It's Time To Reclaim Your Dysfunctional Relationship With Covid-19
Where we are in the pandemic, what business owners and entrepreneurs have learned, their options, and how they can focus on what they can control.
It's time for small businesses to reclaim control of their dysfunctional relationship with Covid-19.
As much as we'd like to ghost the virus, declare independence and simply move on, those aren't among options available to us. While we are entering a new phase of Covid-19 and attitudes are relaxing, there is still risk to be aware of.
So a new detente in the relationship required — a new set of Ts and Cs — as the path to sustainable operating models, not to mention the personal sanity of small business owners who've been on the wrong end of an abusive situation for the last two years.
To be fair, Covid generated a lot of creative adaptation in business. Transformation programs that would have occurred over years, got done in months. Innovative "pivots" are now new business lines and revenue streams.
Still, the common theme has been an intensely short-term set of decisions, whether at the level of individual businesses or national governments.
And as we're realizing in the early days of 2022, there are debts coming due on many of the actions taken so far in response to the virus — along with some unanticipated consequences — virtually all of it beyond the control of any individual business owner.
So let's re-evaluate where we are, what we've learned, our options and what we can control.
First, an honest acknowledgement that we just might be closer to the beginning of this virus and its variants, than we are to the end.
So what's ahead can't be an endless series of stop gap measures, but rather, actually stepping off the hamster wheel of open-close, mask mandates or not, stimulus extensions or not, stretching payroll to make it to warmer weather or the holiday spending season.
Second, while it's impossible to calculate or even comprehend the depth of the changes the virus has activated or imposed on us, it's obvious that that change at the level of human attitudes and behavior are the most profound.
Change at the level of real people tends to be permanent, so we better understand how it's remade both our customers, and the people who work for us.
Third, and this is hardly an exhaustive list of considerations, but as hard as the last two years have been for the people who run the small business economy, the overall degree of difficulty continues to climb.
The factors span the ongoing uncertainty about the supply of everything from building materials to computer chips, the evolving compact with our employees and the complicated race for talent, alongside rising inflation, reduced access to capital and the cost of servicing any debt.
Not to mention the vagaries of Covid, even in a more stable relationship.
Running a small business has never been easy. But has it ever been this hard?
Either way, we're certainly not going to become overwhelmed or fatalistic — especially not after making it this far.
The path back to greater control, for me, starts with segmenting and separating the macro-level issues from what's closer at hand.
I find it creates clarity about what's within, or beyond, my direct control.
Begin with the market. Not the global economy, the market you directly serve.
When we look there, we find three kinds of people — customers and competitors, of course. And for me, our employees make the short list of highest-priority things I directly influence.
"Customer" has always struck me as a way-too-open-ended word. So generalizing broadly, and if you care for the idea of "meeting them where they are," I think it's fair to assume that:
- They're highly digital in their buying behaviors, and more so as a result of Covid.
- They expect to be treated as individuals, but rely on the opinions of people in their networks.
- They trust their own ability to research products and services.
- They care about price, but also want to buy from brands that reflect their personal values, and are increasingly interested in social and environmental issues.
That's an interesting profile of customers today and tomorrow, especially considering that research conducted by Top Design Firms finds that around a third of small businesses in the U.S. still don't have a web presence.
In terms of the workforce, people have always had choices about where they work, but never before have so many people exercised that choice at the same time, and decided the answer for the time being is, nowhere.
As I think about talent at Xero — and the equitable compact between the company and its people — I have to acknowledge that I can't solve for every individual motivation. But I can listen.
This is a time of deep reflection for people — about their time, about their value and what they value, about how they define flexibility, their view of personal wellbeing; and their belief in the purpose of the places where they work.
Once we understand what matters to an individual, we can at least make sure we're not missing something essential.
A final word on what I can control.
I think there's been a tendency — and I certainly saw this in myself — to seek the latest news on the virus, but as well, that day's stock market performance, the cost of money, supply shortages, the courts or political events.
I'm electing to do less of that. Staying informed doesn't require an addictive connection to multiple news feeds.
Instead, I want to be more intentional about reclaiming the time I spent on the macro-level issues of the world, and redirecting that time to hearing from colleagues across our workforce; listening to our customers and partners; and adjusting the value we deliver to each.
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