When every movie before 2020 is a period piece

I recently watched a movie where the lead character goes to her son’s graduation in New York. It made me feel for all the graduates in the class of 2020 who will be missing their own graduations this year. They may have gone to John Krasinski’s prom or made a plan to Graduate Together with other 2020 graduates. When I watched the movie, however, I saw that while the speeches are inspiring and the pomp and circumstance are moving, what really sticks with you are the little things that a virtual ceremony can’t create. The family all met up in New York for the graduation. The graduate’s siblings joined him for a goodbye party. The whole family stayed in a hotel and had dinner in a packed restaurant.

It feels as though every single movie or tv show is a period piece where we can marvel at the strange customs: “Look how many people are in that restaurant!” “Watch them casually hug someone they haven’t seen in years.” Our pre COVID-19 lifestyle seems so remote and while there are those who are clamoring to “get back to normal,” in reality, we have no idea what that normal will be.

Business UNusual

So if we don’t know what “normal” will look like, what does doing business UNusual look like? I have been interviewing business owners in my Business UNusual series since March. We started out talking about how to work from home. Now the conversations have been shifting toward what can we do now? What do I want my business to look like when we do get “back to work”? I’ve started to gather information on the business owners that have found a way to survive and thrive through the crisis. The following themes emerged:

Cash, Community and Connections

I gave some tips for cash, community, and connections last month. Business owners who were in a good cash position, or who were able to leverage their community and connections to get into a good cash position, will be in a good spot to handle the future disruptions that come. Those who had good relationships with their banks and their bankers had much better experiences with loans than those who were simply an account number. And, even if you didn’t have those relationships in place from the start, community can help you forge them.

For example, when many business owners were struggling to get attention from lenders for PPP loans, WBENC, the certifying body for women owned businesses, was approached by a smaller bank that was successfully getting loans processed. WBENC sent the call out to the women business owners in their network to get in touch with the bank and banker who was specifically looking to help women owned businesses. Certified businesses had a leg up with their cash needs because of their community.

Leverage that Community

It’s one thing to join a group, it’s another to attend the meetings, volunteer, offer expertise, and PARTICIPATE. I often talk about the diverse business certification organizations – Disability:IN, NGLCC, NMSDC, NVBDC and WBENC – but there is also your Chamber of Commerce, Masterminds, CEO groups. If you need help, this is where you can get it; if you can offer help, this is a great venue for it.

Diversifying Client Base and Revenue Streams

This is a subset of cash; how do you keep the cash flowing when everything is so uncertain? This looks different for different businesses. Several of the business owners I talked to mentioned previous crises as their “aha” moment for diversifying their client base. That could mean increasing or decreasing federal government business, having different products including those that can be delivered virtually, or simply not putting all your eggs in one large client’s basket.

What are you waiting for?

Real estate mogul and Shark Tank shark Barbara Corcoran keynoted a virtual conference I attended last week. The piece of advice she gave that really resonated with me was, “Don’t wait!” You can’t wait until you have more certainty to get in front of people. Getting in front of past clients, current clients, and potential clients really worked for the business owners who are doing well and, in some cases surprised them. Market the solutions you are providing, not your services.

Don’t wait for everyone to “get back to work.” Lots of us are already there.