Pivoting For Profit: How To Thrive By Embracing Change

Learning to pivot in business is scary. As humans, we like consistency and security: two things we can't guarantee in the world of entrepreneurship (or frankly, much at all these days)

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This is a reality that many businesses were faced with quite suddenly amid the new challenges of a global pandemic. As of July, the halfway point in this strenuous year, Yelp reported that 55 per cent of its businesses that closed their doors during the pandemic had shut those doors for good

Brad Ahn
Brad Ahn

For the remaining companies that have survived the many challenges that 2020 has thrown their way, a strong mixture of luck, resilience, and a willingness to be flexible have prevented them from the same fate as the 55 per cent of businesses on Yelp. 

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is quoted, having said, “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.”

It’s finding those details that need changing that is the first step towards making necessary shifts for your enterprise without entirely changing your vision. 

Reading the writing on the (Facebook) wall

Brad Ahn, CEO of Ahn Fire Digital, remembers when their sports publication had to pivot from the way it had been advertising on social media, or more specifically Facebook. 

“Some of the biggest obstacles while growing have been the algorithm shifts,” he said. “It started with Facebook’s huge algorithm update following the Cambridge Analytica scandal during the 2016 elections. This devastated the company’s advertising and organic reach on Facebook at the time.” 

The privacy breach was just the beginning of the troubles regarding trust in Facebook, by individuals and digital media publications alike. This could have easily been the end of Ahn Fire Digital, as many publications folded and disappeared as they realized the number of impressions they had been given on Facebook had been grossly overstated—for those that had been told to “pivot to video,” they found that video impressions had been overestimated by close to 900 per cent—but luckily, thanks to a strong digital marketing team, Ahn Fire Digital turned its attention from Facebook to SEO or search engine optimization. 

Today, Brad describes SEO as the company’s “bread and butter”, and has said that since they incorporated in late 2019, they have seen an increase in users, page views, and revenue in each quarter to date.

Even without a pandemic, it’s known that 20 per cent of small businesses are unable to make it past the first year, and that only half of them make it to five years. Any attempts to pivot or change in any enterprise is risky, but for digital organizations like Ahn Fire Digital and Flinnwest Solutions, that risk has paid off. 

Heeding advice (even when you don’t want to) 

Accepting business advice can seem irritating when it's unsolicited but finding it when you need it can seem like an even bigger struggle.

Pride can be a real pitfall for entrepreneurs, young and old, that can make them feel untouchable and inflate their egocentric bias—a bias that leads to the belief that your opinion and your perspective is more true and more valuable than anyone else’s. The Harvard Business Review cited a study that found individuals in positions of power struggled the most with accepting advice, stating, “high-power participants in the study ignored almost two-thirds of the advice they received”. Being competitive is a good skill to have when managing an enterprise, but not when it gets in the way of listening to sound advice.  

Of course, not every piece of advice is golden, but finding mentorship and counseling outside of one’s own immediate circle of friends and biases can help widen his or her perspective to a more realistic view of his or her business’ circumstances. 

Avishai Abrahami, co-founder and CEO of Wix, wrote about his experiences of needing to pivot in the wake of the fall of Flash. While he talks about the significance of sticking to core beliefs (even when they’re unpopular), he notes the importance of heeding advice himself, saying, “Listen to your employees, embrace criticism and institutionalize feedback sessions. Internalize the feedback and stay connected with the needs of your audience by being attentive to market trends. Do this and you will recognize the need and correct timing for changes.”

Exploring new paths: roads less (and more) taken 

Not every fork in the road will come with an obvious path, sometimes you have to take a few steps in either direction to know if that’s where you want your business to be headed. 

Created in 2010, Burbn was going to rival Foursquare and other check-in based apps, where users could let their friends know their location. Shortly after its release, Burbn switched from this model to a new photo-sharing app called Instagram. 

It didn’t entirely do away with its initial idea—Instagram has a feature where you can tag a location and let your friends see photos from specific places—however, this social media change it made, made a huge difference in the direction of its app and the direction the rest of the digital world would take. 

Instagram took a key feature of its initial design and spun it on its head. Sometimes the question to ask before pivoting is: What are we doing now that we could be doing better? 

After selling to Facebook in 2012 and leaving Instagram in 2018, co-founder Kevin Systrom has spent the past two years studying data science and how it connects to social media. Even after starting an organization that became a large success, with an obvious path in front of him, he chose (yet again) to pivot.

Embracing change 

Everyone has different metrics for success. Your business and your reach might go through many iterations until it’s found a place that you’re happy with. 

Learning to make the shifts you need for your enterprise to succeed — to not only survive a global pandemic but to thrive in the wake of it -- will take time and resources. Knowing whether to pivot or start over is an important decision, especially amidst these difficult times. 

Companies that have successfully pivoted in 2020 so far have learned the importance of being flexible and embracing change even in a time of so much uncertainty. 

As entrepreneurs, it's not easy to let go of the original plan or the vision you once had. However, change and short-term volatility can actually create opportunities that you may once have never thought possible.