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3 Ways to Build a Sustainable Business Post-COVID, According to Jon Taffer

Creating a strong operation for the future will require thinking ahead - and acting now.

This story appears in the July 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When there's a problem, entrepreneurs fix it. But it's not enough to just solve today's problems anymore. That's reactive and short-sighted. We have a massive opportunity to thrive after this pandemic, but it'll only happen if we spend today solving tomorrow's problems. Look out into the future, and create the solutions that will resonate in the months and years to come.

Pete Ryan

You don't need to be a fortune-teller to do this. I'll give you an example.

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Let's say a guy named Joe has a favorite burger place. They make a great burger, and he can't wait to eat there again. But when his local lockdown is finally lifted, that favorite burger place seems messy and disorganized. Meanwhile, there's a second-best burger place down the street — and that place is spotless. So where will Joe eat? I bet he'll pick the second-best burger.

What can we learn from that story? Here's what I see:

1. The importance of trust.

Every business must distinguish itself, and that has always happened in many ways — with factors like quality, price, and convenience. But when Joe chose the second-best burger place, he pushed all those old qualities aside, and trust bubbled up to the top instead. That's a massive shift. Before the pandemic, trust was barely spoken about. No longer.

This means entrepreneurs can stand out from competitors in new ways. You can meet people's new expectations by focusing on different elements of your business. For example, your customer may have never cared about your operations before, but now they will. How can you innovate there? And how can you be transparent, so people trust those new operations? At my new restaurant, Taffer's Tavern, for example, I've put internet-connected cameras in the kitchen. I want the world to see my kitchen — and to trust what comes out of it.

Related: Can Jon Taffer Fix Franchise Restaurants?

2. The importance of changing minds.

It's time to ask yourself some simple, difficult questions. Start with these: Am I selling a product that solves a problem that's unique to today? Do people value me more or less today?

Your customers are asking similar questions. They're wondering, Who understands my needs now? Who can be there for me? And frankly, they may not know what to think about you. They may have loved you before, but all bets are off now.

You want those customers to come back, and you can't do that just by asking. You need to change how they think about you — and to do that, you first need to understand how they think, and then react to it.

3. The importance of openness.

In the past, entrepreneurs hid their financial troubles. If customers knew we were struggling, we feared they might not come back. But COVID-19 has flipped that around, because we're all in this together. If you're a valuable business, nobody wants you to disappear.

They want to support you.

Related: 4 Tips for Taking Your Startup's Sustainability to the Next Level

It's time to market from a position of weakness, and let that become your strength. Share your challenges, and then show how they led you to great new solutions. Let your best team members step up. This is a time when greatness will be made — when great marketers and operators and promoters will find their voice and power. It's a time when small companies can become big, and big companies can really blow it.

The value equation has changed. So to thrive, we can't just say we've changed. We need to step up — and really change.

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