To Survive the COVID-19 Crisis, You Have to Think Long-Term
Use today to plan for tomorrow.
Short-term thinking is tempting right now. We want quick fixes. We want Band-Aids on a business. We want something that works today, something that makes money today, something that bridges the gap today. And we want to believe that all this will be over soon — that we just need to get to tomorrow.
But that’s missing the bigger opportunity. Now isn’t about now. It needs to be about later.
To understand what I mean, consider an entrepreneur named Leigh Ann Cannady. She runs a performing arts school in Georgia, and has created a range of online classes to engage her students. It’s gone well, but she’s worried. “I’m unsure how sustainable it is in the long term,” she told me.
That’s an understandable concern. She used to teach classes in a physical space, so that’s what she knows and loves. This digital stuff feels like a backup plan.
But what if she thought differently? Recently, I arranged a conversation between Leigh Ann and small-business expert Amanda Brinkman, who’s Deluxe’s chief brand officer. Amanda heard Leigh Ann’s concern, and spun it around. “I think this is something you can sustain well past when this crisis is behind us,” she told Leigh Ann.
In other words, don’t think of these new services as a backup plan for the business. Think of them as the business — because, frankly, they are the business right now, they may be the business for a while and they could reveal all sorts of new opportunities for the future.
That’s a powerful mind shift. It means thinking about everything differently. We rarely invest in plan B — we just tolerate it while we try to get back to plan A. (As my father-in-law likes to say, nobody's ever washed a rental car.) But what if we start taking plan B seriously? What if teaching classes online is a big opportunity — not just now, but forever? If that’s the case, you’d start doing things differently. You’d stop thinking about your business as local, and start presenting it as national or even global! You’d invest in digital marketing, and learn everything you can about how to run a killer online business! In short, you’d start solving tomorrow’s problems, instead of trying to reconcile what you lost yesterday.
I heard a similar thing from Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer, who I recently spoke with for a webinar. Instead of focusing solely on today’s problems, he said, entrepreneurs need to start tackling tomorrow’s problems. Think about what people will need in the future, he says, and build toward it now.
Jon offered an example. Imagine that your favorite burger place reopens, but it looks disorganized. Maybe they don’t have new systems in place; maybe they’re trying to act like nothing changed. Then you check out a lesser burger place — and it’s spotless, organized and really well run. Where will you eat? “You’re going to go to the second-best burger place, because you trust it more,” Jon told me. “Think about the power of that. I’m pushing aside quality for trust. I’m pushing aside price for trust. I’m pushing aside convenience for trust. Trust has bubbled to the top of the list.”
That’s not just an insight — it’s a marching order! It means that, right now, we can start thinking about how to build trust and communicate our trustworthiness. We can use these moments to prepare for tomorrow’s needs. We can treat the temporary as permanent. We can get ahead.
I began this column by saying that we can’t think short-term. Now you see what the alternative is. It’s long-term, forward-thinking, opportunity-seeking, optimistic, insightful, get-out-in-front-of-the-problem thinking.
I hope you see the excitement in this. I sure do. Our backup plans just became our main plans, and that’s all we need as entrepreneurs. We need something to invest in. We need something to work toward. And we have it!
We may not know exactly where we’re going, but we sure know the direction to move in.
So let’s get going. There’s no time to waste.
Jason Feifer is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, and host of two podcasts: Build For Tomorrow, a show about the changes that got us here, and how to thrive in a changing world; and Problem Solvers, about entrepreneurs solving unexpected problems in their business. He writes a newsletter about how to find opportunity in change.
Prior to Entrepreneur, Jason has worked as an editor at Men's Health, Fast Company, Maxim, and Boston magazine, and has written about business and technology for the Washington Post, Slate, New York, and others.