“Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first 4 hours sharpening the axe”– Abraham Lincoln
This quote of Lincoln’s resonates with me as few others have. Preparing. Learning. Practicing. Improving. Before you tackle the task at hand. You have a much greater chance of success. Or conversely, you can leap right in and work ridiculous hours, slaving away, putting out fires when and as they pop up, managing ‘on the fly’ as your mind and body toils under the strain. Sadly, no matter how much effort you put in, or hours you commit, if your axe is blunt, you’re in for a world of hurt and suffering. And disappointment.
We’ve arrived at a time where the Australian SMB sector is at a crossroads. Many will argue differently, however, most SMBs who have felt the C-19 furnace and witnessed their revenues drop to dire levels, have plenty of options available to then; though only a handful are realistic (assuming that present cash levels are as low as the statistics say for most SMBs):
1 – BAU. Continue on as you are, clinging to the hope that government restrictions will be lifted very soon, and things will return to normal. Survival of the fittest?
2 – Diversify. Pivoting your SMB and offer products or services outside of your core BAU. Not an easy task as time is of the essence. Ideally, serious planning should be taken to determine if indeed the pivot can be successful. Further, cash reserves could be exhausted at an unsustainable rate
3 – Close Shop. There is no shame in holding up the white flag and calling it a day. Maybe plan to fight again once normality wanders back into the light of day
4 – Sell up. Not an easy task in this climate, but certainly an option. If the ‘For Sale’ sign doesn’t generate any calls, then investigate partnering with other SMBs. Many are in a similar position…
5 – Sharpen your Axe. Mothball the business down to its bare essential costs. Pare it back as much as you can. Keep the heart beating, but as faintly as possible. Now use your time wisely and sharpen your axe. Prepare. Research. Practice. Test ideas. Improve.
Yes, I realise there are many other options available to SMBs during this C-19 period, but I also believe that most SMBs only have a handful of realistic and viable options open to them. Few SMBs have that glorified MBA piece of paper and can espouse a myriad of theoretical ways to stay alive in times of crisis. But let’s face it, few MBA Grads could ever hope to keep an SMB afloat with one to two months cash reserves. All the theories in the world won’t help climb that mountain.
For SMBs who can, I’d like you to spend a few hours at least mulling over the idea of ‘Sharpening your Axe’. Consider mothballing as much of your business as you can. Turn out as many lights as possible. Bring your SMBs heartbeat as low and slow as you possibly can. Do just enough to keep yourself alive, but not alarmed.
Now: start sharpening your axe.
How can your business be more resilient when dark times hurl misery aplenty at you?
What can be done to strengthen your service and products?
Why not challenge every aspect of your business and processes? Why has it ‘always been done this way’?
Who can help you, once the smoke clears, take your business to an entirely new level?
What waste can be eliminated, or at least stripped back?
How can I improve my SMB from what is once was? How can I better my competitors?
Customers are King, right? How can I look after mine even better?
Sharpening your axe can take many different forms, for many different SMBs. However, think about the repercussions if you don’t at least consider this option. Best case, your SMB crawls through this battle and makes it to the other side: bloodied, weakened and disoriented. What now? Have you thought about the challenges that lie ahead, even if were able to click our fingers today and everything went back to ‘normal’? Even if that were possible, what we’re going to see is an undetermined period of major uncertainty as SMBs attempt to find their place in the post C-19 world. And this will take some time.
By sharpening your axe during C-19, you’ll be giving your SMB the strength, skills, and knowledge to scale quickly in the post C-19 world. You’ll be able to chop that tree down far more effectively and efficiently than those that choose to continue with the status quo. You’ll be far more prepared to scale and grow as the economic climate evolves to whatever it will look like once C-19 has been neutralised.
If you decide this option is something you’d lie to seriously consider, I’d love to hear from you and maybe we can throw some ideas around.