Business Planning for Today—and for the Future—During COVID-19

COVID-19 is no longer breaking news. In fact, for most of us in the United States, we’ve been bunkered in place, working from home, and trying to find some sense of temporary normal since mid-March. But as we keep working to understand what’s happening today, organizations need to be planning for the current situation and the near future, because the need—and opportunity—is substantial.

For the most part, organizations have migrated to tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Meets, Zoom, Skype, Slack, and countless others to conduct online what was previously done face-to-face. And so far, organizations have found various levels of success adopting these tools into their new-normal for business operations. Organizations have also increased their communications both internally and externally to share critical information as events unfold and the situation evolves.

Rather than waiting for this current-normal to end, let’s identify ways to function and succeed during the pandemic and prepare for whatever may follow.

A few even recognized a precious opportunity in this situation; the opportunity of time.

Every organization should be using this period to re-imagine business opportunities and evaluate new ideas that could take operations into new directions or optimize existing processes.

So what is next? Ultimately no one knows how long this phase of the COVID-19 outbreak will last. But we’d like you to consider this: Rather than waiting for this current-normal to end, let’s identify ways to function and succeed during the pandemic and prepare for whatever may follow.

What comes next for your organization will be largely determined by what it chooses to do today. To some extent, organizations can use planning, intention, and action to shape their tomorrow.

In fact, those who wait too long to proceed may find themselves behind.

Therefore, now is the time to put your focus on the current and the next phase of business needs. This includes the obvious needs, such as web design and digital marketing, but there are additional needs that go much deeper and are far different than anything most organizations have faced before. They cut to the core of your branding, your empathy, and your promise to team members, customers, and the community.

This gets to the root of how COVID-19 affects the foundations of your business. Some, such as restaurants, grocery stores, delivery services, and others, were forced to figure things out right away. In doing so, they had their struggles and successes. Other organizations have been given the gift of time to adjust. But the clock is ticking.

Meet Your New and Quickly Changing Customer

You know the demographics of your audience, and if you are a savvy marketer, you’ve even created personas. But those personas are no longer accurate in an era of COVID-19.

The shift to working from home has changed the needs and the situation of your audience personas. How they work, how they communicate, how they are influenced, and who makes decisions might all be new.

Sarah the CEO still has her job, but her responsibilities and focus have likely changed. As is the case with Danny the Distributer, Annie the Architect, Farah the First-Time Homebuyer, Steve the CISO, and so on. Their worlds have changed, your personas need to detect and then reflect this understanding.

This will not be business as usual. It will be business as the new usual—at least for a while.

The times are moving fast, but your organization will need to move one step faster to understand how your audience personas have evolved. This is a moment when thinking should be shaped as much by empathy and understanding as it was previously upon function and details.

No one likes change, especially when it’s forced upon them. Take this perspective into account and apply it to your audience persona strategy.

Seek to understand how content use has changed. How have their social media interactions adjusted? How have their situational needs migrated? How are they emotionally impacted (are they functioning from a place of fear, uncertainty, optimism, confidence, etc.)? Ultimately, ask how your organization can tailor its communications, offerings, and interactions to address the pandemic-induced changes.

This will not be business as usual. It will be business as the new usual—at least for a while.

If You’re Not Busy, Prepare to Be Busy

This COVID-19 pandemic has impacted organizations differently. What’s devastating to the bottom line for some has been a boom for others. Case and point, if you make hand sanitizer, business is good. If you are in the travel industry, business is suffering. While these represent the outer extremes, it’s fair to say that every organization’s customer engagement has been impacted, most often for the worse. However, we see a strong opportunity on the horizon.

When social distancing guidelines are lifted, or lessened, people and businesses alike will be eager to get out and make up for the lost time. Few, if anyone, will be content to sit around. There will be an eagerness for big plans, big ideas, and big endeavors.

This is an opportunity that you can prepare and plan for right now.

