A Survival Guide For Startups Post The Coronavirus Pandemic
Until the pandemic runs its course, survival must be the key focus for startups.
It has been a difficult time for businesses of all sizes due to the uncertainty of the global economic environment, but the impact on startups and SMEs in particular can be fatal. Until the pandemic runs its course, survival must be the key focus for startups. In this brief guide, I offer a few tips for startups and new entrepreneurs to help them stay in control of their businesses to make it through this challenging time:
1. Adopt an exchange-based mentality Bartering –the act of trading a service or product without the exchange of money– has been a popular tactic in business for a long time, but the pandemic has highlighted a huge demand for it. Accordingly, businesses and individuals are thinking beyond cash and embracing bartering, and startups should consider this route if they want to stay ahead. An exchange-based model does a great job of placing value on human resources and commodities instead of money which is crucial amidst times of economic disruption. Negotiate barter deals with the people you want to do business with by asking if you can offer your goods or services in return for something they provide. For instance, you might offer company-wide training in return for free social media marketing from an agency that may otherwise be too expensive. Bartering is certainly not a substitute for cash deals– rather, it can and should be used to complement cash business during challenging times.
2. Explore incubators An untapped resource for many startups in Dubai is a business incubator. If you are a startup that hasn’t yet approached an incubator, then do it this week. There are a number of them available in the UAE- some are government-funded, and others are funded by the free zones; simply do an online search for the one that is relevant to your industry and apply. In5 in Dubai is an attractive choice for fintech startups looking to bring a product to market that solves a problem, while Hub71 in Abu Dhabi is a brilliant option for startups looking to produce outstanding tech innovations and scale globally. A business incubator will provide you with ample support to get your business to the best place possible. Some of the many benefits include access to expert coaches and trainers who will teach you how to pitch your idea to investors, how to find investors, ways of marketing your product and building brand visibility. You will generally be given access to a shared working space and build relationships with their community of like-minded people. The greatest benefit you can expect is to be introduced to people who have skills that you don’t have which would usually come with a very high price tag, meaning you can learn from experts while keeping costs down.
3. Hire freelancers Amidst the chaos of COVID-19, a lot of highly qualified people have lost their jobs and have resorted to freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to market their services, so instead of committing to a full-time employee who may be very expensive, it’s possible that you’ll be able to find a very good freelancer at a much cheaper rate. Before you hire anyone, remember to request referrals, speak to their previous clients or employers, and get a good understanding of what they’ve done in the past. Freelancers will often work on a project basis rather than on a retainer basis, so you’ll be able to get more bang for your buck by only paying for what you need.
4. Flexibility on office space With businesses of all sizes reviewing their business continuity plans, there is no denying that the leasing of commercial real estate and office spaces have taken a hit. For startups that are looking to survive and thrive post-pandemic, then the most obvious way to cut costs will be to forgo office space. If the world has learned anything in the last few months, it is just how much of our daily work can be done online, from the comfort of our homes. If you are already locked into a lease, use this time to renegotiate your terms and conditions with your landlord; request reductions, lease amendments, and other courses of action designed to offset the losses incurred because of the coronavirus.
5. There is never a wrong time to look for new clients and leads As a startup, you must stay hungry to stay ahead! I always remind participants in my training courses: “Leads bring in sales, sales bring in cash flow and cash flow keeps businesses turning.” So they must never forget the importance of new leads. In order to stand out from your competitors, it’s important to identify your marketplace and develop an avatar of your perfect client. Determine what your marketing approach will be; for instance, will it be a B2B approach via Linkedin, or are you a B2C company that needs to invest in an ad strategy to reach your target consumer? Think about who will buy from you, what skills you have, and what problem your product or service is designed to fix.
6. Hone your sales skills You must become a salesperson whether you want to or not. If you’re not looking to sell a product then you will be looking to raise capital, but you can’t do that without selling your business ideas and strategy to investors or potential clients. Knowing how to sell is so critical. If you can’t do it yourself, then you have two options: you can enlist someone, or you learn the skills yourself. My advice is to learn the skills because they will be important for the rest of your career. When you are in startup phase, you are not fortunate enough to delegate to other people; you must learn a lot about all parts of the business, so you don’t get stitched up by other suppliers down the road.
7. Invest time into market research It is crucial to understand the market and the demand for the product or service you are offering. If you are a on the cusp of launching your startup, ensure you have done the necessary research and collected data and metrics to inform how will you market yourself. My biggest piece of advice is to create a simple survey. Once you have it, head to the mall and survey 1,000 people about whether they would buy your product or if they see an opportunity in the market for it. Then replicate the same exercise online. This exercise is completely free and will give you a solid understanding of the product demand before you bring something to market.