Editor’s note: Donald Thompson is a serial entrepreneur and investor in the Triangle. WRAL TechWire asked Donald to write a post for us through which he can share his knowledge and experiences with startups dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. 

RALEIGH – First thing’s first – there is no playbook, no six-point plan, no webinar that can teach you how to insulate your business from the impacts of a global pandemic. We will learn from this but for right now, how do we lead? What are the best strategies to insure that we will be able to compete both now and later when it is back to business as usual?

In 2007, our team was faced with a global financial meltdown, two wars, and the banking crisis. Despite these significant events, I was able to lead my tech firm to 30% year over year revenue growth. I knew that a key to successfully managing crises was the commitment level of talented and capable professionals like Tony Pease, now CEO of Carimus, Greg Boone, now CEO of Blue Acorn iCi and Amie Thompson, now CEO of Creative Allies. And yet, despite having experience in dealing with business threats in the past, I am learning that this challenge is different and is testing us in ways we could have never anticipated.

Yes, this storm is severe, but it will pass. During a recent podcast, my guest Akinwole Garrett, Director of Global Strategic Alliances for Lenovo had this to say about his view of the economy.

“When I look at pre-COVID versus post-COVID, in the short term there’s going to be a lot of pain and uncertainty in terms of layoffs and so forth. But again, fundamentally the economy was strong. Fundamentally, in terms of the amount of cash that was out there from a private equity and investment perspective, I don’t think we’ve ever seen higher volumes in terms of corporate earnings. So I think fundamentally to me, again, this is my perspective, I think the economy was on solid ground.”

If you share the optimistic longview, the key becomes how do we survive the aggressive present to remain standing and thrive when the economic sun comes out again? Below are a few perspectives that can guide an organization’s thinking.

Transparency is everything.

Your employees are facing fear, uncertainty and doubt; your clients are trying to navigate just as you are and your investors are hoping they will be able to rebound successfully. During this time, it is more important than ever to deliver clear communications about the state of the business and what the team can do specifically to drive the business forward. This is an uncertain time and you may not have every answer but do not add to the uncertainty by being unnecessarily unclear.

Make the tough decisions with grace.

Personnel decisions are always difficult but if you need to reduce people costs, be empathetic and offer as much in the way of severance as possible –  even if it means you as the leader take a personal hit. Your current and future employees are watching.

Focus on current investors.

This is not the time to seek new funding. Look to conserve cash, seek bridge funding from current investors and leverage existing board relationships. Work to keep the lights on for 90 days so that you have a fighting chance when market viability improves.

Remain committed to sales and marketing.

Be a resource for your current clients and an asset to potential ones – they are all trying to plan for the future just like you. Adjust messaging to be relevant and impactful. Sure, your target market may not be in the buying mode but they are doing research and planning for what products and services will help them save time and win business when the storm subsides. A primed sales pipeline will create momentum coming out of the storm and partnering with existing clients will strengthen those business relationships moving forward.

Identify your quick pivot.

When you leverage your core competencies in a different way to meet relevant customer needs, you pivot to solve new problems while delivering results. This match between your core competencies and your client’s marketing needs requires understanding your client’s issues at a deep level. Here are some recent examples:

Creative Allies built its brand delivering creative work for the entertainment space – concerts, festivals and other live events. Obviously, those deals are delayed and that revenue is on-hold. Realizing that small business owners are struggling for customers, the team pivoted to provide affordable, lead-driving marketing solutions for small businesses.

Like many other restaurants, Durham-based Beyu Caffe was in a difficult spot when the dining room had to be closed. They pivoted over a weekend by building an online ordering system to accommodate pickup and delivery orders. Instead of standing still, they have been able to keep employees on the payroll while recouping 50% of their business.

Innovate and accept (reasonable) risk.

People often refer to our firm, Walk West, as a marketing agency. If you dive deeper, you will see an entrepreneurial machine that creates products and services of our own. We have a constant churn of new thoughts and ideas and this momentum enables innovation that will lead us through difficult times. One such innovation is The Diversity Movement, conceived to help organizations move beyond compliance-based thinking in diversity and inclusion (D&I) to a mindset that enables business transformation.

Companies that shape the future are making D&I an extension of their brand and tightly integrated in marketing initiatives. We are determined to provide our clients with this path forward by delivering data-driven, technology-enabled, and expert-led D&I solutions that drive a firm’s business growth.

Enter COVID-19. Even through the turmoil of a currently unstable global economy, we elected to launch in the storm. Marketing a new initiative now will force us to be more creative in our marketing and deliver a stronger business. When the storm passes, we will have fought for the momentum that will protect our mission. The final thought is really a question. What can you pivot to quickly that can generate revenue, or build your pipeline? Protect your downside for sure, but don’t let COVID-19 keep you from finding ways to stay relevant today and preparing for when business conditions improve. Do not standstill.  #socialdistancing #staysafe