When life gives you lockdown: COVID-19’s creative entrepreneurs

Before applications opened for Paycheck Protection Program relief loans, our phones in the business banking office were ringing off the hook. We spoke with entrepreneurs and business owners who were concerned, even terrified, about their businesses surviving the lockdown. Three or four months prior, they had record sales and were thinking about expanding – and almost overnight they had to shut down.

It’s hard to overstate the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on Florida entrepreneurs. Without a solution, the businesses they had poured their lives and savings into were at risk of collapse.

But even as clients such as hair salons, tattoo parlors, restaurant dining rooms and live event venues closed, ingenuity blossomed – and people found new ways to be competitive. Our team sat down with business owners and did our best to encourage them to brainstorm ways to reinvent their companies.  What were the most creative and extreme ideas we could come up with to get through this?

Across the country, it has been inspiring to see entrepreneurs find outside-of-the-box ways to cope with COVID-19. In New York, a tattoo artist sold his tattoo designs online as art pieces instead of ink. A sound and lighting team, that staged conferences and concerts, rented a warehouse, built a set and then leased it out to companies to host virtual shareholder meetings, and other live events, safely.

In Orlando, one of my clients, a popular Mexican restaurant called Black Rooster Taqueria, invented a “margarita-gram” as a gift to a friend, or to thank a colleague, with a great drink delivered to their door. The idea took off. The restaurant generated plenty of sales and buzz – and, just as important, the margarita-gram led to a spike in demand for takeout and meal delivery for them.

A pet-grooming business followed what others had done and outfitted a van to visit clients’ homes for curbside grooming. Not only did they recoup a significant amount of their sales during the pandemic, but they also maintained client relationships. When lockdown measures eased, they were able to return to a storefront – but the van was so popular, they are still offering it at a premium price.

What’s the key to reinventing your business? Here are three places to start:

  • Don’t limit yourself. When you brainstorm, put everything on the table. It’s a time for generating as many ideas as possible: the crazier, the better. Assess your resources and find novel ways to put them to use. Determine new ways to serve existing clients. Study what your competitors are doing and invent a “better mousetrap.”
  • Bring everyone on board. No one knows your business as well as you do – except, sometimes, others on your team. With different roles and skill sets come different insights and perspectives. Ask your employees for their suggestions and you may start hearing ideas that never occurred to you.
  • Pick up the phone. After your brainstorming sessions, it’s time to put in the research. The last thing you want is to spend time, and money, planning your new venture only to discover that customers aren’t interested. Pick up the phone and call your clients, local businesses and others in your market. Ask if they would be interested in your concept, if it would be helpful and if they would consider buying or using it.

Creative entrepreneurship helps you stay connected with clients by reminding them that your product or service is resilient and essential – all while developing new revenue streams for the future. Adapting now isn’t just a way to get through COVID-19 – it’s a potential avenue for growth even after the pandemic passes.

Ted Sheppe is the executive vice president of commercial banking at Axiom Bank, a nationally chartered community bank headquartered in Maitland. He can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 407-732-5604.

 

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