Here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we began to be safe at home five weeks ago. Many Americans didn’t think March would ever end. Now it seems like April won’t either. Just today Dallas County’s city council voted to keep the stay at home order in place until May 15th. This global coronavirus pandemic has stunned all of us, providing this surreal daily existence none of us could have imagined.
Daily we hear these words describing how people feel about the current state of things. Business owners are just as prone as anybody else, maybe more so, to feel these things. Those of us who serve business owners have been busy doing whatever we can to help entrepreneurs face the challenge. Along the way, we’ve listened to heart-wrenching stories of business owners who risk losing everything, including the companies that were soaring high just six weeks ago.
Let’s focus on the opportunities, positives and high-potential moving forward. It’s easy to dwell on what’s wrong. I mean, much of it is very obvious. Which is why the throngs are likely going to spend their time there. And it’s why we have this extraordinary opportunity – an unprecedented opportunity for our lifetime – to make something special happen.
I agree with Mark Cuban who has said in a recent podcast interview that now is a great time to start a business. Click the link below to the interview he did with YOUR FIRST MILLION with host Arlan Hamilton.
Cuban has always been a fan of sweat equity and forgoing debt as much as possible. Sound advice for existing businesses and start-ups. However, if you’re operating a small business and you’re able to leverage the SBA packages offered by the U.S. government, which could be morphed into grants (instead of loans) if you use the money according to the rules…then, by all means, jump all over that if you haven’t yet.
Part of the reason Cuban is such a fan of avoiding taking on investment is our ability to develop our own vision for the future. Business owners mostly love control and hate having to answer to others. It’s why we carved out the path to do our own thing. Debt makes us beholden and we hate that.
Cuban is a contrarian against the two prevailing business thoughts of the moment. One is double down and work super hard while others are sitting back trying to figure out what to do. Two is to rest and regroup while the whole planet has been disrupted. Cuban has a third alternative. Take small steps. Get and keep your priorities where they most likely belong – on your family’s welfare. Simultaneously take small steps to advance and move forward. As the saying goes, “Inch by inch anything is a cinch.”
Six weeks ago people weren’t likely taking things all that seriously. I know I wasn’t.
Five weeks ago things began to change. Suddenly, the NBA shut down, followed quickly by March Madness being canceled. That got our attention.
Then the other sports leagues followed suit. And many of us were in areas of the country where our local governments ordered us to stay at home. Suddenly, businesses were shut down, or they shut themselves down before the government did it. Apple Stores, for instance, closed up shop.
Then the mad dash for paper towels, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Suddenly, within less than a week our local grocery stores looked like they had been missed a week’s worth of deliveries. Shelves were bare. Everything from meat to eggs to paper products…GONE. Nowhere to be found.
It became very real very quickly. It was shock and awe for all of us.
Then the furloughs and terminations began. And the unemployment soared. Many of us were likely impacted because business owners whose doors were shut could no longer make payroll for work that couldn’t be done anyway. And our lease payments were coming due with little or no revenue coming in. Now it was time to panic. So most of us did.
For some, the panic is still in full swing. For others, we figured we’d best get busy trying to figure something out.
Universal Vulnerability To The Rescue
A funny thing happened on the way to isolating ourselves at home. We weren’t able to single ourselves out from the herd. The entire herd of humanity was experiencing the same thing. For the first time in our lives, everybody was in the same boat. From famous Hollywood actors to pop stars to billionaire business people, we were all huddling with our immediate families inside our homes. Nevermind that some had nicer digs in which to isolate themselves. For the first time in our history of being alive, we had one big thing in common.
Our common challenges gave us a gift.
Vulnerability. The vulnerability of being human.
“It’s going to be brutal. There’s no way to sugarcoat it at all. And when we get to the other side, companies are going to be operating differently,” Cuban said on Fox Business Network just this morning (Wednesday, April 22, 2020). Cuban predicts 2 to 3 years to get back what most of us considered “normal.”
Wait a minute, didn’t you say you weren’t going to dwell on the bad? Yes, I did. And I’m sticking with that notion. What Mark said isn’t negative as much as what many of us believe is the truth. But none of us, including Cuban, know for sure.
He’s right about one thing, based on information I know firsthand from various CEOs and owners. Companies with more than 500 employees are hit as hard, if not harder than small outfits. The companies with revenues in the hundreds of millions and more than 500 employees need more. They need more capital, more revenue and more profits. Size matters. Big animals need to eat more than small ones. Companies in the wild are no different.
Whether you believe in what Cuban says or not isn’t the point. You absolutely believe in the uncertainty and in that uncertainty is the high value of vulnerability. Universal vulnerability.
Just yesterday I spoke with a Vistage Chair in Boston, Phil Holberton. You can watch or listen to the conversation Leo Bottary and I had with Phil for our joint podcast, What Anyone Can Do.
Phil commented on what I’ve heard from a number of people involved in mastermind or peer groups – people are coming closer together. Now more than ever!
It only took a global pandemic to make it happen.
But hey, it DID happen. So that’s a good thing. Not the pandemic, but our universal (mostly) realization that we could use some help. And that maybe we could help somebody else.
Maybe you’ve seen this heart-wrenching story about Ken Bembow, a British veteran, who has been sleeping with a photo of his late wife Aida following her death nine months ago. A caregiver made a pillow with his wife’s picture on it so he could sleep with that instead. The video is sure to make you tear up. It speaks to our collective humanity during our collective vulnerability.
