Okay, sure, the middle of a global pandemic might not seem like the best time to take on a potentially-risky venture. You already have the idea for a new business, but you’re telling yourself that right now you need to stay in survival mode, focused on keeping your job (or finding a new one), and just keeping your spirits up.
You may be wrong though! A lot of businesses are struggling or even going under right now, which seems like a harbinger of doom, but you can also look at it like an opportunity. Right now, we’re seeing the market change, society change, as a new normal forms, and this is the chance to get in at the ground level of that. By starting now, your business will be better prepared to weather tough times and you’ll gain early clientele who are just dreaming of something new to occupy them as they’re locked down.
Make your business fit life right now.
I started my specialized pet care business by accident initially. I was working in a veterinarian’s office and had several clients asking if I could pet-sit their special needs animals. Since I’m fearless with furry friends, I developed a reputation for handling shy, aggressive, and ill pets. Then I had some health issues, and the long hours at the vet’s weren’t suitable – and I didn’t know when they would be again.
My first instinct was to find a different job, but a family member pointed out that pet care would provide the flexibility I needed right then – and I already had a few clients. I had one month before my surgery was scheduled, so I decided to take that month and figure out if I could make it work. I researched services offered by others – both locally and across the country to identify gaps that I could fill in the market, pricing, insurance, marketing, and more. I started designing marketing materials. I built a website. And I decided to unroll my marketing plan the day after my surgery, assuming it would take a few weeks to really start building a client list.
Boy, was I wrong. My first “real” client emailed me the very next day. She’d seen a Facebook ad, and needed a service that I was the only one in the area offering. From there, my business grew quickly, more quickly than I was really prepared for.
My point is, my business was suiting my life at the time. Right now, people want things delivered to their home, they want stress release, they want to be able to safely go out. Can your business idea be tweaked in any way to fit that? If you’re working from home at your regular job, could you work on your business idea at the same time? If you want to open a retail store, maybe you can work on handcrafted goods during breaks and sell online. For future restaurant owners, maybe you can start out of your home kitchen, cooking and delivering food during the day and taking advantage of a flexible schedule to work at night. Maybe being furloughed means you have the time to code the website you’ve been thinking of for a customized travel experience agency (travel will be back, and I believe it’s going to be better than ever).
Look at your life right now and adapt. Make your time work for you and make the pandemic work for you. Businesses designed for delivery and home service are going to be essential through 2021, and once people are used to that convenience, they’re never going to give it up, so keep that aspect in mind. People are bored – books, classes, and curated subscription boxes are all ways to fill that need – and can all be run from your home. I’m hungry – if you can feed me without me having to venture into a restaurant, I’m on board (I’m also in the country, where no one delivers to me).
Frankly, too many people worry too much about financing right off the bat. Controversial, I know, and I’ll probably get some hate mail over that. But my rule is don’t start too big – and when you start in bite-sized chunks, you can do a lot with a little.
That said, you may need an initial boost of capital to get your hustle off the ground. Right now, banks are going to be very conservative on loans, so save them as a last resort. Venture capitalists however…they’re risk takers. And with the internet connecting the world as it does, crowdfunding is a great option. Put together a great proposal, a creative presentation, and take to the web in search of financing.
If you want to follow my lead and try to do this without outside money, look at your current financial situation. Do you have income or savings? Can you cut your monthly expenditures in any way? How much upfront and how much per month would you feel comfortable losing? Then add 10% to that – that’s your budget. (The extra 10% will put the pressure on you to succeed without breaking the bank.) If you sell handcrafted goods on the internet, make them to order at the beginning so that you’re only spending money on supplies you’re actually using at the time. If you’re cooking, offer constantly evolving menus based on what’s fresh and cheap, rather than trying to find artichokes out of season (and paying through the nose for them).
When I started my business, I did a lot with community events. That won’t work for you right now. I hope your town isn’t hosting crowded festivals at the moment!
What will work for you is the internet. Ads on social media sites will be seen as people try to stay connected with loved ones. Videos on Youtube will get played as people fall down the YT rabbithole. Short video clips can play well on TikTok (particularly if you can find a way to hop on the sea shanty trend) and a link to your website in your bio makes it easy for people to purchase from you. Have a blog on your website to draw readers in, and then nudge them into your store.
From there, rely on the people. Gift a few of your products to friends or neighbors – if they like it, they’ll start spreading the word. Offer a great referral reward to inspire customers to talk about you. Maybe you can even network (online) with local businesses about cross-promotion opportunities.
Because here’s the thing. No matter when, I can promise you that I could come up with at least 15 different ways to get your business out there. You have to think creatively, and be prepared for some things to not work, but even right now, you can get your business, your products, your services out in front of people.
Know your limits.
The second part to “knowing your limits” would be “and know how to overcome them”. If you have no clue on marketing, figure out how to overcome that. Can you outsource this? (Marketing is one area where I strongly recommend at least some outsourcing – both because of expertise, and the time it takes). If you have no idea how to keep books, take an accounting class – you can do it for free online at Coursera, and since it’s your own business, you don’t need an actual degree in it. (Though you may want to hire an accountant for tax time).
I actually flipped it. I researched and took courses in marketing, and I’ve always done that myself (I mean, I literally make a career out of content creation now!). However, when I took a course in accounting…well, yes, I understood it, and I can do it, but the sheer amount of time it takes for me to keep books – I’m just better off outsourcing that to someone who enjoys numbers more than me. Acknowledging my limits and outsourcing that (I kept my daily books, but outsourced taxes and such) ultimately saved me money because I didn’t have to spend the time or pay fees when I inevitably screwed up my taxes.
Beyond the basics, you also need to set checkpoints. For instance, let’s say your business is in the making and selling of…gourmet dog treats. You can comfortably handle, working solo in your home kitchen, 10 batches of treats a day, making maybe 40 packages total. Make a rule early on that when you’re selling the equivalent of 35 packages a day, you’ll re-evaluate your business, consider hiring an employee, or expanding into a larger kitchen (or just getting a tool that will help you keep up!). Planning this in advance lets you stay ahead of your business growth and not get overwhelmed.
Keep an eye on trends.
Right now, people want, or more, need, things to be delivered to their home, and that’s one thing that won’t be going away anytime soon. If you can structure your business to accomodate that, you will have better luck. In the future, however, new trends emerge. Not every trend will affect your business, but keep an eye out. One might just spark a new idea for expansion, or you might see the need to pivot your business a bit to accommodate (we’re seeing that now, as many small businesses have been scrambling to increase their online presence during lockdowns). Don’t just follow major business magazines – find a way to track the actual public’s demands – that will help you jump on new revenue streams before everyone is stampeding to do so.
Take this opportunity to start your business – don’t let fear hold you back!