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The way we do business is changing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Small business expert Barry Moltz explains why this change may last longer than many business owners anticipate and discusses strategies for pivoting your business in order to survive. He discusses how to get your business “unstuck” now and how to set yourself up for success in a post-COVID-19 world. Learn why listening to customer needs is more critical than ever, how to tap into online engagement, and what other companies are already doing to adapt.
Greg Corombos: Hi, I'm Greg Corombos. Our guest this week on Expert Insights is small business expert Barry Moltz who specializes in getting your business unstuck. And getting unstuck during and after the Coronavirus crisis will be a major challenge for many businesses. But Barry says this is also a critical opportunity for owners to pivot their businesses. So for the next few minutes, we'll examine what he means by that, and also what it looks like. And Barry, thanks very much for being with us.
Barry Moltz: Greg, thanks for having me.
GC: Well, what exactly do you mean when you suggest that business owners need to pivot in response to the Coronavirus?
BM: Well, I think a lot of small business owners are closing their eyes, quite honestly, and hoping then a couple months, this is all going to be over. And it's going to go back to what the normal was before March of this year, but I'm afraid that just isn't so. What a small business owner has to do is they need to close their eyes and picture a world probably for at least next year, a year and a half, where consumers very rarely leave their homes, and what does their business look like then?
GC: Perfect lead-in. So, what are the biggest changes that are already happening that you've seen or that you anticipate happening as a result of changing customer behavior? And like you said, possibly for a year or more from now?
BM: Well, first of all, everything is virtual, right? You know, virtual is the new reality. It's the new how we connect with people. So the more you can move your business either online, or delivered virtually through either email or some kind of video, the better you're really going to be off. The second thing is that safety is really now the new luxury. So over time, if you have to interact with your customer face to face, they're really going to know: how are you going to keep them safe? And I believe that many people that have restaurants and retail stores, they're going to have to record a video to show the customer exactly what it's going to look like when they eat and when they enter their place of business so they feel comfortable.
GC: And it might look different based on the type of business. But, where do you start in this process of actually taking the steps and then demonstrating to your customers what you're doing?
BM: Well, first of all, it's going to go county by county, state by state, depending on when they're going to open up. And then you've got to take reasonable steps. So for example, if you own a restaurant, you've got to tell people, there's going to be social distancing—we're only going to have this number of people. And when you come in, we're going to make sure you're wearing a mask, and we're going to be wearing masks and we're going to take your temperature to make sure that you're not sick. And this is what we do to the people that work as cooks or as serving staff. We're going to take their temperatures, we're going to give them tests and we're going to put up barriers between people's booths. And you have to actually take them through a video what it's going to look like. And hopefully, Greg, somewhere along the line, there's some enjoyment in all this or people will not leave their homes and actually go into a restaurant again, until there's a vaccine.
GC: A lot of different parts for business owners to evaluate here. What kind of help do you think they might need? The first one that comes to mind for me is if you don't already have a pretty active and vibrant online presence, obviously that is going to be critical. But, expand on that if you want to, or any other areas that people are going to need a crash course on pretty quickly here.
BM: Well, I think you have to stay in touch with your customers, your prospects, even if you're not delivering your service. Now, I love what travel companies are doing and airlines are doing. They're saying: when you're ready to travel, we're going to be here and this is what we're doing to make sure that our environment is safe for you.
And then what I would also do is go out to your community and say: what is it going to take for you to feel safe and comfortable when you come into our store or restaurant or bar, when you come into our Bowling Center, whatever it is, because they'll actually tell you. I mean, if you think about Bowling Center, are they going to need to have every other lane used? And are they going to need to check out bowling balls, just like they do shoes to make sure that they're clean?
GC: We're talking with small business expert, Barry Moltz. He helps get your business unstuck. And Barry, when we think about more business being done online or spacing people out in restaurants, or like you just mentioned bowling alleys or other retail situations, the question comes to mind is: are you going to need the same size of staff as before? In other words, are a lot of people going to be looking for work because less people are physically coming into the business?
BM: Yeah, it's a really good question in that, you know, ten restaurants, ten bowling centers, ten retail stores, can they really operate at less of a capacity? And obviously, that's going to go back to what kind of enterprise they really have, and will the rent structure they have right now even work?