Scroll through Instagram. You won’t find the normal stuff there. Go back 6 weeks ago and it was the same old crap. Fancy cars. Fancy locations. Just all FANCY. People showing off. People fronting. People faking it. Little to no vulnerability. Just mostly fraudulent posing. Aimed at making others envious or jealous.
Now kindness, compassion and service have bubbled to the surface where they always belonged.
Now business owners once cocky and sure are surrendering themselves to peers admitting that they’re clueless about what next step to take. The fear of not knowing what to do has finally trumped our fear of looking smart. ‘Bout time.
I HATE that it took a global pandemic to get us there, but here is where we are. And I’m during you and me to seize the moment. Let’s make full use of this disaster. Let’s refuse to go back and start hiding again behind our false bravado and arrogance. Let’s wise up and keep the wisdom move forward. Let’s step on the accelerator and get moving faster than ever in leveraging our humanity.
Because there are bound to be better answers found together than those answers we find by ourselves.
Shortly after things grew very grim I made a decision with my own professional services. For starters, I slashed my rate. I’ve never been a “by the hour” guy, but I went to a $50 an hour Zoom video conferencing rate just to try to help as many people as possible. Next, I decided to launch The Peer Advantage by Bula Network free of charge. Both seemed like good ideas at the time and neither of them was aimed at any sort of money grab (obviously). But both backfired magnificently. 😀
The global disruption was so pervasive. The fear was so widespread. The panic was so real. Nobody – and I mean NOBODY, including me – was ready to do anything for what seemed forever. We collectively stood around like deer in headlights. Not knowing what to do.
The lesson was learned though and I have no regrets. I was like you, just trying to figure out what I could do that might make a difference. My business is likely very different from yours though. I’m a one-man-band. That’s by design. I have no inventory. I have only my wife and me to worry about. This affords me the aim of my business design – the ability to focus on the work and those who might benefit from my services. I was fortunate in that I could squarely aim at how I might be of greater service to more people. I wasn’t being altruistic, just practical. Keep in mind, I’m an INFJ so “counselor” is my natural wiring. I was merely leaning more heavily into who I am.
People were too afraid. My empathy compelled me to fully understand it, too. In those first moments of wanting to be helpful, I had neglected to understand the scope and depth of the uncertainty and fear. Honestly, I hadn’t even come to grips with my own anxiety, worry, and fear. Like news of sudden death, we all needed time to process what was happening to us.
So here we are about 5 weeks or so into the stay-at-home routine. Most of us.
Even essential businesses have been disrupted. Mostly in a bad way, but some in a good way. Walmart and others are experiencing quantum leaps in demand for their goods and services. Cuban is likely right when he predicts we’ll learn of 30 or so companies who will make a name for themselves during this ordeal – or the outgrowth after it’s over.
As days rolled into weeks and weeks have morphed into a few months, thankfully the shock wore off. Hopefully, most of us “came to ourselves” realizing that we’d best get on with figuring out what to do next. Enter that vulnerability again.
Some have confessed for the first time in their professional lives they’ve opened up and been willing to ask for help. And many have wondered why they didn’t do it before…after experiencing such positive results when they realize others with a different viewpoint have quite a lot to offer. Nevermind berating ourselves over past neglect. Who cares? What matters is this is where we are today. And while it’s bad, it’s not all bad.
We needed to overcome our shock. We do not need to overcome our newfound vulnerability and willingness to lean on each other.
Your company has employees. You have suppliers. You have partners – banks, real estate people, advertising people, etc.
Leverage all of them.
Huddle with your employees. Invite them to join you on a Zoom call to simply let them know you care about them as people. Lean into humanity…your own and theirs.
Share with them your challenges and ask them what they think. Lead productive conversations about what your new normal might look like. Allow them to be part of the solution and opportunity. You need it. They need it. Worst yet, your company needs it.
You’ve likely already had many conversations with your landlords. Figure out ways to make it work so everybody minimizes the downside. Maximize the opportunity together.
Same with suppliers and other partners. Remember, everybody you talk to is going through the same ordeal. You’re going to find – maybe for the first time in your life – that you’re able to have the most open, transparent conversations you’ve ever had with all of these people. The result? You’ll get closer!
You’ll also likely develop some answers you wouldn’t otherwise have found. And some opportunities along the way.
I’ve heard quite a few stories of employees who have helped owners identify newfound opportunities in this crisis. And I don’t mean just making masks and other products useful during this time. I mean companies whose employees have figured out new products and services to offer. Things congruent with their existing business.
In recent weeks I’ve seen a theme emerge among some innovative leaders and their teams. They’re looking past the shock to begin to think, “What are we really good at that might provide new opportunities for us?”
Is your company great at sales? Logistics? Manufacturing? Quality control? Service delivery? What?
Most of us operate businesses where we get stuck thinking we’re in the car business or the widget business. Reality is often very different. We’re just do deep into our industry we can’t see it. Now is the time to venture out beyond the bounds of your limited vision and leverage the power of others to see if there may not be an even bigger opportunity for you.
Do not go it alone. You’ve been there, done that. It didn’t work so well.
You thought you had it all figured out when times were great. You – like most of us – felt it would never end. Sky was the limit. Until the sky fell.
So don’t retreat back into the same behaviors that may have prevented you from future-proofing your company like you should have. Time to saddle up and ride ahead. Go slow. Go fast. That’s for you to decide for yourself. But GO. And make sure you’re riding alongside people willing to help you – and people willing to let you help them.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!