I was living in Vancouver and running my marketing company LeClair Media. For various reasons I had decided to move back to Saskatchewan around the beginning of the pandemic. I recognized quite quickly in advance that the businesses struggling during the pandemic were the businesses that normally would need marketing services. Immediately from that point on I knew for at least a year or more the business environment would be vastly different.
Perhaps in feeling the pressure of the pandemic scenario and extra time spent inside was reason to look for additional opportunities. For many years working at a marketing agency and with my marketing company I’ve always felt like the one to be helping other businesses. If I was trusted amongst many other business owners, I thought why market myself by starting my own brand.
After considerable research, I decided upon coffee. Coffee is a massive market and relatable to nearly everyone. I realized there were some new concepts in the industry that were not being done. After many coffee infused ideation sessions I came up with my new brand LeClair Organics and three new products.
We offer Liberica Coffee, Racemosa Coffee and a coffee berry tea (cascara tea). My Liberica Coffee(coffea liberica),the third species of coffee is now available to Canada. Coffee is made up of approximately 75% Arabica(coffea arabica) and 25% Robusta(coffea canephora). We are Liberica, a fraction of the last 1 percent of coffee, a completely unique plant species. Liberica is a large tree with leaves the size of an 8 ½ by 11 inch sheet of paper, may grow to 15 meters tall and has berries the size of a small apricot. The beans themselves are a signature teardrop shape and approximately 1/3 larger than an Arabica. On the other hand Arabica is a small bush growing usually not much taller than a person. As well we have Racemosa coffee (coffea racemosa). Also a unique plant species, technically the rarest species of coffee in production growing only in a 150 square KM radius.
Equally as exciting is our upcycled coffee berry tea. The berry is usually still removed from the bean and discarded in coffee production. However the berry itself is as valuable as the bean in dry weight. Therefore a major upcycle opportunity and revenue increase potential for farmers. Many may drink coffee every day yet don’t realize that the beans come from a consumable vibrant red berry.
5 Pandemic Business Pivot Tips
I’ve come up with five topics regarding how to pivot in business, all of which quite relatable to my personal experience.
I’d like to think rather we should always have the pivot mindset of quick adaptability. Consider that there are already plenty of natural disasters, market changes, new technologies, or new business competition which can change the business landscape in an instant. These scenarios are equally as real, but perhaps simply not as widespread as the pandemic. We know these scenarios are going to happen, it is a question of “when”, not “if” and therefore how may we plan or adapt for such occurrences in business terms.
Business pivots, innovation and new businesses are currently arising at an unprecedented rate. To highlight the positive there are many inspiring and innovative business pivot stories. What if we placed such urgency towards adaptation under normal circumstances or “business as usual”. Realize this pandemic is not a not a limiting factor in taking action!
Strengthen And Leverage Your Core Competencies
Review the core competencies of the company or yourself as an individual. Your core competencies and values are your greatest strengths that are not easily replicated. The way in which you apply them are very flexible to change. Examples of core competencies may be skills or client relationships. For example, with myself I started a new brand leveraging my competitive edge of marketing experience.
Realize that products, services and markets always change and industries can become obsolete. Technology and patents will always be replaced, copied and reverse engineered. Duly noted, pandemics can be a contributing factor of change as well. A focus on products, services and technologies may not be sustainable in a rapid changing environment. Rather focus on core competencies, the mindset of continuous innovation/speed of adaptability, strengthening human talents and long term client relationships.
Leveraging the core competency of skills or human talent is a major opportunity. For myself specifically, my core strengths revolved around marketing. I looked beyond the current status of my marketing services offerings and thought how best to utilize these skills moving forward in an abrupt market change. Leveraging skills in food photography and lifestyle photography and working previously with CPG brands guided me more specifically into the direction of the coffee and consumer product avenue. This also lead into expanding upon equipment in regards to photography and video production. Of course with less in person social interaction, the trend is to move towards digital and video interaction
Your relationships and existing clients whom have strong brand loyalty are another major core competency. Markets, products and services will change, but long term relationships remain through continual trust and loyalty. Leveraging your client list or key accounts to test new revenue models or products is always a great way to begin. These are people whom likely would trust the quality of any new product or service you may introduce to them. I’ve definitely tried new creative avenues and confidence boosting opportunities with friends and family business owners before moving to others.
Survival Mode & Bootstrapping
In many cases the pandemic would mean the make or break of businesses on a month to month basis. Therefore forcing established businesses to go back into the intense startup company mentality or a pandemic survival mode.
The bootstrap mindset is common amongst startup companies. I really think this mindset has valuable lessons for all sizes of business and industries. Essentially bootstrapping means starting from the ground up, relying on “sweat equity” and limited current resources for organic growth. It can be easy to become complacent when you have the optimal resources at your disposal. The bootstrap mindset brings the advantage of resourceful and economical thinking. Here are a few examples that are valuable to anyone with even little to no resources:
- Phone calls, emails, DM’s are free. Coffee walks or dinner talks are also quite economical. No matter the industry or role, you are always in the business of sales, marketing and relationship building. This is not limitations during the COVID scenario. The relationships and connections that you are able to still make are invaluable.
- Learning is free. Take the extra time during the pandemic to enhance your skills and core competencies. Become the best in your particular niche. Many times as an entrepreneur you take on many hats and do not have the resources to hire a specialist in the particular needed field. So get used to learning many various avenues of business. Of course as mentioned, the extra time inside for me meant many hours of reading and researching new business opportunities and planning this out.
