While COVID’s impact has been challenging in various ways for all business owners, it has also brought some undeniable but often overlooked opportunities to the table. Most notably, it may just have taught entrepreneurs how to think creatively, research ideas, and grow their businesses in different ways by educating themselves through research, action, and relationships.
Pivoting A Business
One of the most significant effects the pandemic has had on entrepreneurs is the need to pivot. This unprecedented time in history forced most entrepreneurs into a world where they had to rapidly learn and adapt to significant change. The urgent need to transform was undoubtedly painful for most people. Many didn’t survive the journey. However, those who did make it often radically adjusted their businesses for the better.
How Non-Traditional Education Played a Role
For some successful business owners, many factors such as technology, diversification, and the business relationships they built have impacted their survival rates.
For those entrepreneurs who successfully navigated these challenging times, education was also critical to their success.
Entrepreneurs had to rapidly learn new skills and mindsets, build new relationships, and figure out new ways to do things—all on the fly, and often with no formal learning structure in place.Mike Calhoun, the Founder and CEO of Board of Advisors Inc., an elite entrepreneurial Mastermind Group, said, “Entrepreneurs are a special breed. While we all value education, many of us struggled with traditional schooling because we wanted to compress our learning into a shorter period of time. We wanted to get out there and start accomplishing things.
A lot of successful entrepreneurs have learned a lot through trial and error. Others took a valuable short cut and learned either directly from mentors and peers, or indirectly by modeling the activities and mindsets of people they look up to.”
Calhoun has built a successful business model around exactly this strategy at Board of Advisors, where some of the most successful entrepreneurs get together to share their experiences, ideas, and knowledge. But despite the collective brainpower in this group of over 170 people, COVID initially had a profoundly negative impact on the company.
He stated, “Once the lockdowns hit around the middle of March, we knew we had to adapt quickly because our Q2 meeting was taking place in a little over a month. We were concerned because so many companies took an immediate and significant financial hit. At the same time, few people were traveling because of health risks, so we had to figure out how to continue to deliver massive value without our traditional in-person event or risk losing a large portion of our annual revenue.”
The learning curve for his team was steep.
Overnight, they had to learn how to conduct a virtual event with people worldwide, organize and coordinate speakers—both in the studio and remote. They also had to figure out how to keep everyone engaged in a virtual setting. Most importantly, they had to develop ways to continue to facilitate the behind-the-scenes relationship building that would typically occur in the back of the room or the halls outside the event.
In the end, Calhoun and his team were able to tap into the experience and knowledge of the members of his mastermind group, and the virtual event blew away everyone’s expectations.
Calhoun said, “We learned a lot, and we still made some mistakes along the way, but I think that’s a normal part of the learning process. This pivot saved us when many other event-based companies were failing, but the most powerful impact for me is that it reinforced my business model. We were able to adapt and thrive because we tapped into the collective knowledge of the members of Board of Advisors, which is exactly the purpose of a mastermind group.”
Managing A Remote Team
Not all companies rely on physical events, but most do rely on employees, and this was another area where entrepreneurs had to make drastic changes to continue operating effectively.
The lockdowns posed a significant challenge for many businesses and employees alike because everyone now had to figure out how to work from home. While some companies have managed a remote workforce for years, this was completely uncharted territory for many entrepreneurs.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of Zoom calls gone wrong, the inability to focus with noisy kids at home, and micromanaging bosses making unreasonable demands. However, at the same time, we’ve also heard about numerous companies realizing that a remote workforce is better for them, their employees, and even the environment.
For Robert Nickell, founder of the 500+ strong virtual assistant agency, Rocket Station, this interruption for him was all just another day.
“We’ve been operating completely remote since 2013, so the lockdowns didn’t hurt my company. We earned a tremendous amount of new business as a result of them,” says Nickell.
He explains that when the lockdowns started, most employers first reaction was to panic, quickly followed by excitement. Working from home was new and fun for many, and at first, everyone loved the cute little kids wandering into the background of their parents’ Zoom calls, or they were amused when spouses or significant others did it. However, that exciting energy soon turned into frustration for employers as productivity plummeted.
Even more challenging for employers was the loss of employees. Many employees had to leave the workforce to take care of their children who could no longer attend school due to the lockdowns. This situation predictably put many employers in a complicated situation because they suddenly lost a large part of the workforce they depended on daily.
Nickell shared one client’s story stating, “They had over 8,000 square feet of commercial space filled with 220 employees, but once the lockdowns started, a large portion of their workforce understandably chose to leave so they could take care of their children during the day. That business owner didn’t know how they were going to keep operations going.”
Fortunately, Nickell states, “We have a team of nearly six hundred people, so we were able to develop a documented process for each of their tasks, and quickly spin up enough virtual assistants to replace all of the employees they lost. This fast-thinking and action resulted in a 40% reduction in cost while increasing their productivity by 120%.”
Nickell says a remote workforce is something that most entrepreneurs can and should implement, regardless of situations like COVID, but it’s critical to know how to implement it correctly.
Nickell’s Tips To Implement A Remote Workforce
“The key to successfully implementing a remote workforce is first to develop a clearly defined process for employees’ tasks. Ideally, it would help if you worked with someone who has experience in process development because this is both a science and an art.
It’s important to note that your process will likely evolve over time, due to growth in skills, changes in workflow or technology, and the scale of your business.
