It’s a scary time to be starting a business. But then, when isn’t? Whenever you start out on a new venture, there are hurdles to negotiate and prejudices to navigate. COVID-19 has magnified these, and thrown a couple of new challenges into the mix.
It’s how you face down these challenges that will define your real success in the world of business, whatever your business is in the new normal world in which we now live.
Challenge #1: You
The first challenge you must overcome is you. You must learn to break down other people’s perception of you, and invite them in to see who you really are.
I’m a woman of color who has worked in the construction industry for over 30 years. When I first started out, that was one big hurdle. Such a woman on a construction site was more likely to be a cleaner than a construction worker, never mind someone who builds super structures.
It’s not only color and gender that can determine other people’s first impressions of you. You might look young, or be short, or have tattoos on your face, or hold a host of other physical qualities that lead people’s unconscious bias. And I say qualities rather than traits, because that’s what they are – they are what helps to make you the terrific person you are.
You’ve got to know yourself to help others know you. It’s essential that you get comfortable with who you are, and what you value most. That’s going to help you build the relationships that will break down all these phony barriers that people don’t even realize they are putting up. If you don’t embrace yourself, how can you expect others to embrace you?
Challenge #2: Know what you don’t know and get out of the way
Here’s something else that my new entrepreneurial self suffered from, and it’s something that I witness every day in the new entrepreneurs I meet. It’s the feeling that you must be the one to do everything to succeed. That’s just not true. It took me a long time to understand to get out of the way when you don’t know what you’re doing.
The thing is this: you’re great at some things and not so good at others. Work with your strengths, and allow people to help you where you are weaker. You’ll build a bigger and better network that way. You’ll get things done faster and better. And you’ll learn from others, too.
Challenge #3: Lose the fear of failure
Entrepreneurs don’t fear failure. They expect it. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but entrepreneurs are learners, and we learn by failing. Of course, we want success first time every time (who doesn’t?), but this isn’t how the game works.
You’re not going to kick every field goal. But what you can do is understand what went wrong when you miss, so that when the next opportunity comes along, you’re better prepared. You have a better grasp of what you must do to achieve your goals.
Challenge #4: Review, learn, and adapt
You’ve got an idea for a business and you’ve put together a plan. You start out and all is going well. Then you hit a roadblock – one that your plan didn’t foresee. You’re so fixed on achieving your goal the way you set out to do it, that you waste time and effort (and maybe money) on trying to drive through that roadblock.
Sometimes – in fact, usually – a roadblock is an immovable object. You need to alter course, try something new, or do something different. So what? It doesn’t mean you won’t achieve your goals. It just means that you may have to wait a little longer, that’s all. And this is an experience you learn from, so next time you’re better prepared.
This new normal is likely to be a beast that changes its shape daily. And if not daily, then pretty damn often. This means that you’ll need to switch things up quickly. You’ll need to have the agility to pivot on a dime.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t make your plans too rigid. Be flexible and adaptable to all that is happening around you, and don’t get so fixed on a single route to your goal that you see no other path to it. Don’t be the captain of the Titanic – you’re way better than that.
Challenge #5: How do you lead post COVID?
Whether it’s your team or a customer who you’re working with, the one thing that is certain right now is the uncertainty. People’s world’s have been turned upside down. To lead through this, how you communicate is going to be key.
You’re going to need to help others differentiate between fact and fiction – what is known and what is misleading half-truths and gossip. You’ll need to be transparent and reliable, and you’ll also need to inject a bucketful of empathy. There will be times when you become counselor – you’re going to need to brush up on those listening skills.
You’re also going to be communicating through many channels – face-to-face (hey, don’t forget that social distancing), via email, instant messengers, and through video tech. Your challenge here is to keep your message on point and human – and to keep people connected.
Finally, be honest. Always be honest. If you don’t know, don’t pretend you do. Tell people what you do know. If they have a question you can’t answer, don’t bluff your way through it. Say, “Hey, I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll try to find out for you.” Then follow up on your promise.
Here’s what I know
These are unprecedented times, and there are new human challenges that you’ll need to overcome as an entrepreneur.
Customers are going to be wary of new businesses. People are going to be fearful. If you get the human side of your entrepreneurship right, you’ll successfully navigate the challenges you face, and you’ll become trusted as a leader and business partner.
As you mature as an entrepreneur, you will learn more about yourself. By continually learning you’ll increase your self-confidence, and that instils trust and confidence of others in you. You’ll learn your strengths and weaknesses, form mutually beneficial alliances, and become a leader whose focus is on the big picture. And you’ll reap the rewards of all your effort, adaptability, thirst for knowledge, and of human leadership skills. You’ll build a business that is sustainable no matter what this world throws at it.
What’s your take? What do you think the biggest challenge will be as we exit the lockdown and enter the post COVID new normal? Let me know in the comments below - I’m really interested to your thoughts.