Many businesses have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. If you operate in the travel, hospitality or entertainment sectors then you are likely facing a sudden and dramatic drop in revenue. With social distancing guidelines likely to be in place for months, many of you may be thinking about a plan B – pivoting your business to change what you do for a temporary period.
Drinks company BrewDog made headlines recently when it announced it was switching some of its production line in Aberdeenshire from brewing alcohol to making hand sanitiser. In Brewdog’s case, it may not actively be seeking a profit, but the company isn’t alone in the basic idea. Many others are considering what goods their production lines could be retooled to produce.
Businesses in the service industries are also considering what other skills employees could start using as traditional sales dwindle for now.
If you’re considering a pivot, then it’s worth thinking through a few steps first. Sometimes the change to a new product or sales line involves investing in new equipment or supplies. It may also require retraining staff and finding new buyers for your new product.
We’ve put together a range of advice from experts and businesses who’ve been through this journey for you.
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5 things you can do (right now) if you’re thinking about a pivot
(1) Don’t rush into anything
A lot of pivots need investment to execute. Just like you did when you started your business originally, you need some confidence that the new product or service you are pivoting to has a market. Talk through your idea with people you trust and consider how you could run a small trial initially before committing. You should also go in with a clear idea of whether this is a short-term pivot during the coronavirus outbreak, or longer term.
(2) Think digital
The sudden shift to working from home and reduced social contact has seen mass take-up of online products and services. While this won’t work for every business, if you haven’t set up a strong online presence before, now is the time to do so. You could choose to sell your product direct, or through a site like Amazon or eBay. The government is trying to help this shift as well, relaxing the rules on restaurants for example by allowing more to sell takeaway food which can be ordered through apps like Deliveroo or Just Eat.
(3) Get creative with what you’ve already got
Look at sectors of the economy that are still doing well during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s possible that your business already has something of value to one of those sectors that you’ve not previously considered. Storage space might be one example. With an increase in food production and distribution to keep supermarket shelves stocked, some companies may be looking to source extra storage space on a short-term basis. If you have storage or warehouse facilities, you might be able to help.
(4) Think whether your pivot could help the national cause
As the BrewDog hand sanitiser example above highlighted, there has been a surge in demand for previously mundane products. The government, local authorities, emergency services, charities and other support organisations are all looking for help and resources during this outbreak. If you can pivot to producing a good or service for one of these, it may provide you with a solid temporary market.
(5) Recognise that pivots are quite normal, not an exception reserved for a crisis
According to research by the American software entrepreneur Mitch Kapor, as many as 20 per cent of businesses undergo a pivot at some point in the lifetime of the company. While the coronavirus crisis has made things far more urgent for many, this suggests that making a pivot is a normal exercise that can be achieved with success, no matter when it happens.
Pivoting your business: where to get more advice before you do
Lots of companies have made pivots in the past, which means there are lots of examples and inspiration out there to follow. We’ve collated a few of the best and most recent below. We’ve also added some advice and ideas for you to consider.
Want some great examples of businesses who’ve made a pivot?
Business broadcaster CNBC published a list of businesses which successfully pivoted in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. Covering everything from gourmet food companies changing product line-ups to artists producing designer face masks, this is good inspiration.
Want a checklist of things to consider if you’re going to start selling online?
This UK government list contains five important pieces of advice if you’re going to start selling your products online as a result of coronavirus. It also provides good advice on how to sell your product or service internationally to the USA – the world’s largest ecommerce market. There’s another good guide on digital selling on smallbusiness.co.uk as well.
Want to read an in-depth report on British businesses making a pivot?
Global hygiene, health and nutrition company Rockitt Benckiser produced this in-depth pivoting your business report in conjunction with Enterprise Nation. It looked at business attitudes towards pivoting and in particular at the idea of partnering with another business when doing this.
Want to read about several British businesses who’ve made pivots in tough times?
The Federation of Small Business’ in-house magazine, First Voice, profiled several businesses which faced potentially fatal situations last year. While none of these related to a virus outbreak, they do provide plenty of inspiring advice on how to go through the process of making a pivot – and what to expect to find as you do so. There are also some good examples from the USA in this New York Times article.
Want four tips on what to consider about you and your team when making a pivot?
A big part of a successful pivot is about mindset and an article from Inc.com covers a lot of the mental challenges you’ll need to overcome as you pivot in a short space of time. There’s more on the mindset needed in this Forbes article as well.
Want to know how to get started selling your products on Amazon?
Amazon has produced a good how-to starters guide that gives what you need to get going if you’ve never done this before. There are also good guides from eBay and Shopify, which helps you set up your own ecommerce website using the company’s services for a monthly fee.