5 Effective Ways Entrepreneurs Can Pivot Better When Things Go Kaboom
“Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” That old boxing adage, famously attributed to Mike Tyson, is something that you'd be wise to keep top of mind not only with your boxing career but with your business.
In short, it’s never going to be smooth sailing. Even when you get going and have a steady income and a plan in place for how to grow your company, you have to be able to adapt to the day to day.
Afterall, you never know when a natural disaster might strike, or a new regulation might decimate your sales, or a competitor might come out with a killer app or some alternative product that suddenly makes your main moneymaker obsolete …
What then? What was Blockbuster thinking when Netflix appeared? Here's how to prepare for that day when things might go kaboom.
1. Be prepared.
How do you plan for the unplannable? You don’t. But you do put together some contingencies.
For example, if you’re planning on leveraging some assets to buy out another company, should your own company fail, do you have an idea of how to extricate yourself? If you lose your storefront, do you have a back-up option? Is your business heavily dependent on one customer, or are you diversified?
Hope for the best, but make sure you’re prepared for things to be at their worst. Even if you can’t anticipate everything, you’ll be better off if you have some of the groundwork already laid.
I reached out for comment via email to McKenzie Bauer, co-founder of Thread Wallets, to see if she had any experience with this. As a matter of fact, she did. “We had something come up where we had to completely change the direction of our business,” Bauer told me.
“Our initial plan was to go into making athletic socks, but the demand for wallets absolutely smashed the demand for the socks. We had to cancel a 5,000-piece order from China because it wasn’t going to be worth our time," Bauer continued. Still, "We’d kept enough reserve cash on hand to absorb it," she said. "Our alternative ideas were already at least a little developed. All we had to do was lean into them.”
2. Focus on your strengths.
Well-known entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk talks a lot about the idea of “clouds and dirt.” In his metaphor, the “clouds” are the overall vision and understanding of what the future holds. It’s an understanding of where you want to go -- strategy, high-end beliefs, principles. The dirt is the day-to-day, the work, the nitty-gritty.
When you hit a crisis, the immediate impulse is to dig into the dirt -- throwing yourself into the day-to-day, putting out fires. This is critical, for sure. But don’t forget to lift your head up occasionally and look at the overall direction in which you want to go.
You might find yourself pivoting in a completely different direction from what you thought you would instead of trying to patch up a section of your business that needs to be cut off or streamlined.
If you keep in mind where you’re going and what you’re good at, you won’t waste effort on the parts that don’t matter. And who knows? Maybe that thing you originally thought was a crisis will turn out to not be a crisis at all.
3. Be relentlessly optimistic.
Thinking about successful leaders may get you down sometimes. But you have to admit to yourself that those individuals tend toward optimism. They believe deeply in their eventual success, and that eye toward the future carries them through the crises that come up.
Elon Musk is one of the most optimistic of business leaders. He’s had a track record of doing things people thought couldn't be done. To him, obstacles are nothing more than problems to be solved. “If you wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it is not," Musk once said.
That mindset has allowed him to create things that people didn’t think were possible at this point in history, including reusable rockets and top-notch, high-performing electric vehicles that sell. When obstacles come up, the first reaction shouldn't be, “Oh no, what now?” but rather, “How do we solve this?”
Apply this mindset this to your own crises to reap the same benefits.
4. Make decisions quickly.
Sometimes, when a crisis pops up, we can get mired in pondering the best way to get out of it, parsing out our options instead of moving quickly. And that’s the surest way to lose.
Now, this isn’t saying you should jump blindly, or take insane chances with your business. But if you spend more time talking about how to solve the problem than actually solving the problem, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll come out worse than you would had you just jumped in and done it.
If you wait for all the reports to come back, get input from 20 different sources, do ten cost-benefit analyses … you'll eventually realize you could have been spending that time getting started on a solution and iterating as you went.
To quote marketer Seth Godin, “Not deciding is usually the wrong decision. If you are the go-to person, the one who can decide, you'll make more of a difference. It doesn't matter so much that you're right; it matters that you decided.”
5. Always be hungry.
Businesses fail every day. Slow-moving, ponderous companies lock themselves into a mode of thinking built on the idea, “This is the way it will always be.” They then entrench themselves in defending that position until the industry passes them by.
Someone is always looking for a better way to do things. If you’re not willing to pivot when crisis comes -- or you don’t see ahead far enough to avert crisis ahead of time -- you’re going to fail.
General Douglas MacArthur’s successful island-hopping strategy in World War II is exactly how successful businesses should innovate. Instead of attacking the strong points of their competitors, they should “hit 'em where they ain’t,” cutting around them and letting them wither in place as their resources dry up.
For example, speaking of Netflix: Big media companies were taken off guard by that newcomer, and now they’re having to play catchup in a sector they’ve been desperately trying to defend instead of innovate.
So, to say it again: The hungry succeed. Companies that last are those flexible enough to change with the times. They avoid trouble before it happens. If you yourself are constantly trying to do things better, you’ll cut your crises down significantly.
Related: Can We Stop Pivoting Already?
The successful entrepreneur does everything he or she can to avoid trouble before it happens, then acts with agility and forethought. If you apply these suggested tips, you’ll find that you can navigate the rough waters of entrepreneurship with confidence.
Don’t let problems get you down. Go over, under, around or through. Just be sure that you do pivot.