A Survival Guide for Small business Owners During a Crisis (or any time)

A survival guide for small business owners during a crisis (or any time)

The world has changed.

And a lot of those changes are permanent.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us (if you weren’t already) to work from home and to depend exclusively on online communications.

It’s not business as usual. And it won’t be for a long time.

As a business owner, I have employees and contractors that rely on my business for some or all of their income. Fortunately, BlogWorks is an online company. We have an office, but other than two of us, we all work remotely.

As an online company, we’ve organized our systems to connect with our clients and team members from anywhere and at any time.

What about you?

If you are now working from home for the first time, or you’ve had a home office for years, now is a great time to revisit the equipment and systems you need to operate effectively in our increasingly online world.

This is my survival guide for small business owners in a crisis (or any time).

1. Watch your numbers

If you want to grow your business, start with good data. Like driving a car, you need a dashboard with feedback to know how you are performing.

Putting together even a simple weekly dashboard can help identify where you are wasting money and effort, but also be a good motivator for you and your team.

Here are some of the basic numbers to watch:

  • Break-even point. The number of customers it takes to cover your monthly operating expenses. If you’re launching a new online course or subscription service, calculate your BEP to know what volume you’ll need to get in the black.
    • For example, if video production, hosting services (video and learning platform), advertising and hours of an assistant all come to $4,500, at $500 per course, you’re first 9 customers cover your costs.
  • Life-time value of a customer. This is simple math: total revenue expected from an average customer less acquisition cost = LTV of a customer.
    • You need to know the dollar value of a typical customer to make decisions about advertising (if you spend $45 in Facebook advertising to acquire a customer is that worth it?), investing in a new online course, or hiring a sales assistant.
  • Margin on sales. If you sell an online course or run a subscription service (software, services, maintenance, etc.) it’s easy to calculate and monitor the margin (revenue less variable expenses) of a sale. This neat tool from Shopify lets you calculate gross margin.

    Knowing your margin on sales is a good first step to a realistic projection of profits
    Knowing your margin on sales is a good first step to a realistic projection of profits
  • ROI on advertising. Been boosting ads on Facebook or paying for a Google Adwords listing? It’s time to put a dollar return on that investment. This free tool will help you run scenarios of ad spend, clicks and sales.
    • If you’re using an advertising consultant, they should be providing tracking numbers, if not, hire a consultant to put these numbers together for you. Don’t throw more money at advertising without knowing your numbers!

      Return on Investment
      Like any investment, the measure of success with Facebook advertising has to be ROI on spend
  • Return on social media. Are you pounding away at building an Instagram following, hoping it will turn into sales? Or starting every day checking Facebook updates?
    • A quick visit to Google Analytics will show the traffic social media brings in. Traffic is only one measure, social media can provide other benefits like: brand awareness, nurturing your followers, and announcing launches and specials.
Social Media Traffic
If you are investing in social media marketing you need to know what traffic it creates

2. Build a morning routine

I can’t think of any habit more important to develop than a morning routine. A simple morning routine can get you ready to “go to work” and prepare you for a productive day. New research from the Journal of Management found that “reattachment” to work in the morning is critical of high productivity.

“Those who consciously took a few minutes to mentally reattach to their work by reflecting on their goals and priorities experienced ‘a cascade of positive experiences during the day.’” – Inc Magazine

The idea of a morning routine is to reduce the influence of mood, or quality of sleep and to ensure that you can maximize your productivity in what are typically the most productive hours of your day.

Some things to include in your routine:

  • Before you go to bed make a quick note of the first work you’ll tackle in the morning.
  • Wake up at the same time.
  • Limit social media or reading/watching the news.
  • Inspire and ground yourself. I prefer exercise, but meditation, reading, music, or walking are all great ways to ease into your morning work.
  • Eat like an athlete – avoid sugars, simple carbs and fatty foods – instead choose complex carbs, protein and fiber to enjoy steady energy lasting all morning.
  • Transition to work time at the same time everyday. (see #5 How to organize your home office, below).
  • Work from your Flight Plan (#3, below).
Start your day with a simple meal of complex carbohydrates and enjoy more consistent energy through your morning.

