COVID-19 has not only drastically impacted the health, finance and business sphere, it’s also had serious ramifications on social behavior. Mandatory quarantines have forced people to remain home for weeks (even months) at a time. And while millions of people have struggled to adapt to the new limited lifestyle, others are taking a more pragmatic approach.
As people are stuck indoors, platforms like Netflix have witnessed a surge in usage. Even though stock markets have been chaotic amid the outbreak, at the end of February, the streaming site announced its shares were up by 0.8 percent.
Likewise, lifestyle and wellness platforms and apps have benefitted. Aaptiv, an app with audio workouts, reported a 50 percent higher user engagement, as gyms are closed and people are seeking new ways to exercise, but also a way to relieve anxiety and boredom.
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While in quarantine, many people have found alternative means to remain entertained and healthy at home. Beyond personal organization, this energy can also easily be put toward professional and entrepreneurial goals. Rather than spend hours on social media or in front of the TV, here are five tried-and-tested ways to train your inner entrepreneur while on lockdown:
Get yourself in the right headspace
Now is the prime time to avoid all distractions and honestly answer key questions before launching into an entrepreneurial journey.
Decide whether this is something you really want to explore. Right now, you can invest time and devote your attention to learning if your idea has potential, as well as what it might take to make it happen. First, get yourself into the right headspace by being open to the possibilities.
Think about why you want to start a business. Is to be your own boss? Bring a game changing idea to the world? Or something else entirely? Understand what your “why” is, as it will help you evaluate the right type of opportunity.
Next, what is your purpose? Purpose is essential to ensure that your idea is relevant, has potential and is positioned for success. It’s this purpose that will drive you to act and get results.
Far too often I meet people who have a great idea that they are clearly passionate about, but there isn’t a real desire to make it happen. Meaning, there is no real purpose. I firmly believe that purpose-driven ideas, whether it’s to solve a societal problem to satisfy an inner desire, have a much better chance of seeing the light of day.
Finding and maintaining the right headspace means that you feel driven, are motivated, have a purpose that you’re excited to share, and you understand your “why” for wanting to start a business.
The upside of quarantine is that being away from your usual work environment will give you the chance to assess whether now is the right moment for you to explore your entrepreneurial spirit. You’ll likely find that you can streamline your thoughts better and make unbiased decisions about your future, which brings us to my next point.
Plan for the future
To frame things in a positive light, think of this as time to explore your idea.
A simple trick is to mark in your calendar the specific times that you’ll dedicate to planning. This kind of visualization often helps people stick to the times and get into a routine of developing an idea. The more you make a habit out of planning, the more confidence you will gain to push your business forward.
Similarly, take the time to find free resources online to support you. There are loads of webinars, courses and online communities for entrepreneurs, many of which are free. For example, SCORE.org, where free webinars and mentorship resources are offered to help guide you in the business planning process.
Creating regular learning sessions is great to reclaim time that you may otherwise spend on distracting activities. Set aside at least three blocks of time per week, ideally in three-hour increments. During these blocks, explore your passion, familiarize yourself with trends in the space, and interact with fellow industry personnel online.
Research your market
To understand the opportunity for your business idea, you need to do your research. It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of the market, competitors in the space, and who you think might be interested in buying your product or service, to assess the potential of your business idea.
Spend time evaluating all of this so you really understand where you might fit in this space.
Do an analysis of your potential customers
Understanding who your customers will be is a defining element of the entrepreneurial process. If you don’t know who exactly you’ll sell to, how can you tailor your product and services to them?
For example, if you have a new anti-aging skin cream, then you’re likely not going to be targeting college age men, so don’t include them in your consideration set. In this case, likely folks in their 30s to 50s. This process will help you be aware of your customers’ needs and expectations, which can facilitate marketing plans and a more personalized customer experience. In today’s business world, understanding your customers is not a luxury but a necessity.
Create a persona of your ideal customer. At this stage, think about who the perfect customer might be and identify key demographic and interest attributes:
- Who they are
- What they care about
- How long it takes them to make a purchase decision
- Why they would buy your product
- How often they would buy your product
- What they like to do
For example, using the skin cream example, let’s create a persona called Healthy Heather: Heather is 40 years old, married or single and a working professional who cares about how she looks. She spends money on skin care products, shops at the Body Shop, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Williams Sonoma. She belongs to a gym and enjoys nights out with her girlfriends. In the U.S. alone, there 40 million plus women like “Healthy Heather,” so that’s a pretty big market!
