First of all, just breathe. The knee jerk reactions, fake news, conspiracy theories and stocking up on toilet paper are all causing a much bigger problem than the virus could ever. Irrespective of where you stand on the issue; there is already a significant economic impact and this will sadly continue to become an even bigger one. It will, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better. Your immediate reaction is now critical.

To ensure you’re better equipped to deal with the current situation please work through this easy to follow 11 Step Process. This will allow you to take the current panic and turn it into a workable plan for your business. Your proactive approach and immediate action will assist in gaining back control and ensure you get back in the driving seat.

1. Communicate
More than ever communicate often and communicate more. Uncertainty creates even more confusion and noise. Make sure you’re communicating in a variety of ways with all your stakeholders. Ensure you’re regularly addressing your teams, your customers, your suppliers, your networks and your community at large. Let them know you’ve got a plan and that you’re adjusting to the ever-changing conditions. If you seem to be in control they’ll continue to put their faith and trust in you.

2. Be Positive
How can you find a way to sell toilet paper? Panic and worry never help and you are being called on to be the example now more than ever. Be the leader! Look for the small wins and ensure you publicly acknowledge and celebrate the good news. Provide a positive and alternative perspective to all those around you.

3. Know the Cycles
Everything has a season. Whether it is in nature, an economy, your business or even a relationship. Understand this and remind yourself and those around you of this often. Every 7 to 10 years we’re called to address a global ‘emergency’ and this is no different. Remember all the previous scares, both large and small, and we’re all still here. Constantly remind yourself to look beyond the foreseeable future and take a longer-term view. The stormy seas are much calmer out there.

4. Change
Adapt or die is a basic universal law. Now is the time to embrace change and look for creative ways of doing things differently. Challenge every previous idea and get excited about the possibility of newness. Break down literally everything in your business and question the validity thereof. Prioritise the easiest to implement and get going. The faster you adapt in critical areas the better.

5. Cut Back
Gold is no longer a safe haven – cash is. Cut back wherever possible and reduce unnecessary expenses. Become lean and mean again. Renegotiate terms, contracts, prices. Slow things down or postpone where possible. DO NOT however cut back on marketing and sales (see 10 below).

6. Extend Credit
To ensure you have a sufficient buffer, and can deal with any cash flow shocks, you may need access to funding. Get it now. Access additional facilities in both your business and personal capacity or increase those you already have. One caveat though is that this is not for holidays, luxuries and non-core expenses. This is your safety net and is to be used purely as additional insurance. Find the lowest rates and re-negotiate where possible. Make sure you have it long before you need it.

7. Staffing Cuts / Changes
Be humane throughout and realise everyone is in the same boat. We don’t need any more unemployed people, so only deploy drastic measures as a last resort. Consider leave for staff, flexi-time, reduce bonuses and commissions, work fewer hours or even consider slight pay cuts as everyone tightens their belts collectively to ensure survival. If drastic measures are required; try not to do them in bulk as an over-reaction and rather stagger these gradually.

8. Plan Work from Home
The world has been speaking about this for years and now it has become a ‘forced’ reality. Consider technology needs and don’t neglect critical items like security, data integrity, backups etc. Create virtual meetings and digital reporting to ensure as much functionality as possible is retained. With no exact end date, communication becomes vital. Don’t just let staff move home and forget about the need for integration, collaboration, discussion and debate. Make it seamless and give the option to both staff and customers (where possible).

9. Online or Deliveries
Don’t let potential quarantine or social distancing become an issue. Remove excuses before they’re birthed and consider changing your business model immediately. Offer delivery, move online and take telephonic orders. People won’t come to you so you need to find ways to go to them. Open accounts with logistic companies and make sure you’re proactive in getting new packaging sorted.

10. Market and Sell
Now more than ever you must focus heavily on marketing and sales. With the increased clutter, you’re going to have to work harder to break through the noise. You’re probably going to have to work harder just to retain the same business so make sure your KPIs, goals and targets are adjusted now. Customers will be focusing on news and on themselves, so digitally, people will be time-poor. Remember the personal touch and the good old phone. Run promotions, create new offers, offer bulk deals and up the ante significantly.

11. Repeat Business
Existing customers are the best kind so look after them like gold. Invite them back. Enhance a personal touch. Give them special deals and reward their loyalty. Remember to focus on your top 20% of customers that probably bring in 80% of your sales. Communicate with them the most. They must know you’re around and that it’s business as usual. Talk to them about their challenges and find ways to make their life easier. The more you’re the go-to person, the better.

12. Common Sense and Compassion
Yes, there is a 12th step in the 11 step process – over-deliver on customer service. It’s not business as usual so don’t carry on as if it is. Put people first and make them the centre of everything you do. Be nice. Breathe. Take a chill pill if necessary. Accommodate concerns as much as possible, so get sanitizer (if you can find it), bump elbows, clean and clean some more. We’re all still the same people we were yesterday; even if it doesn’t look or feel like it.

As the saying goes: “This too shall pass!” Make sure that when the tide turns, you’re still around and well-positioned to bounce back quickly. The challenge always brings opportunity and entrepreneurs will always come back stronger and ready for even bigger challenges.

Remember as an entrepreneur you only ever earn the right to deal with bigger challenges. As you and your business grow, your challenges will become less frequent. They will however also get bigger when they do arrive again. Don’t be discouraged. These bigger challenges are just bigger opportunities for testing your abilities at a higher level. Find ways around, or through these bigger challenges and your growth and success lie just ahead.

Together we’ll all get through this with resounding success.

Harry Welby-Cooke
Country Partner
ActionCOACH Business Coaching