Next, you’ll need to identify quantifiable KPIs so that you can track and improve performance. And finally, you’ll need to hire the right people for the jobs,” he states.
A remote workforce gives you a much larger pool of qualified candidates, but it’s still critical to go through an extensive screening process to ensure you have the best person for the job. Nickell’s team only hires about 2% of the people they interview, and the people they interview are a small fraction of the total people who apply.
His emphasis on business processes makes a lot of sense because while it’s relatively simple to lean over and show someone next to you how to do something, it’s significantly more challenging to do that remotely. A formal, documented process enables you to get your entire team on the same page no matter where they are working and scale more effectively.
Unique Ways To Adapt
But some entrepreneurs have adapted in ways that were less obvious from outside the business. As a recognized leader in the real estate investing industry, Postal Impact’s founder, Christina Krause, was used to speaking on stages all over the country to educate her audiences on taking a data-based approach to their marketing. These events typically resulted in new business for her company after each event, but travel restrictions related to COVID killed that part of her business. She had to learn a new way to generate new leads, and she had to do it fast.
Krause stated, “In the past, we had always received a lot of new business from my speaking engagements, but with the event industry decimated, and travel shut down, that dried up overnight. I had no idea how long this was going to last—only that I was now facing tremendous uncertainty outside of my control and had to act immediately.”
Since traditional events were no longer an option, Krause responded by diving into a few online mastermind groups and speaking at numerous virtual events. Because these didn’t require any travel, they were more convenient, and she could attend more of them.
She stated, “I opened up a crazy amount of opportunities by immersing myself in completely new circles and exposing my business to people who had never heard of us before, but more than that, I opened up my thinking by getting outside of my own bubble. Getting involved in mastermind groups and speaking at events helped me to stay on top of other things that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to keep up with.”
Moving Past Your Own World
Getting outside of a bubble was also crucial to the success of Matt Andrews, founder of the Real Estate Influencer event and co-host of the Real Estate Influencer podcast.
Like many entrepreneurs, his business was hit hard by COVID because of travel restrictions and lack of meeting in person. He faced different situations than other entrepreneurs.
Andrews said, “First and foremost, I’m a buy and hold real estate investor, so I generally have stable income regardless of the fluctuations in the economy. My Real Estate Influencer event is an annual event that I bill yearly, so there was no real financial risk for me there either. My main concern was that I had 100% committed to over-delivering value to the people in my network, and this would have a severely detrimental impact on that delivery.”
Andrews said that he had built his business and personal reputation on his relationships, and he wasn’t about to risk those relationships regardless of what this pandemic inflicted on him.
He said, “I carefully choose who I bring into my circle because of the impact they have on who we become, the opportunities they create, and most importantly because I genuinely care about them as individuals. I knew that a lot of people were going to be hurt by the fallout from COVID, so I felt it was my duty to step up.”
How Andrews Kept His Relationships Going
Andrews immediately assembled several experts in marketing, finance, law, and other topics, and arranged weekly virtual meetings to provide the information that struggling entrepreneurs needed to thrive through these challenging times. He then dug deep into his contacts list and began introducing people together wherever he saw potential synergy.
His actions led to the salvation of a few companies and tremendous growth for many more.
He stated, “Ultimately, I don’t think what I did was anything special. I did what entrepreneurs do every day. I was faced with a particular challenge, and I had to learn how to develop the skills to handle that challenge best and serve my customers.”
He also said that the situation gave him a lot of insight into how weak some companies were behind the scenes, and how others were strong and prepared.
How Innovative Companies Dealt With Disruption
While the negative impact of COVID was widespread and influential, it allowed many entrepreneurs to improve their businesses dramatically.
For Standard Hydrogen Company, Inc. (standardh2.com), a company innovating new technologies, the lockdown allowed them to stay heads down on innovation and fundraising with less interruption than before.
Their technology began as an effort to improve the way the oil and gas industry has been disposing of its toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
Specifically, their process splits the H2S into sulfur and hydrogen, both of which are valuable raw materials.
During the COVID lockdown, the company was able to apply additional time to research. Alan Mintzer, CEO, stated, “Once we realized we could easily convert a variety of waste streams, anything containing hydrogen into hydrogen sulfide, it was a simple matter of applying our patented technology to turn garbage into high-purity hydrogen.”
Creating Opportunities During A Pandemic
Mintzer continued, “From the perspective of COVID-19, first, we were very fortunate that none of our team or their friends or families contracted the disease. This time provided us with a situation where our team could focus on advancing our business. Frankly, there was nothing to do outside of work; there were no sports, no new productions out of Hollywood, restaurants and beaches were closed—so we worked.
I worked seven days a week and never felt like I was missing anything. We took over a new 12,500 square foot facility, so our R&D could continue seven days a week, and it did. Like everyone else, we also leveraged the teleconferencing technologies to continue holding meetings and conference calls as needed. The real silver lining COVID-19 provided us was the absence of travel. Suddenly, it was perfectly acceptable and desirable to hold all meetings online.”
Mintzer said, “The time we saved was enormous. SnappConnerPR, our public relations firm, and Osmond Marketing, our marketing firm, were both extremely effective, which led to an overwhelming, global demand for meeting time. Had we needed to travel nationally and internationally, we would not have been able to be as effective as we were and still are. Of course, we would like to see the pandemic come to an end quickly. But until that time, we will continue to operate more efficiently than we would have thought possible without COVID-19.”
This article originally appeared on Forbes and is featured here with Author permission.