How SMBs are making lemonade out of the recent Delta-strain lemons

I once heard Elon Musk in an interview refer to owning a business “like eating glass and staring into the abyss”. Nothing quite urinates on the leg of Murphy’s Law quite like starting a business, especially if you dare have the hubris to have goals on top of that.

And here we are in the arms of another lockdown. After much denial and procrastination, I accepted that this all I can do about haemorrhaging the cost of three offices and 40 staff.

And even if I can get these emergency “grants” in time, I’m still about $15k in the hole every week. Fantastic. Now let’s look at what we can control.

Now is the perfect time for what we’ve been “too busy” to do – things to make our businesses and teams improve. Let’s look at our best options.

Step 1 – Evaluate

Does a champion simply remain happy with the current skills and performance they have or are they constantly watching their last game or fight analysing where they can improve?

Evaluate what’s working and what isn’t with yourself, your team members, and your team as a whole. The easiest strategies to employ are the SWOT and the Report Card.

A SWOT analysis is where you mark four quadrants on a page, titled Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities (goals and chances to seize) and Threats (things that could derail progress).

The trick is to list as many of these as you can for each heading for whatever it is you are evaluating. You may surprise yourself with what comes out once you get into a flow state.

Once you have them, you want to pick the two or three most important for each. Then you want to think of how to do the following:

  • Maximise the Strengths (or double down on what’s working)
  • Minimise the Weaknesses (think of new habits that can replace the bad ones)
  • Optimise the Opportunities (plan a way to achieve them)
  • Mitigate the Threats (figure out how to avoid or minimise the impact of these – ie. committing not to drink alcohol at staff events)

These four plans will immediately add benefit to your business, yourself, or to the person whom you are evaluating. Use them wisely.

The second method I enjoy using is called the Report Card. What you want to do is think of the most important “impact areas” of the team, role or business. 

After selecting the criteria, have them grade each category from an A (for good), to an F (for incompetent). This will show you both (who is the other person, as in ‘both’?) what needs work.

Step 2 – Bolster Culture 

A business or team’s culture is the single greatest predictor of success.

One of the silent killers of lockdowns is how it can take you and your team members away from the culture of your business and make them reflect on their lives in hapless solitude.

This can affect your turnover, or have staff coming back lethargic and unmotivated.

Here are some ideas of things you can do to keep your teams engaged and close-knit while they are also sitting apart from one another in their own home.

  • Assign group projects centred around how they think the business can improve.
  • Task individuals to present and teach certain topics to the rest of the team. Suggest they can communicate with one another on Zoom.
  • Create a list of questions or games designed to help staff get to know each other better, and pair staff off with who they don’t know well enough.
  • Create a competition by putting people in small teams and giving them a challenge to win. In the last quarantine I created an exam based on our sales training manual and the highest scoring team won a trip to work in Cairns.

I started with an Elon Musk quote, I might as well finish with one. In a recent clubhouse interview, the Tesla and SpaceX founder was asked,

“What words of encouragement would you give to an entrepreneur?”

He answered,

“If you need words of encouragement, don’t be an entrepreneur.”

Look, as much as this sucks, if we said yes to the ups, it means we said yes to the downs too… albeit reluctantly. Eventually all of this will be a distant memory.

But what I know is that you didn’t come this far, just to come this far. You have a great chance to take the lemons life’s given us and make the most of them; that said, if your lockdowns are anything like mine, you might just skip the lemonade and turn them into margaritas. 

Barratt Kennett, is the Founder and Managing Director of EFCOMM Sales and Marketing Solutions. He is widely regarded as one of the top, transformative minds in the industry of Face to Face Sales and Marketing within Australia.