Again, I think you have to think about how are you going to move your business online? And here's the good news, because someday, Greg, it will come back. And I think that if you look at what happened in 1918, Spanish pandemic, it took us three years before people show up and hug each other. Now hopefully it'll be sooner than that because maybe next year we'll have a vaccine. But the good news is, is that when you've developed this whole online virtual business as a result of it, that will still be there for you, even when your in-person business comes back many years from now. So it's a good thing.
I talk to a lot of folks, Greg, and people say, you know, you got to think about burning your boats right now, because some folks think we're never going back to pre-Corona days.
GC: Well, that's a sobering thought. But that also brings up another question, so how committed do you get to the new reality while still at least anticipating at some point that you're going to go back to something close to what used to be normal?
BM: I think that you have to be “all in” to the new reality because chances are, at least for the next year and a half, it's probably going to be some form of the way it is right now. I mean, we've never come out with a vaccine in less than four years from an initial epidemic. Or hopefully we can come out a year and a half, but I think that people really have to be “all in”. Because if they are, then they're really prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
GC: How will you know that you've pivoted successfully?
BM: Well, I think that if you can retain positive cash flow, right? That's really what it's all about. Do you have your revenue bigger than your expenses? And are you able to support your family if you're a small business owner? Again, it's all about cash flow.
GC: If it's not working, should you assume it's the way you're messaging? The way you're marketing? The product that you have? Or is it just people have different priorities and focal points right now?
BM: You know, it can be any of those things. Again, I would take a look to see what are your competitors doing? And there's plenty of examples are people that are pivoting. I mean, if you look at Airbnb, since they're not right now renting out people's homes, they're doing online experiences, right? So there's a lot of people out there. AMC can't have people in the movie theaters, but they're streaming the first-run movies over the web.So, there's a lot of examples out there that people are being successful pivoting—so see what your competition is doing.
GC: We talked a little while ago about whether or not you'll be able to keep or need the same level of staff as you did before. What about in terms of a physical presence? With so much happening virtually, will that mean if you have more than one location that you might not need as many locations?
BM: You might not. I mean, that is a good thing is what's going to happen to all the rental space that's really out there, and what are landlords and owners going to do? That is really an open question.
GC: We've talked about online engagement a lot. And I think anyone who spends time on their email account or has done any online commerce has gotten plenty of emails in the past couple of months, from anyone they've ever bought from reminding them they're still open and so forth. And just about every one of those emails starts with “in these uncertain times”.
They mean well, but they kind of pile up after a while, and it can be seen as potentially opportunistic. So, where's the line between customer engagement, genuine concern for the customer, and that sort of thing, and looking like you're trying to cash in on the crisis? Which, on some level, you are because you want your business to survive.
BM: Well, as I always say “out of an abundance of caution”. Those are other introductory words, right? You know, I think as always, you have to show genuine concern for the customer and what they're going through. Find out what they need, right? What do people need now? People need food, people need facemasks. People need hand sanitizer. People need entertainment. People need some kind of virtual connection. Find out what they need, and do you have any assets inside your companies—whether it be skills or relationships—that you can actually pivot so you can actually offer these services to them. I have a client that was making sports activewear but now she's making masks. You know, different designs. Because we have to remember that newest fashion accessory for 2020 is going to be the facemask.
GC: And so being a good, honorable member of the business community might be as good as an advertisement for other things you sell.
GC: How well, as far as you can tell, are most businesses pivoting? Is this something that they think is going to last a couple of months? Or, are they really, most of them preparing for 18 months or more?
BM: I think unfortunately, change is very difficult. And most of us, in fact, I'm writing my next book on change, our brain is wired not to change. So, I think people are still struggling with the fact and hoping as we open up the country, that there isn't a second wave. In every pandemic, there's always been a second wave. So there's no reason to think that there won't be this time.
I think, unfortunately, Greg, enough, people are not pivoting and we have to take it much more seriously.
GC: Barry, excellent advice. And as sobering as it, is helpful advice. Even though we'd love to be back to normal soon, it might not be that way. Thank you, very much for being with us.
BM: Thanks for having me.
GC: Small Business expert Barry Moltz. He gets your business unstuck. You can find out a whole lot more about him and the work he does at barrymoltz.com. I'm Greg Corombos reporting for Expert Insights.
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