Navigating challenging times in business, with COVID-19
The Coronavirus Pandemic is first and foremost a health issue, posing a health risk to those with pre-existing health conditions and the elderly. As a society, the health of those who are most vulnerable needs to be our primary concern. Fortunately, for the vast majority of the population, COVID-19 will represent something slightly more severe than the flu.
However, beyond the health crisis, there are some very real economic and financial implications. Many people are rightly concerned about the business, personal and societal implications caused by the mass hysteria around COVID-19.
In this article, I’ve wanted to address the challenges and changes we’re currently being faced with as a species, as humans, and as business owners. With all the media attention and mass hysteria surrounding COVID-19, it can be difficult to see through all of that, and to look at what’s really going on and how it’s going to affect us.
This is purposefully quite comprehensive, as I’ve wanted to take the time to share some lessons I’ve personally learnt in navigating extreme challenges in my life and business, and to draw on some of the research around COVID-19 to help paint a clear path forward for you all.
You’ll see, below, that I’ve addressed each of the main considerations as I see them: health, business, personal and societal.
In order to understand the health risks posed by COVID-19, we need to understand the size of the current crisis and its mortality rate, beyond the sensationalist headlines that mainstream media like to publicise.
At the time of writing (Monday 16th March, 2020) there have been 168,866 recorded cases of COVID-19, with 6,492 deaths, giving the virus a recorded mortality rate of 3.8%.
However, this mortality rate will decrease as more testing is done because more widespread testing means more mild cases are included in the overall count.
Around 80% of COVID-19 cases are considered mild. Yet at the beginning of an outbreak like this, with limited testing resources, the cases that are first reported are the cases with the most severe symptoms because those are the cases that go to hospital. In regions that have more rigorous testing, and therefore more moderate cases are detected, the mortality rate has been found to be significantly lower.
South Korea is the best example of this, with perhaps one of the most rigorous testing regimes in the world, they have a mortality rate of 0.9%. As more testing happens and more moderate cases are included in the denominator number, the mortality rate decreases significantly. This is not to say the virus is not a serious health concern, it is simply to highlight the trend that these numbers follow in an outbreak like this.
Each year approximately 1 billion people get the flu, with up to 45 million cases in the U.S. alone each year, and 291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide. This gives the flu a mortality rate of anything from .03% to .06%, a significantly lower percentage than COVID-19, yet a much higher number due to its prevalence.
Infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, told Health.com,
“Anytime there is a new emerging infectious disease that is shrouded in mystery with a lot of unknowns, it captivates people in a way that a regular virus that people deal with on a yearly basis won’t.”
So while the spread of COVID-19 needs to be very tightly managed and understood by all of us, the current scale of the disease is significantly less than the mass hysteria that surrounds it.
“Most people who get infected won’t even know they have it.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press briefing. A day later, he added:
“The facts do not merit the level of anxiety that we are seeing.”
For those of us who are healthy, we should take personal precautions to help protect others at greater risk, and this includes doing everything we can to not become infected ourselves.
With the proactive measures we are now seeing from global health organisations, governments and populations working together to overcome COVID-19, once these measures start to take effect the rates of daily incremental cases will be reduced substantially, and the death rate will also diminute. A good example of this is the containment we have already seen in China throughout February.
For the vast majority of us who aren’t at risk from a health perspective, it’s not the virus we have to fear. It’s the fear itself that we ought to fear.
SMEs and high-growth businesses will always face challenges. There’s no shortage of challenges that come our way, whether it’s the GFC, a change in government regulation, a big competitor entering the market, or a large mistake we make as we grow our business.
Working through challenges is part of the game.
However, how we choose to respond to these challenges is completely up to us.
In October 2016, my team at The Entourage and I experienced our greatest challenge ever. Government changes introduced to the education space in Australia meant that we were 3 months away from a monthly loss of $800,000. I had to take a team of 90 and turn it into a team of 40 which was incredibly heartbreaking, and we had no business model or product suite which would extend beyond 3 months.
It was the most challenging period of our lives, careers, and certainly the most challenging time in the history of The Entourage.
But from that experience, we emerged stronger than ever. 18 months after the Government changes our community had grown larger than ever, our Members were getting better results, we were more profitable and growing faster than ever…and ultimately, like all times of great challenge, we came out of it wiser than ever.
At The Entourage, our primary responsibility is to our Members, our wider Community, and the health of their businesses. So from those periods of intense challenge we have weathered, and given the current climate we’re in, to share some more specific and practical advice about how to navigate the coming weeks and months.
If you’re a business owner, or are working in a business that has been affected by the unwinding developments related to COVID-19, here are the 6 key areas you should be focussing on to safely navigate this period.
- Have a cash-flow forecast
- Focus your bandwidth on Marketing, Sales and other revenue-generating activities
- Diversify revenue streams
- Seek advice and be in regular contact with a coach, mentor or business advisor
- Manage, minimise and mitigate unnecessary expenses
- Great creative with your product or service delivery
1. Have a cash-flow forecast
Some businesses have a month-on-month P&L forecast, but if you’re going to be affected by this period, I highly recommend you go deeper.
Have a week-to-week cash-flow forecast.
Even in business-as-usual periods, the thought of managing a business without a P&L and a cash-flow forecast makes me incredibly nervous. It’s the equivalent of being a pilot, flying a plane through a storm, blind, and without any instruments. In the absence of the instrument (the week-to-week cash flow forecast), you have no idea where you’re going, or even how you’re faring.
Modeling week-to-week in periods of challenge gives you the detail, visibility, and foresight you need to know what your cash position is going to be at any given moment.
Your weekly cash-flow forecast will, and should, be incredibly granular and detailed, to give you the absolute visibility you need as to your cash position at any given moment. Cut it the same way as you would with your P&L – with your revenue lines, cost of sales/goods, expenses, net cash for the week, and closing cash balance at the end of each week, for the next six months. Stay abreast of the numbers, take the responsibility for putting the numbers and data in yourself, and be in the spreadsheet daily or weekly.
So if you don’t have this, get to work on building it, or engage your bookkeeper or accountant to do it for you, using the sales assumptions that you give them.
If you don’t have this, please make this your first priority.
2. Focus on revenue-generating activities
The next order of business is to keep your focus on bringing cash through the door. I already believe that business owners do not spend enough time on marketing and sales, and on pure revenue-generating activities.
This is particularly true in times of crisis and challenge.
Adopt a “cash in” mindset, and mobilise your team into business development mode.
3. Diversify revenue streams
Particularly for those businesses whose core revenue streams are drying up (or already have), this is mission-critical, especially since the timeline around COVID-19 is so uncertain.
Find other revenue streams that you can derive income from to weather the months where your core revenue streams are going to be depleted.
4. Seek advice from a coach, mentor or advisor
The fact is, business is difficult enough when it’s “business-as-usual.” With how much we carry intellectually, emotionally and energetically.
So do not try to navigate times of crisis by yourself.
Be in constant contact with a mentor, advisor or coach – this is particularly true in times of crisis, like we are in now.
In 2016, I was meeting with liquidators and administrators because it looked like that was the path we would need to go down.
At the time, by a chance encounter, I was introduced to a corporate advisor from Grant Thornton who specialised in turnarounds and creditor management. At the beginning I was skeptical about how much impact he could have, however as we got talking it became apparent he had the skills and experience I needed, to help me navigate such a distressed situation. We were at the lowest of our low points, however, I still engaged this person, being an engagement upwards of $150,000 at a time when we didn’t have the money. If I had not engaged this advisor, it is likely the business would have faced a different outcome.
Best investment I have ever made, at a time I couldn’t afford it.
Given the uncertainty of the current environment, it is more important than ever to lean into an advisor or coach who can give you the advice you need to make the right decisions and to be supported and guided on the journey.
5. Manage unnecessary expenses
There will be unnecessary expenses in your business, particularly over the coming months. Your weekly cash-flow forecast should give you visibility into what these expenses are.
The key word here is ‘unnecessary’. Be sure to not cull too much too soon out of fear. Build a cash-flow forecast, speak to someone who can help you with strategic advice, and then trim that which is not core to helping you navigate this period. Perhaps most helpful, the ATO has also recently announced that it will provide SMEs with relief in response to COVID-19. In my experience, I have found the ATO to be incredibly supportive and helpful in challenging periods such as this. While stimulus packages from the Government may take months to reach you, tax relief from the ATO can have an immediate and significant impact on your cash position. You can read more about the relief the ATO will grant small business owners here.
6. Get creative with your product or service delivery
For some time, we might need to adapt how we actually do business, particularly for those who run service-based businesses and are feeling the financial impacts of social distancing and self-isolation.
The key here is to consider whether you can digitise the delivery of your service, or mitigate any concerns your customers may have to continue to see you in person.
Think of this as an invitation to test, innovate and get creative in your business delivery.
A note on the economic impacts
From an economic perspective, when the economy rebounds from this period, it will rebound fast.
It is incredibly important to note that this is not inherently an economic crisis in and of itself.
When you consider the GFC in 2008, an overwhelming lack of credibility and confidence in the global economy led to a much slower recovery period.But when underlying health crises start to clear, like we previously saw with SARS and MERS, the economic recovery is very quick.
You can see below how the global stock market recovered after other health epidemics. Trust that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we can expect this recovery to look much the same.
For the moment, simply focus on navigating the months of challenge, not just to survive, but to be prepared and ultimately thrive when the economy inevitably rebounds.
As a society at large, and as individuals, we have more options than either
- Mass hysteria and fear, or
- “Bury your head in the sand” and continue with blind faith and optimism approach.
Neither of those strategies work.
The solution is somewhere in the middle.
As individuals, we need to be mindful of our own consciousness.
Developing your mindset and consciousness is not about always thinking good thoughts or deluding yourself with positivity. It’s about bringing intelligence to the challenges we will inevitably face. It is about taking appropriate action without angst. It concerns how to take the right action in the circumstances at hand and be a leader to those who are watching.
Now more than ever, the world needs leadership. The world needs people who can be grounded, keep calm, be nourished, and be an example to others in the world to also do that.
Tom Cronin, a leading meditation teacher, and one of my spiritual mentors, recently shared with me something incredibly profound: lamp posts do not congregate.
What did he mean by that?
As leaders, when we come together, it’s an incredible experience. There is light and energy that surrounds off. But then we disperse, into our own lives and environments.
Where are lamp posts best positioned? On dark street corners. Each post is positioned just far enough away from each other such that the boundary of the light of one post reaches the boundary of the light of another.
This is a beautiful metaphor for how we should view ourselves as leaders in the current climate. Yes, it is incredible when we come together, but that is not why we were created. We were created to shine a light and light up the world.
If you are a leader, now is the time to demonstrate it.
Let your light shine from a place of consciousness, not from a place of ignorance. Bring right and intelligent action without the angst.
Look after yourself
To lead from the front, you need to look after yourself first. There will be a lot of people, both in business and in your personal lives, depending on you over the coming months. You will not be able to give what you do not have.
The more full you are, the more you will have to give.
So remember to look after and nourish yourself, here are some places you can start – meditate, exercise, have time with loved ones, journal. Do whatever it is you need to do to fill yourself up.
If you want to understand the macro (global populations, culture), look at the micro. To put this differently, if you want to understand the collective, look at the individual. if you want to understand culture, realise that culture is simply a reflection of the people that comprise it.
As individuals, the time of our greatest challenges are the times of our greatest growth. You’ve probably experienced this for yourself, the periods where you were the most challenged, were the periods where you grew the most as a person.
We invite challenges into our experience to develop the parts of us that are yet to be developed.
The same is true at a macro and a global level. The same is true for us as a society. We will face challenges that encourage us to evolve to the next level of evolution as a species and as a global community.
We are currently inviting several global challenges – COVID-19, economic uncertainty, climate change… all of these things are inviting us as a global population, to evolve.
Consider this – why has South Korea dealt with this crisis so well? Why is their mortality rate in relation to Coronavirus so low, compared to other countries?
In 2015, they were faced with another health crisis related to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Their local health system was unable to cope with the high demands for testing at the time, and as a result, South Korea experienced the largest outbreak of MERS outside of Saudi Arabia. That was their crisis, and it prompted them to overhaul their policies, crisis plans and disease control measures.
When COVID-19 came in 2020, the reason they were so well equipped, was due to what they learnt from the challenge of 2015 that they handled poorly. Today, they are an example to the rest of the world.
This is one instance, one invitation, one crisis that will enable us to grow our societal and individual consciousness, to start to realise that we are all human beings on the same planet and journey, and that we are global citizens who need to start thinking and acting like such.
So how do you, as individuals, start to best influence the societal outcomes?
Be the example of a conscious human being.
Some concluding thoughts
My heart, and the heart of everyone in my team at The Entourage, absolutely goes to everyone who has already been affected by COVID-19, in any capacity and form whatsoever.
If I leave you with anything after this read – so seek advice, do seek help in this period. Business is already difficult enough to navigate. It’s absolutely essential that you lean on the support system you have, or look outwards for additional support, in times of times like these.
This is a crisis. This is in an incredibly challenging period.
But these are global challenges that are causing us to ask global questions, in a way that will lead us to better global solutions, and cooperation. We’re all in for the ride together. Let’s act like it.
So consider this entire global situation to be an invitation.
It is up to us to decide how we respond to that invitation.
Join the movement.
Your Entourage journey starts here. Join Australia's largest community of over 500,000 business owners and entrepreneurs, and receive instant access to exclusive content and updates delivered straight to your inbox.