The outbreak of COVID-19 severely impacted hundreds of thousands of small businesses. Even as many of them begin to reopen, the lasting uncertainty and ongoing financial pressure can make it difficult for business owners to stay motivated and focused. How do you reopen while keeping people safe? How do you rally your employees and engage with customers? How will high unemployment and other business closures affect your bottom line and ability to stay solvent?
Recently, Gravity CEO Dan Price sat down with bridal industry consultant and shop owner David Marquardt to discuss what they’ve learned about leadership during this time. While the bridal industry faces a unique set of challenges, many of the lessons David has learned apply to businesses across all sectors. You can view the full conversation below or read on for some of the highlights.
How to Lead Through–and Beyond–COVID-19
- Come up with a plan: While no one could have predicted the pandemic, and it’s too late to plan for the initial shutdown, it’s important to put a plan in place for reopening and in the event of any future outbreaks. David says he worked with the team at his shop, Amelishan Bridal in Richfield, Wisconsin, to come up with a comprehensive reopening plan, which has helped them feel more confident about getting back to business. “Coming up with a plan and sharing it with employees has done a tremendous amount to lower the anxiety of the staff,” he says. He also suggests turning to experts, like your local health department and your lawyer, for guidance.
- Be open with your team: When the pandemic first hit, Dan says Gravity’s revenue fell by 55% overnight, and he worried the company would go out of business within a few months. While some leaders might keep this information from their team so as not to cause panic, Dan did the opposite. He and our leadership team held an all-company meeting in which they laid out the harsh reality of the situation. This helped employees understand the situation we were facing and rally together to find a solution.
- Listen to your employees: Part of being a great leader is knowing when you don’t have all the answers and when to ask for help. Solicit feedback and ideas from your team and check in with them regularly to ask what concerns or problems they’re facing. When Dan did this at Gravity, our team came up with several initiatives to help save the company money or boost sales. One of those ideas included a voluntary, temporary pay cut in which 98% of the staff volunteered to reduce their salaries to help the company save money. “I was very honest and open and transparent, and I was open to letting the employees decide what the solution would be,” Dan says. “And they came up with a much better solution. They’re much smarter and more self-sacrificing and more on board than I could ever dream of or be.”
- Prioritize your employees: A good employee is your greatest asset. And while it may be difficult to figure out how to keep everyone on the payroll when you’re operating at partial capacity, do whatever you can to keep them and to make sure their needs are taken care of. “When we saw the writing on the wall, we stood up in front of them and said, you know the next couple of weeks are probably going to be very bumpy,” David says. “And you can count on us. We’re going to do everything we can to minimize that bumpiness, and we understand how important your job is to all of you. And it’s important to us.” Knowing their employer values them and their well-being helps people feel connected and reduces stress so they can focus on the work ahead.
- Take a step back: Now that your day-to-day routines have been disrupted, it’s a good time to take a step back from your business to re-focus. The pandemic has forced everyone to re-strategize and try things they might never have considered before, so it’s a great time to experiment. “The employees, what do they want? What do customers want?” David says. “How can we merge the two in a way that’s ethical, that is good for business, and that works for everybody.”
- Keep trying new things: “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expecting a different result,” David says. Given that business as usual has gone out the window, it’s important to consider things that might not have made sense with your traditional business model. David highlights the rapid adoption of technology–like virtual appointments and contactless payments–that happened in the months immediately following the business shutdowns. While some of these initiatives may only last the length of the pandemic, some might allow you to grow long into the future.
- Be vulnerable: One of the few positive things about the pandemic is that it has forced all of us to shed some of the barriers between work and personal life–and Dan says that’s a good thin. “Be vulnerable, be authentic, be human, ask for help,” he says. “Share those things with your community and with your employees and in some cases even with your customer base.” Allowing yourself to be human and embracing the humanity in others allows you to form deeper relationships, which is good for business and the soul.
- Take care of yourself: It’s natural for business owners to feel stressed right now and to think they have to work around the clock in order to keep their business afloat. But burning yourself out will not help in the long term. Make time for exercise, healthy eating, personal time, and plenty of rest.
David and Dan’s biggest piece of advice? Keep going. “Hang in there. Don’t give up. Ask for help,” David says. While no one knows what the future holds, we do know that this pandemic will eventually end, and the world needs small businesses to thrive if we want healthy, robust economies and communities. It may feel tough–perhaps impossible right now–but we’re rooting for you.
By Brooke Carey, Lead Storyteller
This post was adapted from “Leading Your Bridal Shop Through–and Beyond–COVID-19: Answers On Crisis Leadership and Dealing with the Pandemic,” part of the free Gravity Talks webinar program. For more information on past and upcoming webinars, visit www.gravitypayments.com/talks.