3. Plan like a pilot

Pilots would never leave the runway without a clear destination and you should never start your week without clear goals for the week.

I wrote about planning like a pilot in my book Give me a Break. The idea is pretty simple…

Take 5 minutes every Monday morning (I walk you through the process in this post) to think through where you want to “land” on Friday. This quick planning routine can be the difference between a chaotic week of distractions and feeling productive on and on your game.

You can record your “Flight Plan” in Evernote, a journal, or create a Google Doc. What’s important is you think through a short-list of goals that will move your company forward this week.

For larger “boulders” (big projects that take many days/months to complete), list the specific objective you need to complete this week. For example, if updating your website, the goal this week might be to research competitor’s sites and make a list of features you want to change on your site.

Your Flight Plan for the week tells you what’s most important and where you need to “land” by Friday.

Now, here’s the real value of your “Flight Plan” – catch yourself coming off a conference call or wrapping up a task and go to your Flight Plan for direction. Between every task is an opportunity to change course back to what’s most important for your business.

4. Learn how to outsource

As CEO of your business, you shouldn’t be spending your time learning how to do jobs you can easily outsource. That stifles growth and wastes your time.

The most obvious jobs to outsource are technical tasks like: updating your website, video editing, publishing your blog, or graphic design. But, you should also look at:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Editing your writing
  • Writing your blog (we can do that!)
  • Updating old blog posts that are underperforming (we can do that as well!)
  • Research for webinars and articles.
  • Editing photographs to include in your blog or on your website
  • Video shoots for sales videos, Facebook advertising, or landing pages on your website.
  • Building email sequences to send to people who opt-in to your list.
  • Purging old contacts in your mailing list
  • Creating a new lead magnet for your website

At BlogWorks we typically hire freelancers on Upwork and Fiverr. Other freelancer sites include: Freelancer, TopTal, or WorkHoppers.

The trick with using a freelance tool like Upwork is to use filters to quickly reduce the field to the best applicants

A good test of outsourcing a task is to calculate the cost (at your hourly rate) of learning the skills and completing the task, compared to hiring a freelancer. For example, it will take you 4 hours to learn how to master even the basic video editing skills using software like Camtasia (for PC) or Screenflow (for Mac).

Before you invest your hours learning how to do technical work, like video editing, compare that to hiring an experienced freelancer and getting a professional product.

At $100 per hour, that’s a $400 initial value of lost time. A competent video editor can take a 3 minute video, edit, add music, your intro and outro, upload to YouTube – even include a thumbnail for about $60. Plus, your efforts will look amateurish (I know I’ve tried it) and require ongoing learning.

5. Organize your home office

The mind loves distractions. Something as simple as unopened mail on your desk, or a stack of business cards from a networking session you attended months ago can grab your attention as often as every 12 minutes.

“Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana.” – London’s Institute of Psychiatry

The good news is that a 10 minute home office declutter session can transform your distraction desk to a place of productivity. Here’s how to get started:

declutter your business space at home
Caption With a little effort you can declutter your workspace and double your productivity.
  • Invest in good quality storage and furniture. A comfortable work-chair, solid desk with bookshelves and simple filing cabinet (I prefer two or three drawer units that fit under the desk) can transform your workspace.
  • Put all cords, charging cables and computer paraphernalia in one container and out of sight (for my home-office I invested in matching bookcases, the bottom of one has double cupboard-style doors where I stash stuff I rarely need.)
  • Create a system for archiving handwritten notes and paper (see Evernote, below).
  • Remove anything that looks like unfinished work. This could be client files, broken eyeglasses, unopened mail or sticky-notes. There will always be distractions like these, now is the time to find a home for them.
  • Archive completed work. Client files, project notes, tax returns and research papers can all be archived in inexpensive banker boxes, labeled and stored out-of-sight. Your goal is to dedicate 100% of your attention on the work that matters today.