Do an analysis of your competitors
Next, look at your competitors in the space. If you’re not sure who your competitors are, use search engines to browse phrases that you associate with your business and note which companies appear most frequently.
Then, create a document with the top five to 10 businesses working within the same or similar vertical as you. Make detailed notes about the following questions for each competitor:
- What products, services or features do they offer?
- Who are they targeting? (age, gender, interest, location)
- Are they predominantly digital?
- What is their business model?
- What are their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT Analysis)
- What do their customers say about them on review sites? (i.e. Yelp, TripAdvisor)
- What is their customer experience like? Do they have chatbots, email campaigns, local payments, a great website?
After you’ve gathered all the information, it’s time for some self-reflection. Consider how your business will be different to these competitors, and assess whether there is an actual need for your service. If there is too much competition, your idea will require something really special to succeed.
At the same time, competition doesn’t mean your idea will automatically fail. Look closer at factors that could open opportunities for your business. Are all your competitors working in the same geographic region? Are they targeting the same consumers? Shift your focus toward areas that aren’t yet being attended to in the industry, and discover what you can offer that isn’t already available.
Create a plan
A pitch deck is the backbone of your idea, as it presents all of your research and planning formulated into one clear document.
At this stage in your entrepreneur journey, you don’t need to make a fully baked business plan. Think of this as the starting block for organizing all of the key elements. This can be a practice run to organize your thoughts and get feedback. A rough plan can also give you more structure in the early stages of your idea, as well as aid you in making realistic projections.
An excellent business proposal should include the following:
- Business concept: A high level summary of what your business is, what problem it’s solving and why it will matter to people
- Who we are: Your team, your values, your experience, your mission and your vision
- Problem: What is the problem your business is overcoming with its services or products?
- Solution: What methods your business will use to solve the problem
- USP (Unique Selling Point): Why your business stands out in the market, and why customers will value your business over existing companies
- Demographics: Your business size, if you’re selling to other businesses (B2B) or customers (B2C), customer details like age, gender and geographic area
- Psychographics: Your customers’ personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests and lifestyles
- Business model: How you’ll make revenue and retain customers, i.e. affiliate links, contracts, subscription, membership
One of the biggest learning curves for any entrepreneur is realizing that you don’t have to do it alone. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs started their business taking inspiration from others and being open to seeking advice when necessary. The same applies to you, and being in quarantine shouldn’t prevent you from accessing the right mentors.
Search within your network to see if there is anyone who you can lean on for advice. They don’t have to have experience in your particular field, but they should be able to provide guidance, wisdom and knowledge about launching a business. Similarly, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one mentor. In fact, the more, the better (although be cautious not to overload yourself with information, be selective about who you shape into a mentor).
Start with your personal network and reach out to family, friends and colleagues to see if they have any contacts with experience building businesses. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals and new contacts if no one in your immediate circle can help. Alternatively, consider local businesses in your area. You can contact them via LinkedIn or other social media, explaining your situation and motives to start a business. Don’t worry about being intrusive or not getting a response; most people are flattered to be considered experts, so cold outreach normally proves worthwhile.
Be sure to keep a record of all the people you contact, even if you don’t get a reply. Somewhere down the line, you may find you cross paths and that your efforts to reach out do wonders to accelerate your business.
In summary: Seize the moment!
Planning for the future, researching the market, compiling a business plan and finding mentors are all effective ways to foster your inner entrepreneur during a quarantine. Rather than focus on the negatives of the situation, self-isolation can be a chance to prioritize your business and construct something tangible.
Remember, there are so many resources still available to us during the isolation period; and even in the grip of a global pandemic, there are pathways to begin building something exciting.
As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” While self-isolation may seem to put our normal lives on hold, it also offers us free time to focus on our own plans for self-improvement. So, switch off Netflix for an hour, get out your notepad or whiteboard and start planning. After all, this pandemic will pass, you still have your hold future to look forward to.