While certain areas are likely to handle things differently, it’s expected that for most, reopening will occur in phases as recommended by the federal government. As each phase is achieved and more things open, many people will be excited to go places, start projects, engage in learning, and do everything they can’t do right now. By planning ahead, your organization can prepare messages to send out the moment the social distancing guidelines and best practices change. That alone can put you a step ahead.

Even better, if an upcoming end date is announced, you can begin pre-feeding your audience with information about what you’ll have available, your project capacity, how things will work with your organization, and numerous other bits of information that will set the table and build interest in interacting.

However, when the reopening occurs, whatever the phases and potential re-closures could be, make plans (plan A, B, C, and D) for the various scenarios. Then prepare your messages and strategy to meet the needs of the moment.

There Will Be a Lot to Share in a Post-Social-Distancing World

People sort of know what to expect right now, but all of this will change. And then, change again.

When social distancing guidelines are lifted, it won’t be business as usual. There will be a learning curve for customers and staff.

It’s likely some people will be leery about entering the public again. Some organizations may choose to keep certain sanitary or distancing practices in place. Perhaps hours of operation, security, delivery, or product availability will be affected.

Whatever the case, your organization will benefit by creating a plan for what is going to happen and how you will share that information internally and externally. This can be accomplished in a number of ways using the web, email, text, inter-office communication tools, newsletters, direct email, digital marketing media, broadcast media, podcasts, and more. Olive & Company can help you align the message with the situation and find the best avenue for distribution.

When COVID-19 Ends, the Chance to Help Continues

Real damage has been done by the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects will continue to be felt for a very long time. From health to financial issues, people everywhere will be changed. Organizations should be empathetic to this fact and understand a person’s emotional and economic state.

People will need information, and not just about your organization, but about everything. Of course, it is not your duty to notify everyone about everything, but it will be a time to communicate a larger message and broader content.

From health to financial issues, people everywhere will be changed. Organizations should be empathetic to this fact and understand a person’s emotional and economic state.

Consider who your audience includes. Take into account current customers, prospective customers, and past customers. Then add employees and new applicants. Expand this to encompass vendors and professional partners. Think of everyone you interact with.

Now, determine the things they will need to know as well as the things they’d appreciate knowing. Are there travel limitations around your office or limited building access that you should inform them about? Do you have insights on business loan programs or other operations advice you could share? Is there confusion about what services or partners in a supply chain are open or closed? These are all good considerations on the macro level, but also consider the one-on-one communications.

Is a past contact now looking for new employment? Keep them in the loop with opportunities and openings. Could someone use a recommendation on LinkedIn or other support? Offer it without being asked. The little moments right now will have a big impact on these professional relationships. What you do for people today will likely be appreciated for the duration of their careers.

Your staff will also be going through a major adjustment—again.

You may want to look at adding services, resources, and support for them to re-adjust to the office space. Internal communication will be more critical than ever. The reopening will not necessarily mean going back to normal. It’s about creating the new normal. It’s time to move forward with what’s next. And you can foster this mindset and shared vision if you frame the moment and message correctly.

It’s also possible that some office protocols or regulations will have changed. Be clear about your communications. You may also have to increase the frequency of content. People will crave understanding and clarity.

Another aspect to consider is your neighbors. Organizations are often the stewards of their community’s well being. While assessing how to create a welcoming environment inside your walls, look for needs in the community that surrounds you. Seek ways to get your team involved in helping out. Everyone will want to lend a hand to get our nation moving again. This isn’t just good for those you help, it will be beneficial in shaping how your current and potential staff and clients view your organization. This is a time to continue being—or become—a leader.

Our Best Advice Is to Talk

We could fill a book with thoughts, ideas, and issues that are worth considering or addressing. But you can’t do it all, nor do you need to do it all.

This is the moment we should talk about your organization’s specific situation and identify the right opportunities.

Olive & Company is already looking ahead at what’s to come with clients, and we’d love to do the same with you. The sun will come out tomorrow, things will open up, and as the adage goes, opportunities wait for no one. This is the time to be proactive, be positive, and prepare for the needs and the opportunities that exist in the very near future. We’re excited to be part of making things feel right again. Let’s connect and get your organization moving forward.