Advice for new entrepreneurs entering the Covid-19 era (Inc)

By Thomas Koloupos

During my 30 years as an enterpreneur I’ve seen and experienced more ups and downs than I could ever have imagined. But few of those experiences could have fully prepared me for the current crisis of Covid-19. So, I can pretty well imagine how it must feel to be an entrepreneur who is just starting his or her journey. The blunt truth is that while you didn’t choose or plan for this you still need to figure it out how to survive it. 

I’ve been where you are. I started my first and second company in the midst of a recession. I get it. So, I’m not going to sugar coat this or join hands with you to sing kumbaya. You’ve got a lot on the line and you deserve better. What I will try to do is give you solid advice about what you must do in order to stand the best chance of realizing your dream. 

Covid-19 is a stress test for many of our social institutions. However, it is also a personal stress test for you at an incredibly personal level. Every ounce of your being has been poured into your new business. And then, suddenly, with zero warning, along comes a threat that you could not have imagined in your wildest dreams.

There’s plenty being written about how to file for financial aid. Follow it all and leave no stone unturned. But there’s more that you need to keep in mind in order to survive and continue to build your business.  

Keep moving.

When you are in the midst of a crisis of this magnitude it can feel like you’re lost in the fog–disoriented, exposed, and lacking control. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s normal, so to take a moment to regain your orientation. However, don’t let it paralyze you. The illusion we succumb to is that by not moving we are avoiding risk. You’re not, because you are still allowing the current to carry you, and the current does not have your best interests in mind. 

Keep moving in a deliberate and intentional manner. How will you know if the direction you’ve chosen is right? You won’t, not in the moment, but as an entreprenuer I’d much rather assume personal responsibility for the risk choosing the wrong direction than blaming circumstances for choosing it for me. 

One way to keep moving is to develop multiple future scenarios and then identify the resources, strategies, and criteria for success in each scenario. This creates a sense of control in an otherwise uncertian situation. It also allows you to move much faster when the time comes to start ramping back up. The other way to keep moving is to use this time to redefine that cost structure of your busniess. If you can’t make $X of sales this month, how about finding ways to cut 0.5($X) of costs. Every penny you make or save flows directly to your bottom line. 

Keep investing in the long-term.

Times of intense upheaval are the best times to make long-term investments in our businesses, our people, and ourselves. That may mean rethinking some fundamental aspects of your business not just for the present but as a foundation for the future. I know you are in crisis mode, but carve out a few hours each day to think strategically about the future and how you can build for that vision now. This is different from the last point, “Keep Moving,” because here you’re focusing on the distant horizon.

Apple was founded at the tail end of recession. It introduced the Macintosh during yet another recession, the iPod during the dot-com crash, and the iconic iPhone during the financial meltdown. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to the gloom and doom of the news cycle. Opportunity is always there; it’s just better hidden.

You’re not the average.

In fact you are not even close to the average. Look, I’m not your parent or your spouse. I do not have the inherent bias nor the obligation to tell you how wonderful you are. But I do know the DNA of an entrepreneur. You have the guts and the courage to walk this tightrope without a safety net. You have earned the mantle of entrepreneur, it wasn’t just handed to you; it’s an opportunity many others only dream of having. 

The news and social media will bombard you with unemployment data, comparisons to the Great Depression; forecasts that will make your head spin. It’s mostly noise. Listen to public health experts and stay safe, but shut off the rest because it tells you nothing of who you are, what you are capable of. If you live your life based on averages you will end up being nothing but average. That’s not you.

Reach out.

Up your networking game. Doors open up for us because of hard work, perseverance, and resolve but it’s ultimately how well you nurture your connections that will open the biggest doors for you. I sold a company in the shadow of the dot-com carnage because I’d made the right connection over a decade prior with someone through a simple postal letter. I had nurtured that connection and then reached out when the time came. 

When all is said and done one thing is certain. While Covid-19 will pass, the uncertainty that is causing the disruption we are experiencing now is not an aberration or an anomaly, it’s here to stay. You’ve decided to be an entrepreneur at a time when most people would run for their lives in the opposite direction. Like it or not, deserve it or not, that is the world that you will have to succeed in. 

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