6. Master online tools

If you’ve been hiding from learning basic online tools, those days are gone. The world is getting online – just look at the explosion of individuals, businesses, and governments scrambling to learn how to use tools like zoom.us during the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you are looking for an easy new way to find or create images and audio, we recommend Adobe products. You can find all of their creative software packages here.

Not sure you have what you need? Here are some of the basics you should have in your office:

  • Good WIFI connection. Video conferencing tools, like zoom, require high-speed bandwidth. Use free tools like this one to test your WIFI speeds and call your carrier if in doubt.
  • Video conferencing. It’s hard to beat the convenience of jumping on a quick video call to meet a new business connection or sort out some work details with a team member. We moved to zoom 4 years ago. The tool is easy to use, has lots of features and the low-cost account allows for unlimited calls with lots of features like break-out rooms, chat, polls and more. We use the webinar account for our BlogWorks broadcasts.
  • Audio recording. Now that you’re doing more online conference calls you’ll need a good microphone. The earbuds that came with your phone are at least better than nothing. Or upgrade to a good lavalier-style microphone.
  • Lighting kit. You are going to be video conferencing a lot more and a simple lighting kit will remove distracting shadows, help with early morning or late night calls (helpful if you work in different time zones) and set you up for recording videos.
A couple of inexpensive LED lights will make your presentation look more professional
  • Video hosting. If you are recording video for your first online course or to add to your website you need to first store that clip on a hosting service. We’ve been using Vimeo for years and love how simple it is to upload and organize all our recordings.
Vimeo is a great place to put your business videos
Your video hosting site allows you to organize your collections
  • Team communications. Organize all your team communications and reporting with a free account on Slack. It’s easy to use and you can upgrade or third party apps at any time.
  • SMS messaging. It’s hard to beat text messages for getting the attention of a contractor, supplier or even an employee distracted with a big project. If you’re using text messaging a lot, load the app on your computer to make it easier to share documents, images and so you can type with your keyboard.
  • Storage. Moving your business to online will mean you need to share documents (see Google Docs next), images, reports, PDF’s and photos with clients and team members. Email is not the way to do that. Dropbox allows you to control what stays on your computer (so you can free up precious storage space) and who you share documents with.
  • Google Docs. It’s hard to beat the ubiquitous suite of Google’s free tools for creating and sharing documents. You can quickly create and share documents, spreadsheets and choose who gets access and can either view, comment, or edit.
  • Evernote. I haven’t found a better tool for organizing ideas, capturing handwritten notes from a meeting or snagging web pages (Evernote can strip off all advertising). Michael Hyatt calls Evernote his “digital brain” for good reason. Start with a free account, upgrade if you want to access your notes when you are offline.
Evernote is brilliant for capturing your handwritten notes and making them easy to retrieve
Evernote is brilliant for capturing your handwritten notes and making them easy to retrieve

7. Separate work and home

Now that you have your home office set up with easy access to the world and the ability to record videos, write your next book and grind through a mountain of work you need boundaries. Working long hours without clear lines between work time and home time is a recipe for burnout, not to mention the impact it will have on immediate relationships.

But, it’s hard to have work/life separation when your home office is down the hall from your kitchen.

Make your home office feel like your business office
With a little effort you can create a home office that feels like a destination, separate from the rest of your home.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Have all your work stuff (records, chair, desk, recycling, etc.) in one place instead of spread out in your house. Ideally, have a door on that room that you close when you’re not “at the office.”
  • Set hours for “going” to work and packing up at the end of the day.
  • Dress for work. Research shows that when we dress to go to work it can put us in the mind space to be more productive. “Working in your pajamas may seem like fun for a couple of days, but you’ll soon find any productivity wanes,” writes Joshua Duvall.
  • Set your phone to turn off alerts an hour before you go to bed.
  • Avoid checking email or phone messages during non-work hours.

Your success as a business owner depends on your ability to focus and get work down as efficiently as possible. And that includes updating your equipment and systems.