- Sweat equity and putting the extra hours is free. Quite simply you may have to work all that much harder to make it to the next step of survival. Consider what you have immediately with limited resources to ensure the next 1-3 months you are going to survive. Focus on direct revenue generating activities.
- Producing quality work and great customer service is free. A strength of smaller organizations usually is more one to one client interaction, versus larger corporations tend to focus on cost savings at high volume. Take the extra time to ensure the utmost quality of interactions and end result.
Various forms of capital and long term growth investing
A basic investment strategy is to consider long term positive growth versus short term negative fluctuations. Over the course of many years, the pandemic will be considered a fluctuation of the market and we will get back to business as usual.
There are many strategies to mitigate short term fluctuations in the market. If you look at any investment portfolio strategy they will utilize many techniques to "diversify your portfolio" and ensure long term growth.
The pandemic is hitting many quite hard financially and many businesses closing. What I am suggesting is to diversify your portfolio by consider other forms of capital outside of your financial capital. Other forms of capital include intellectual capital, social capital or human capital.
The best investment is usually to Invest in yourself, your knowledge your skills. Many looked into Netflix series when there were lockdowns, meanwhile I decided that this is the time for change and make something happen. It was actually the ideal scenario to remove distractions and essentially have complete focus. As mentioned, the businesses that are clients were the ones struggling. The financial capital was going to change per pandemic conditions, but the marketing skillset that I have is applicable to all industries. So of course, leveraging my skills as a marketer to my own brand was a key point to pivot.
The restaurant industry has been hit very hard in particular. Mastery of skills will remain regardless of the financial capital at risk. An executive chef and restaurant owner have the same abilities and components to re-open and adapt their restaurants regardless of the pandemic outcome.
Social capital is a tangible resource which may be in forms such as social media, current customer/client base, brand loyalty, personal relationships, partnerships, or other resources regarding social relationships. As a marketer there are countless examples of how to use social capital in social media. Examples may include “influencers” or industry experts whom are people of influence. The power of ones personal brand and following are known directly to bring ROI from a marketing perspective. On the largest scale we even see celebrity status “social capital” making strides in the business world. Examples include Ryan Reynolds and Aviation Gin Selling for $610 million as well as George Clooney selling Casamigos for nearly $1 billion.
A business with an exceptional long history may be at a loss or even out of business during the pandemic. However the client base, social media and relationships can remain loyal to your overall purpose and vision. Leveraging the social capital is therefore vital in possible pivot opportunities or a reset when the market gets back to normal. As well, consider that during the down times of the pandemic there may be less financial transactions, however this does not limit the promotion and relationships you may build during that time. Investing in social capital during down times will ideally bring clients and revenue in the longer term.
The pandemic can easily create an uncomfortable feeling due to uncertainty and helplessness of the uncontrollable external scenario. In overcoming pandemic business challenges or regarding pivoting towards a new avenue of business, similar uncomfortable feelings arise. Arguably, feeling uncomfortable on a regular basis is an inevitable part of entrepreneurship during “business as usual” times. In order to grow and pivot to new scenarios, you need to continually push beyond current boundaries and thought processes. Seeking utmost quality is important, however a perfectionist mindset can actually be detrimental, leading towards safe choices and comfortable decisions. It is a form of confidence to move forward with imperfections, risks and unknowns which make you feel uncomfortable. Identify there is always room for growth and recognize it’s ok to feel overwhelmed.
Problem is Opportunity in Business
“Problem is opportunity” seems like a simple concept but it can be very easy to be influenced by the negative aspects of the scenario. I would also argue that even the biggest of problems can be the biggest of opportunity. So in relation to the current state of pandemic, I think this mindset is very important to have.
For example, despite market downturn in many areas, some industries are actually growing. It appears that for myself the trend in ecommerce purchases has become a major positive factor! Another example from myself is the coffee berry product story. The coffee berry in dry weight, can be as valuable as the bean itself! Yet currently the berry is being discarded as garbage and simply accumulated into piles. It doesn’t compose easily as the small amount of caffeine is actually kills any beneficial decomposing creatures. With relatively minor adjustments in current processing methods we create a flavourful tea while also creating market demand in Canada. Despite the popularity of coffee beans, the berry is a very underdeveloped market across Canada. The long term vision is to devise a proven return on investment per acre and percentage revenue increase per acre. Therefore proving scalable transformative change with real data. Coffee production provides jobs for 125 million people. Coffee is grown on 12.5 million farms worldwide, of which 67–80 percent are smallholder farms. There is large potential, however we are glad to see immediate benefits on the small scale as we grow. So overall, what was previously thought of as problematic garbage, actually has potential for widespread positive change with ongoing traction.
The lowest of the lows may provide an intense changes of perspectives. It may just be the extra push towards a direction in which you would not otherwise chosen. Focusing on the problems and negatives will easily run you down. I've often heard "fail fast and fail forward". You are never really failing, it is all opportunity for learning. Whatever happened, it happened for a specific reason. Identify what is not working and move on. And in business, usually speed does matter. In regards to the pandemic a heightened sense of uncertainty and negativity is bound to arrive more frequently.
I conclusion I’d like to think there are many positives amongst the recent pandemic adversity. Numerically 97.9 percent
(Per 2017 Stats Canada) of registered Canadian businesses are small businesses of 1-99 employees. Local businesses adapting to adversity successfully therefore has immediately and immense effect on surrounding communities. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are exceptional important as leaders for change in their respective industries.
As well in noticing the exceptionally fast acting adaptation and successes amongst adversity, perhaps these are actually flexible strategies we should look to maintain during our “business as usual” times.