One of the many tragic outcomes of COVID-19 is the plight of small businesses and the question of how they will survive the restrictions brought about by social distancing. A recent survey from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that 43 percent of small businesses are closed due to the pandemic (survey released in April); a staggering number when you consider that small businesses employ about 50 percent of workers in the U.S. While some small businesses like restaurants or retail shops have managed to shift their customer base to online sales or pickup and delivery, the answers are not as obvious for other brick-and-mortars who sell services and have traditionally depended on physical customer interaction.
However, people are resilient and small business owners are particularly dedicated to making the seemingly impossible into reality; the entrepreneurial spirit can foster a lot of transformation and adaptation, but sometimes a little help and additional direction for creative problem solving is also needed.
No one knows this better than Whitney A. White. An entrepreneur and creator of the transformational coaching program, Take Back Your Time, White has found herself in the trenches of her community, working with local businesses to keep them from becoming part of this statistic.
White has been particularly focused and passionate about working with small businesses that have traditionally depended on a brick-and-mortar presence and revenue generated by customers walking through their doors. How do you adapt your offering to accommodate the new norm when your business model has to change?
White’s focus on achieving balance to increase efficiency and effectiveness is the foundation for Take Back Your Time, as well as for her business innovation practice, and this is still her core message to individuals and businesses, with the added focus of navigating logistical challenges presented by COVID-19. White maintains that confronting existing efficiency problems is relevant because the pandemic has acted as a magnifying glass, amplifying the core issues of lack of integration and time and relationship management, which she has identified as problematic in many businesses and lives. According to White, the changes businesses and individuals have been forced to adopt can be seen as opportunities.
“Pivot” is a word that has risen in usage over the past few months when addressing this problem, but you won’t hear White describe it as a panacea. She believes much of the discussion around “pivoting” can be misleading, implying a foundational change when for many businesses the essence of who they are and the needs they address may remain unchanged. Instead, she encourages her clients to adopt thinking that keeps their business’s core values at its center. “Crisis management is not pivoting,” White says. “Saying, in a panic, ‘We’re in a pandemic and we have to do certain things’ is not the same as asking, ‘What is working in our business? What opportunities exist and how can we align ourselves with them in order to not just stay afloat, but thrive?’” Even in the midst of survival mode, the right question is still what it’s always been; “What’s my core value proposition? If I can’t do that in person, how do I continue to speak to that need?”
White has been helping many small businesses in her community to ask and answer these questions. Digging deeper, she has guided them in finding original solutions, tailored to their individual situations that have not only led to stemming short-term revenue loss, but also creating new ways to express their business’s purpose. As a result, they’ve not only retained customers, but gained a new avenue to showcase what they offer.
White’s work encompasses a spectrum of entrepreneurs and business leaders, but some of the small businesses she has helped are representative of the most difficult challenges felt by many across the country. What do you do when you are a yoga studio and you depend on people attending classes and creating a sense of community for members? White points out that anyone in the age of YouTube can workout for free in a multitude of ways online, so this is not a simple “pivot” and change of venue, it’s a way to continue to provide the real value that members of this studio are getting; the human connection. White helped the studio create new online offerings, anchored on one of the most important aspects of their business – community – to keep their members engaged. Members not only have the ability to take a yoga class online, but new offerings now include guided group meditation with studio leaders, as well as interaction with other members to share how they were dealing with things. Facilitation by a leader from the studio meant that members could see familiar faces, continue to connect in meaningful ways and provide continuity.
White is also working with a massage therapist and aesthetician whose main source of income pre-COVID-19 was providing facials and massages. White proposed that she offer virtual consultations to continue providing the value of evaluating clients’ needs and offering expertise in the form of recommendations. Similar to telemedicine, where medical professionals diagnose non-critical patients remotely, she conducts “virtual skin triage” by talking with the client about issues, their current skin care routine, and after observation and communication, offers specific recommendations for them. A three-month program with regular check-ins and follow up recommendations was developed, with the result of an uptick in product sales. These customers can receive no contact delivery and work on their skin’s health while in quarantine.
“When we first discussed this,” White reports, “She had a belief that no one was prioritizing skin care right now. I quickly disabused her of that idea. Not only is it a routine that people continue, all of the video calls happening right now have given her customers a chance to look at their own skin more often, through the front facing Zoom camera! People are absolutely concerned about their skin.” These product innovations White has helped to grow have provided a way for her client to stay engaged as well as further develop relationships based on her expertise, that can carry over into post-COVID-19 business.
It’s a progression White believes is available and accessible for many businesses, if they’re willing to think outside of the box.
“The current situation is enabling people to see with clear eyes what issues exist,” says White. “There are all kinds of opportunities to see what is not working in your business, and even improve on what may have been happening before. There’s space now to try new things; we can experiment. Whether it’s trying new things with teams or enabling leaders to do things they were holding back on before, like offering remote work.”
“The thing now is to find how to optimize this and harness it, for your individual situation, for a changing world.”
The results that White has helped her clients achieve prove that finding the core value proposition of a small business and utilizing technology to continue to offer that to customers is a strategy that offers not only hope for the future of entrepreneurs and local economic ecosystems, but encouragement that a new normal can also offer new opportunities.
You can learn more about Whitney A. White and Take Back Your Time at whitneyawhite.com