3 min read

I did NOT see that coming! Lessons on starting a small business during a time of extreme upheaval.

Late last year I approached my now business partner Andy with an idea for a new business. One driven by a specific purpose of helping organizations communicate more effectively by empowering all voices. We had been doing some adjacent work for our previous employer with some success but we knew we could take it further. We spent months planning, discussing, designing, considering, debating, and testing until we felt we were in a good place to go live.

We launched in late February and the reception was humbling. We had friends, clients, partners, colleagues and the like interested in our positioning. It was simple, made sense and was obviously needed in the market. Within the first two weeks we were in line to sign about a dozen contracts AND THEN (cue ominous reveal music; dun, dun duuuuun) PANDEMIC! The impact wasn’t specific to our offerings, our company or our industry. It was specific to EVERY industry, EVERY company, EVERY offering. Before we could build a solid base, the world had changed, fundamentally and possibly, irrevocably.

We did what all businesses were doing, taking stock of the situation and trying to make sense of our place in the world going forward. As a new, small business, we had a few things on our side early on. For instance, we were launching a company, so we were prepared for the hardships that comes with being entrepreneurial. We were in the process of signing new customers so we didn’t actually lose any business. We were also fortunate we didn’t have to part with valuable employees to stay afloat.


We did, however, have to pivot. Here’s what I’ve learned thus far:


Let Your purpose be your guide

We spent a good deal of time early on fleshing out why we were starting Fairplay. As we considered how to pivot our offerings in the face of the pandemic, we allowed our purpose to inform our decisions. We held our purpose mirror up to the changes we were considering. If it didn’t feel authentic to our “why”, we didn’t make the change.


Listen to your clients and prospects needs to understand how you can help

Sometimes that means simply staying silent and allowing people to speak. This may sound like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how hard an ask this is of some folks (particularly if you’re in sales). Be authentic, listen to understand, not to respond. When the time is right to position your solution, you’ll know it because it will present itself organically. And if it doesn’t, you’re at least developing trust and demonstrating care.


Flexibility is your friend

We all have plans, but sometimes they don’t pan out the way we’d like. Accepting the idea that change is inevitable (and doesn’t care about your agenda) will help you cope with unexpected obstacles. There’s a saying in improv which states “play the scene you’re in”. This suggests we become attune to the moment as it is, not as we hope it to be.


Creativity is the elimination of options

This is an axiom I encountered early on in my career and has never proven truer than now. We are being forced to be more creative these days because the options available to us previously have shifted or temporarily disappeared. This is actually a good thing. It’s helping us to innovate and be more conscious of entrenched patterns. Those who can rise to the challenge will thrive. Those who don’t, well, you may want to learn to quickly.


There’s always tomorrow

You’ve heard the adages, “no time like the present”, “the early bird”, “why put off until tomorrow”, etc, etc. But the truth is, there are benefits to putting down an idea and coming back to it. This gives you time to enhance or reconsider your original thinking. Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up. Give yourself a break and know tomorrow is a new day. It’s ok to sleep on it.


Change is opportunity

Wayne Dyer said, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. All too often, change is perceived as loss rather than opportunity. It can be hard to look on the positive side of this pandemic but what choice do you really have. This doesn’t mean a pair of rose-colored glasses are your best bet, it just means that an optimistic perspective will make this process more bearable.


We may have not chosen the most ideal time to start a business but, who knows, maybe we’ll create something that we never would have conceived of otherwise. Stay positive and look for your opportunities to contribute to the greater good. I promise, it will all work out.


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