of the hourly developments with this coronavirus because I need to know what is coming down that will affect my business. In fact, Friday, March 13th, President Trump held a press conference that resulted in a stock market rally. At the start of the conference at 12:30pm PT the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was up 4%. 30 minutes later, when the market closed at 1pm PT, the DJIA was up 9%. This signaled some interesting points about leadership and the coronavirus.

From the first draft of this post, to the time I write this sentence, LA City is restricting operations for non essential activities including retailers, gyms, and entertainment venues. Also, since the first draft of this article the CDC issued a recommendation that gatherings of more than 50 people be postponed or cancelled, affecting sports and entertainment. As of this writing these two developments happened in the last 5 hours!

Further, I’m reading personal accounts of professionals, scientists, engineers, and infected coronavirus patients on Twitter and Reddit. I have, or will subscribe to quality journalism, including New York Times, Business Insider Prime, and Wall Street Journal for more detailed reports from trusted sources.

Speak To Trusted Advisors

This outbreak of fear and uncertainty has presented multiple opportunities to connect with partners, clients, peers, and other business owners. As part of my decision making and trend analysis I’m interested in hearing the challenges that other people may be facing, even going so far as to connect with competitors to hear their stories. In all cases knowledge sharing helps across the board.

Look For Opportunities

This all culminates in ways for business owners to address the current situation, and to create new ways of serving our customers. Some of the biggest companies in the world, and a lot of smaller ones, came out of the 2008 Great Recession. People including Gary Vaynerchuck, Grant Cardone, and Tim Ferris all created their personas, or expanded on them in the wake of the Great Recession. Travis Kalanick founded Uber in March 2009. There are plenty of other examples including app company Smule, delicious burger chain Smashburger, advertising data company Blue Kai all were founded during the Great Recession, or grew into much larger companies because of the opportunities that were presented.

There are two takeaways here for business owners. If this coronavirus economic challenge persists for a longer period there will be more carnage, a greater shock to the economy, and more consumer behavior changes to account for. The bigger the change, the bigger the opportunity. If this coronavirus economic challenge is shorter, then fewer companies will be distressed, or possibly bankrupt, and there may be fewer ways to leverage consumer behavioral changes. Either way, there is opportunity.

Take It One Day At A Time

All this is to say I keep tabs on the world, the political movements, and the economic environment. I look at the news, have the conversations, and take events as they come. Each new development changes the situation, and so while we move forward with the mission that started this business, the approach we take has evolved.

I say all this because like you I want my family, friends, and community to be safe. I don’t want people to suffer with health concerns or economic concerns. The only way I can help you is to share my thoughts from the front line of a business owner handling this crisis. I hope that something I say here helps one person achieve a better outcome for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Robert Brill

Robert is the CEO of BrillMedia.co, host of the LA Business Podcast, and host of The Great Reset on YouTube.

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