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What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the COVID-19 Pandemic (So Far)

Jack Wolstenholm

Head of Content at Breeze
Jack Wolstenholm is the head of content at Breeze, a digital-first insurance company that offers simple, affordable income protection for working Americans.

Latest posts by Jack Wolstenholm

Hundreds of thousands of American deaths and counting. Staggering unemployment numbers nationwide. Unprecedented hardships for small businesses and their owners. Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear — perhaps now more than ever — that the ability to adapt swiftly and successfully is vital to survival for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Those who overcome the adversity brought on by this tumultuous year will become stronger and smarter because of it. They will also be better equipped to handle other catastrophic events in the future.


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That being said, here are some lessons that entrepreneurs can take from the COVID-19 pandemic up to this point:

Always be prepared to make changes 

As a business owner, you understand the importance of being able to adjust on the fly to solve problems. This requires you to be strategic and creative, as well as open-minded and flexible. By now, the COVID-19 pandemic has surely tested your ability to do so, no matter what industry you operate in.

Since initial lockdown measures swept across the country in March, many employees have been fortunate to transition to working remotely from home. Although certainly not seamless, it has proven effective for tech companies big and small, where the vast majority of roles can be performed just as well from a couch as they can from a traditional office setting. Trading in packed conference rooms and business travel for Zoom calls, saving time and money on your daily commute, more quality time with loved ones — these are just a few of the silver linings that have been discovered at work in an otherwise bleak year.

On the other hand, businesses that rely heavily on their brick-and-mortar presence haven’t been so fortunate. For local restaurants and bars, having an outdoor patio may have given you a leg-up on your competition during the spring and summer, but is not sustainable throughout the colder months. What will prevail through winter is ramping up delivery and carry-out services, reinventing menus and specials accordingly, and funneling more dollars into your digital marketing efforts to enhance visibility. If you weren’t listed on GrubHub, DoorDash, and UberEats before, you should be now.

In some cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened doors for businesses to offer new products and services. At the onset of the pandemic, many companies temporarily produced hand sanitizer or masks. Of course, not every opportunity will be so precise. Amidst all the volatility and uncertainty, take the time to explore how you can differentiate yourself from the crowd.


Related: Lessons Learned from Navigating a Startup Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Never forget how to tap into your startup mindset 

Running a successful business is hard enough in normal times, let alone during a global pandemic. But for entrepreneurs, adversity is anything but foreign.

At one point, every small business owner was just starting out. Whether you leveraged small business financing to kickstart your operation or bootstrapped your way to profitability, you understand what it’s like to navigate lean means and make do with what you have. Regardless of how you got to this point, you must understand how to capitalize on resources made available to you.

Back in March, the CARES Act was passed to help prop up businesses in wake of the outbreak. The $2.2 trillion stimulus bill features several temporary programs for businesses, including the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, SBA Express Bridge Loans, and SBA Debt Relief. But not everyone qualified for the largest economic stimulus package ever. And even those who did may now be struggling again, as that money runs dry and further relief talks stall.

So much of what’s happening is out of your hands. What’s not is how you treat your people, both customers and employees, when times get tough. Although important, being prepared to make simple adjustments isn’t enough. Unconventional times often call for unconventional solutions, and entrepreneurs need to be prepared to tap into the startup mindset that got them to this point in their journey.

Establish where you can make cuts without sacrificing the value you provide. Then ask yourself what you can do to level up and build a greater sense of your existing community.

You may not be as protected as you think you are 

If ever there is a time to review your insurance needs, it’s now. Be it life and health insurance at home, or business and general liability insurance at work, chances are you have your hands full. But those aren’t the only types of coverage small business owners need to financially protect themselves from life’s most vulnerable moments.

There’s no shortage of injuries and illnesses that can prevent you from running your business. If you become too sick or hurt to work, your disability insurance policy will replace a portion of your earnings on a monthly basis. Having this coverage means being able to continue meeting your financial obligations in your personal life, such as paying the bills and putting food on the table, so you can focus on your recovery.

Similarly, entrepreneurs should also consider business overhead expense (BOE) coverage. As its name suggests, this type of disability coverage will help you keep up with various business overhead expenses if you suffer a covered injury or illness. Benefits can be used to cover rent, utilities, supplies, services, payroll, loans, and taxes. 

Even those who are fortunate enough to recover from COVID-19 may still face related health issues down the road. This, paired with the fact that treating serious illnesses gets expensive fast, underscores the importance of filling the gaps in your health insurance coverage.

Rest is non-negotiable

Leading a startup requires a great deal of sacrifice, especially in its early stages. Money is tight, but passion is plentiful. You operate on a day-to-day basis fueled by belief in what you do, knowing the odds of success are likely stacked against you.

If and when success comes, it may be at the expense of things you hold near and dear, like downtime with family and friends or sleep. While pitfalls of poor work-life balance are well-documented, finding the right mix is easier said than done. The turbulence of 2020 has brought this to light for countless workers across all industries, including small business owners.

Yes, most entrepreneurs needed to pick up the slack this year to adapt their businesses and stay afloat. No, that doesn’t give you permission to work yourself into the ground.

In the age of COVID-19, in which face masks and social distancing are the new normal, people are more isolated than ever. It’s crucial that you find time to relax and recharge after a long day of work so you can stay sharp. Doing this can actually increase your productivity, whereas the alternative is bound to take a toll on your health and wellness over time, both physically and mentally.

Focus on making your day-to-day processes repeatable so you work smarter, not harder. Prioritize what you think can get done each day, knowing that there will always be more work to follow.


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So, now what?

With the seasons changing and the holidays right around the corner, 2020 is entering the homestretch. Finally.

But just because the ball drops and a new calendar year begins doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. Much of the uncertainties, hardships and limitations on display today will remain well into 2021, if not longer.

Adaptability is key to growing any sustainable operation, but what this looks in practice can vary widely from one business to the next. The most surefire way to acquire this skill is through trial-and-error as you work to better understand your customers and business in good times and bad.

For entrepreneurs and small business owners who are truly invested in success, take this opportunity to assess what you’ve learned and how you can apply those lessons moving forward. Because this won’t be the last time you need to use them.

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