Most of the suggestions in this guide can be accomplished in a few minutes or with a quick visit to Amazon. Some (like creating boundaries between work and home) will take longer to practice and develop into habits.

Either way, your investment into productivity will pay dividends for years to come. It’s time to get started.

Did you enjoy this article? Check out these:

11 Highly Productive Things Small Business Owners Should Do During A Crisis
Why Do Best-Selling Authors Brown, Kiyosaki, Rubin, Maxwell, and Godin All Blog?
4 Social Media Activities You Should Be Doing in 2020

Photo of oatmeal by Jane Duursma on Unsplash
Photo of home office by Michael Soledad on Unsplash

11 Highly Productive Things Small Business Owners Should Do During A Crisis

highly productive things small-business owners should do during a crisis.

“A diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure.”
Henry Kissinger

There are some things you simply can’t fully prepare for. Like being a first-time parent, the start of a new small business, and a worldwide pandemic.

At some point, we can all look back with time-earned wisdom and find lessons in these life events. In the meantime, we need to respond. Take action – as unplanned and responsive as it might be – we are moving forward.

Like all cycles, we will get through this and there will be “the other side.” And like all cycles, some will be prepared and ready, and some will take much longer to find their feet.

This happened during the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918, the great depression in the 1930s, all the recessions in the ’80s and ’90s, the sub-prime slaughter of 2007/2008 and now during the 2020 pandemic of COVID-19.

As small business owners, we have a double responsibility. To our own health and families and to our responsibilities with our clients, employees, and suppliers.

When I was building Adventure Network I had all of those responsibilities, plus the weight of massive unsecured debt and crippling monthly bills (it’s not cheap to run 4 airplanes and the ground and aircrew to make it all happen.) I had to keep moving forward.

At BlogWorks I have employees and contractors. And, of course, I have our wonderfully loyal clients to think about. Shrinking back and waiting for the inevitable tide of world events to pass over me, like holding your breath waiting for the ocean to dry up, ain’t an option.

You have to keep moving forward.

Here are 11 things you can be doing now to keep your business vital and growing and prepared for the other side of a crisis.

1. Keep communication open

When a crisis hits it’s time to increase your communications. Keep your employees, contractors and suppliers included in any changes you are planning. The more people know about what is going on the more they can prepare and support you.

During the COVID-19 crisis, we started a weekly email to our clients and weekly updates to our team of 16 employees and contractors. The goal was to be proactive and share news about what we were working on. We also launched a survey to our list to learn about their blog preferences (the results will be turned into a blog post) and our writers to learn what writing skills training we can offer.

2. Kill some costs

This is a great time to review monthly expenses for your small business and look for areas to cut costs. One of my monthly routines is to run a highlighter over my company credit card statement, looking for any subscription charges.

I keep a running tally of subscription costs for Infusionsoft, Onehub, ScheduleOnce, Zoom, Feedly, Apple, Google, Dropbox, Siteground, etc. plus office rent, phone, and internet. Then I divide that total by the average income I get from clients—that’s how many clients it takes just to keep the lights on. The short-term pain of cutting one subscription can free up much-needed cash and leave more in your pocket.

3. Write more

People have more time to spend online, to read and to discover new solutions to old problems (some Internet sites are experiencing double their normal volume of traffic). Set aside time every morning to write and, if you have a blog, publish more often. Here’s the template I use for every blog. Remember, not every piece has to be a massive, epic treatise – consistency is often more important than word count.

Use a template to quickly move your mind dump of ideas into an organized flow.

4. Share your thoughts.

Maybe this is the time to get personal. Share your thoughts and what your experience has been with this crisis. This might be a departure from your small business’ normal topics (like this article) but it could also be well received by your followers and fans. After all, people buy from people they know, like and trust and this could be your time to build that relationship. You might get inspired by thought-provoking articles about coronavirus on medium.com.

5. Update your website

You know that thing that hangs out on the Internet that you swear someday you’ll update. Yeah, I’m talking about your website. If you’ve been putting off updating your website I have news for you…it won’t get any easier with time.

