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News@Ivey · Dawn Milne

Managing your small business through the coronavirus downturn

Mar 31, 2020

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Visit the official Western COVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

There’s no question small businesses face big impacts from the COVID-19 crisis, but the key to surviving is to prepare, not panic. Ivey’s Entrepreneurship faculty share some advice.

David Simpson’s advice – Planning makes perfect

David Simpson, MBA ’88, is a lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Director of Ivey’s Business Families Centre.

Dave SimpsonUncertainty can be paralyzing in business, particularly when you don’t know how this global pandemic will change the world. David Simpson recommends entrepreneurs and small business owners use this time to work on untended parts of the business, such as accounting and future marketing planning, as well as to review who their best customers are. Develop a plan to support your best customers during the downtime and communicate with them throughout the crisis.

Don’t forget about your employees. Make ethical, long-term choices when downsizing for the times and be unusually good to staff who have been good for your business. This will help you to attract the best employees when things turn around. Most importantly, don’t forget to take this time to focus on you.

“Most business people always say they are too busy. Perhaps this down time should best be served to refresh your body, renew your family ties, and recast a vision for your personal future that makes the most productive you,” he said.

Eric Janssen’s advice – Drive new business growth

Eric Janssen, HBA ’09 and MBA ’20 candidate, is a lecturer in Entrepreneurship.

Eric JanssenIn today’s environment, forecasts are out the window, growth plans are being re-calibrated, and rebounding from the crisis will be mission-critical for many companies.

For sales teams, Janssen emphasizes caring over content.

“I think the best message right now is one that ties to the concerns that everyone has: for their families, themselves, and their businesses,” he said. “Some products and services can genuinely help right now, and, if a company has a product or service that it feels can genuinely help a client, then it should reach out.  For example, if Zoom reached out to me about ways to increase classroom engagement when going remote, I'd be all ears!”

Given the current state of the world, Janssen advocates soft messaging. Acknowledge that you recognize the current environment makes it difficult to consider new purchases, but you’re reaching out to see if they are open to having a discussion about a future solution when things calm down.

“I think a human-to-human call to some of your current customers, or warm leads, would go a long way. Some prospects might appreciate the outreach, especially if you're genuinely calling because you care and might be able to help them in some way,” he said. “I don't think this works if you're selling something that isn't actually useful in this challenging time, but if you had an alternative tool for short-term growth financing, like Clearbanc, for example, you’d better believe online business owners want to hear from you.”

Janssen cites how Shopify has created a sign-up page where business owners can get free help to start an online store, plus a 90-day free trial of Shopify’s services.

Also consider your value proposition. Even if your products don’t change, you might be able to compete by offering more generous payment terms or flexible purchase options to allow prospects to free up cash.

“The focus of the pitch might change from product-led to other benefits that the company can offer,” he said.

Janice Byrne’s advice – Focus on the customer

Janice Byrne is an assistant professor of Entrepreneurship.

Janice ByrneSmall business owners should take the time to understand what their customers really need, and think about win-win solutions. Byrne said it’s important to do so with transparency, understanding, and empathy.

“The more transparency around needs and challenges, the more we can find solutions that work for a multitude of stakeholders,” she said. “So, crisis implies change and adaption, but old adages still ring true: designing solutions that are user-centred remains key here.”

She also points out that entrepreneurs around the world are responding in innovative ways to the crisis. In Manchester, England, two hotels run by former Manchester United players Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs will open their doors for free to health-care workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Neville has also urged professional footballers to help their communities through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“His actions, and his call to action, provide light and hope to others,” Byrne said.

Dominic Lim’s advice – Reinforce the company culture

Dominic Lim, PhD ’09, is an assistant professor of Entrepreneurship.

Dominic LimChallenging times can test your company’s culture, and, once it is shaken or broken, the impact can be even more significant and long lasting than the lost revenues. Lim said small business owners should turn their attention to building or reinforcing the company culture.

“It is oftentimes about how you do things, much more so than what you do,” he said.

He also said it’s a good time for small business owners and entrepreneurs to focus on their own psychological/emotional well-being through exercise and peer groups.

“Being in a firefighter mode for a prolonged period of time without being able to see a foreseeable end can be very tolling,” he said.