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6 Things for Small Business Leaders To Remember During a Crisis

Being a leader isn’t about answers, it is about experimenting on how to get through this, helping co-create stability for team members, and reducing reactive behaviors in yourself and others.

I don’t want to hear the word pivot one more time. This is a horrible time for home business owners, solopreneurs, contract workers, and artists. Pivoting requires deeper pockets than this community has. They often can’t pivot or shift or retool.

I watch my small business clients and friends as they try to figure out how to get through this time. Many don’t have the reserves to weather the months long closures. How could anyone have planned for our current reality? I know people want to pull the covers over their eyes and hide.

There are so many emotions we are grappling with. We are trying to sense-make about the government funds that are available to see if we qualify and to struggle through paperwork. Many don’t qualify for government subsidies or grapple with whether loans are the answer. Coping with leading a business during a pandemic is grueling. Everyone wants to know how long this will last and they are looking to their leaders for guidance. They are used to trusted leaders being able to help them with answers.

But right now there are no answers to some really big questions: When will this be over? What will happen to the economy? Will I lose my job? Being a leader isn’t about answers, it is about experimenting on how to get through this, helping co-create stability for team members, and reducing reactive behaviors in yourself and others.

I know times are difficult but there are 6 things to hold onto during this crisis that will help you through it:

  • The crisis will end. At some point this crisis will end and there will be business happening again. Think about a longer view. Even if your current business needs to close, you will find a way to be in business again in the future. Business owners are resilient and small businesses are especially suited to rising again to meet new market needs. Continue to be present to the best opportunities open to you right now.
  • You don’t have to be smart. There is a voice in my head yelling at me on occasion that says I should be smart enough to figure out how to promote my business in a pandemic. Maybe, but probably not. It is ok to be exactly how you are. It is also great to experiment to see if your marketing messages get any uptake. You can collect real data and see. Only suggestion I have here is that it may make sense to repeat experiments in 2 week intervals. Things that don’t get uptake today might work in two weeks as the collective consciousness shifts.
  • Check in with yourself. Often small business owners have created products to serve people who are like them. Pay attention to your own needs right now. What do you need? How can your marketing and/or products address that need? This is data. Your emotions are data that you have intimate access to. Use them.
  • Take a break from emotional labor. Your staff members, your customers, your friends, and your family are stressed. As a leader, you have probably become a part of everyone’s support system. For my clients who are leading teams, I have been suggesting delegating emotional labor a couple of days a week–asking someone else to check in on peoples’ emotions so the leader can put down the emotional labor and rest for a couple of days. It can be a heavy load. Your solid mental health is one of the biggest assets of your business.
  • Don’t be tied to a certain outcome. Time will give us data on the best solutions and we may even have the feeling that we could have done it better. Allow yourself to consider all your options. Listen deeply to your people, hear all they have to say. Listen to your customers–what they are saying and what you imagine they are feeling. Read, talk to colleagues, scope out the competition. See what others are doing. After you do this, stay open to the best possibilities for you. There is no shame in any decision you make. Make the best decisions you can and don’t make them mean anything about you. All it means is that you are making decisions to survive a pandemic.
  • Start experimenting. Learn the skill of seeing the new things your try as experiments. Collect data. Did it work? What did you learn? What is your next experiment? When will you try it? When will you see if it worked. Repeat. Learning the skill of experimenting will help you figure out the times ahead.

As a long time business coach, I have been through downturns and recessions. The heart and soul of the business owner always emerges again. Wherever you are and whatever you are grappling with, I know it is hard and I believe in your ability to figure out the next step. You are resilient and you can do this. Go experiment!

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