Not sure how to start? Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Update your contact page: is it inviting? Does it offer a simple checklist of options?
  • If you’re a keynote speaker, consultant, author or coach, start with your “About” page. The “About” page or “Our team” pages often get lots of traffic (people want to know who they are buying from).
  • Check the little copyright notice web designers love to put in the footer – does it show the current year?
  • Low-traffic pages don’t do you or your small business a service. Remove (in WordPress you can change these to Draft status) any pages that are no longer needed.
  • Set up Google Analytics to send you a monthly dashboard report on traffic. You’ve spent good money to build your site, now you need to know what it’s doing (or not doing) for you.
Google Analytics is important for tracking your small business website
In just 2 minutes you can create a monthly dashboard report sent to your email.

6. Connect more

Follow-up to emails, thank people for commenting and respond to social media followers. Your response might come at the perfect time to make a big difference in someone’s life.

Keap Founder, Clate Mask was quick to kick off emails to clients offering support and grant money during the COVID-19 crisis.

7. Strengthen your body

Long hours watching Netflix is a bad recipe for good health. You have fewer excuses and a whole lot more time to get out for a walk, jump on your bike or bliss out with guided meditation.

The good news is that as little as 20 minutes of daily exercise that gets your heart rate up and works your muscles can make a big difference. Just like writing, it’s more about quality than volume. Make it a morning routine and your body and mind will thank you. This 5-day series designed for busy people is a good place to start.

Martin Gibala explains how HIT training can give you big returns with very little time commitment.

8. Learn how to host online meetings

If your small business has not dived into the world of online meetings maybe now is the time to learn. I use zoom.us daily for meetings with staff, customers, and webinars (and now family). It’s surprisingly easy and robust. You might even have a client willing to move a planned event to online. A free plan allows for 40-minute calls – plenty to get you started.

Zoom is a great tool for small business owners working from home
Zoom makes it easy to jump on a quick call with your team or plan a webinar for clients.

9. Read more

Now is a great time to dig into the pile of unread books by your bed, and expand your thinking (and get off Netflix). I’m deep into The Choice by Edith Eger a breathtakingly beautiful work about “our capacity to transcend even the greatest of horrors and to use that suffering for the benefit of others” (Desmond Tutu), Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It by Kamal Ravikant, and Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

“The future is uncertain… but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.”
Ilya Prigogine

10. Launch a survey

Now could be the perfect time to reach out to your followers with a needs assessment survey. Maybe you want to know how they are using your product or service (do they order online?), is there a demand for new products or what topics they want you to address in future webinars. Survey Monkey makes it easy to create, launch and promote a survey (you can also use their app to run surveys in Slack to your team.)

If you are going to launch a survey, here are a few tips:

  • Keep your survey to 12 questions and if the survey only takes 2 minutes to complete, tell them in the invitation, like this: “Here’s the survey (2 minutes).”
  • Start with easy multiple-choice questions, like: what services have you used in the past?
  • Keep personal questions to the end (remember if you don’t ask for their name you won’t be able to match responses to respondents.)
  • Limit open-ended questions, which are harder for people to answer, to 1-2 questions.
  • Offer an incentive. A trick I use is to include a link to a free download in the Thank You message.
Set up a survey for followers of your small business
Survey Monkey makes it easy to include an incentive at the end of your survey.

11. Look ahead

I’ve been taking time every day to work on my planning. As I’ve shifted the focus for most of my working hours to BlogWorks I’ve realized a number of areas where I need outside help. Maybe you need to be looking at outsourcing some routines, like your blog, your marketing, your website updates or graphic design. This could be the perfect time to learn how to post a job on Upwork or other freelancer sites like Freelancer, TopTal, or WorkHoppers.

When a crisis hits, like COVID-19, it might be the perfect time to invest in strengthening your small business and yourself. As my Mom used to say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Enjoyed this muse? Here are more of my thoughts about being productive – enjoy!

How to make your blog stand out by taking a risk!
How to attract more readers to your blog today.
21 clever ways to attract more readers and boost blog traffic this year.

Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash