We’re past the initial pivot stories involving the pandemic, in which vodka makers turned to developing hand sanitizer, and clothing companies began producing face masks on the side. These were, of course, smart and applaudable pivots that helped companies survive while aiding the greater good. However, most of these were short-term adjustments. The long-term pivoting due to COVID-19 requires a deeper approach.
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Here are three tips for shifting your startup strategy to get through the pandemic and set your company up for future success:
Balance the short- and long-term
During times of tumultuous and rapid change, as we’re seeing with COVID-19, there’s a challenge in balancing short-term survival and long-term strategic goals. For example, a retail store shifts toward curbside pickup and online ordering during the pandemic in a smart move to survive. If this sounds familiar, you need to start thinking now about the end of the pandemic and lifted restrictions.
When you think about the future, do you see people coming into your retail space? Do you sell merchandise that people like to consider, feel or experience in person before they buy? If demand for in-person shopping continues to plummet, you may want to consider shifting to curbside pickup, delivery and online shopping. This type of shift could mean transitioning away from a brick-and-mortar store and moving into a cheaper warehouse facility with an emphasis on logistics.
In the broader sense, stay focused on core foundational problems. For example, my company is aiming to transform how people wait in lines, a dynamic that’s remained unchanged for centuries. The need for our solution existed before COVID-19 and will persist afterward.
The same lesson applies to your business: delighting the customer with a smooth ordering experience and high-quality items is still the primary goal, so focus on changing how you deliver on that goal.
Leverage what you have
My company, Sleek, is a young startup, originally designed as an app for managing line queuing. It enables people to receive alerts when their turn in line is coming up. I’m not alone in my dislike for the long lines at concerts and sporting events, so I wanted to shake up that dynamic. The app offers demand-based pricing like Uber, where users can pay a small amount to move ahead in line, with the revenue shared with the venue.
When COVID-19 hit the U.S., large events and waiting in long lines became a thing of the past. So, we had to pivot. We’re now serving essential businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants, as well as high-demand COVID-19 testing centers.
When the pandemic ends, we’ll expand our business model back into events and other large-scale gatherings. But we’ll also retain the business we’ve developed in the meantime and continue to improve our technology with a better user experience and more value for our customers.
That’s the core lesson for pivoting companies: to take this time to garner some business, while running a lean operation focused on continual improvement.
Take stock of what you do well, whether it’s with people, technology or process (ideally all three!) and use those strengths to find new market opportunities.
Embrace the virtual world
Being an “online” business doesn’t apply to just e-commerce platforms. You can use the inexpensive online tools at your disposal to expand your company’s reach and ability to interact with customers.
If you run a small hardware store, for example, then you’re likely shifting to curbside pickup and online ordering. However, you can also use Zoom to conduct “Ask the Expert” sessions about home repairs. With your orders moving to online and digital payments, do something with all of that valuable data you’re collecting. Use an inexpensive CRM platform to conduct email marketing campaigns that offer discounts and other news.
The impact of COVID-19 provides you with an opportunity to modernize your business in a way that recognizes how we’ve all shifted our lives to go digital. Now is the time to use Facebook chat to answer customers’ inquiries and talk to customers via other social platforms. These platforms are also the perfect way to relay your pivot to your customers, so keep them informed about exciting changes.
Consider the implications of online learning, telemedicine, and other societal adjustments that are here to stay. How will these changes impact customer behaviors, and how you can adjust accordingly to survive and thrive?
Originally published Nov. 13, 2020.