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So You Survived the Pandemic. What's Next?

When the pandemic began, Bob's Red Mill CEO Trey Winthrop, head of the whole-grain foods manufacturer based in Oregon and a Principal® client, started calling employee owners. Each week, he would work through a list of 10 to 20 people to thank them for their work and listen to them. "I learned from that experience how connected we all are and how much we need each other," Winthrop says. "Before the pandemic, I tried to walk around and see everyone, but now I am more intentional in those conversations."


Post-pandemic, those intentional conversations include travel to meet salespeople and customers. "Prior to the pandemic, I took face-to-face time with people for granted," Winthrop says. "I could look at the map of the country in my office and see the states where we have people and product. It is so much more powerful to meet people in person and see what those relationships look like in action."

Luckily, far fewer businesses than expected were forced to close their doors during the first year of the pandemic — 200,000 by some estimates. Just like Winthrop, those owners and managers leaned on survival strategies to get through COVID. But some of those same survival strategies are evolving to guide businesses post-pandemic, too. What lessons will help chart your growth? Here are some ideas.

Reinforce the 'why' of your business

Think about why you (or someone you know) started a business. It wasn't because you were thrilled about paperwork or focused on speedy internet service. It was because you had energy, drive, and passion — in other words, purpose. If pandemic survival made one thing clear, it's that purpose matters.

"During the pandemic, remembering that purpose also reminded owners that life is too short and there's too much good work to do — what you're doing has to be really meaningful to you," says Amy Friedrich, president, U.S. insurance solutions at Principal®. "It's critical to running a business."

Employees want to understand that purpose, too, but many of them are in the dark. Four out of 10 employees say that they don't know the post-pandemic plan for their work, and that leads to anxiety and burnout.

Really understand your customers

Your purpose is the "why" you started, and keep growing, a business. But what's the "why" that kept your customers coming throughout the pandemic and will keep them coming to you, not your competitors, for years to come? "Knowing that will help you know what's crucial to preserve," Friedrich says.

For Winthrop, the Bob's Red Mill purpose is straightforward but all-encompassing. "Inspiring joy with wholesome foods," he says. "You do not feel good only because it is wholesome, nutritious food, but you also feel joy because you are supporting a company that is a good steward of what we do, all the way from supply chain to our employee owners."

Close critical gaps — now

Online ordering for restaurants is the most widespread example of filling a gap overnight — and leaning on that survival strategy to grow a business. "The gap is the thing you think about when you drive home at night, when you can't sleep," Friedrich says. "The pandemic taught us that you have to fill existing or new gaps, then move onto the next one — now."

Build a robust community

Starting and running a business can be lonely — a loneliness that increased in countless ways during the pandemic. The owners and managers who survived and thrived, Friedrich says, learned to define their community differently and to engage no matter what. "Before, owners mostly defined it geographically with customers, suppliers, and employees, and maybe clubs they belonged to," she says. "Now, they're defining it to include a community of experts that might be national in scope who can help them do the things they can't do to manage their business."

The community at Bob's Red Mill is about more than the work hours that employee owners put in daily. The Bob's Red Mill culture of caring manifests itself in the surrounding area. There are neighborhood clean-up days, adopt-a-road activities, and a wetland restoration project on the horizon, to name just three. "We want to focus locally on what we can do to support our community," Winthrop says. "I am an optimistic person, and I am frequently surprised by the amount of joy people have when I tell them I work at Bob's Red Mill. There is this connection to how we inspire joy with our wholesome food, and it is embedded deep into our corporate structure."

Get used to a permanently changed workforce that will ask more from you

Beyond the expectation of remote or hybrid, employees are continuing to ask more of employers than ever before. "Before the pandemic, owners might have provided health insurance and thought that was enough," Friedrich says. "Now, potential and current employees are asking about mental health benefits. They might need grief counseling. They're using those benefits and support to make employment decisions.

"It's a long-term change that employers will have to do more than they've done before for their workforce. They are now a nexus point for mental and physical health for employees."

Find experts you trust

From a trusted financial professional to a resolute attorney, "recommendations from your community and trust in the people that provide services is more important than ever," Friedrich says.

That includes finding other companies that understand exactly what you need. "If you didn't build those relationships before the pandemic, you have to build them now," she says. "Small and midsize business owners tend to take pride in going it alone, but that's only going to add stress right now. There are people who know how to give advice. Find those people."

Discover more ways to support your employees and move your business forward.

Bob's Red Mill is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group®

This document is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a recommendation. ©2022 Principal Financial Services, Inc.

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Company®. Plan administrative services offered by Principal Life. Principal Funds, Inc. is distributed by Principal Funds Distributor, Inc. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., member SIPC and/or independent broker/dealers. Referenced companies are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.


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