What now? A most pressing question, if ever there was one. Even more so for individuals and brands that just a handful of weeks ago were putting the finishing touches on months (and possibly years) of tireless work to unveil a new business to the world. No amount of mentorship, reading, podcast-listening, or research could have prepared them (or any of us, really) for what March was going to launch our way.
Much of our furrowed-brow anxiety is rooted in the fact that there are no clear answers and certainty on how long this situation is going to last, and what the world is going to look like once we shift gears globally. Quite simply, no one has been here before, so at this stage, it’s anyone’s guess. For new business owners who have yet to even open their doors for the first time, this sudden U-turn can prove to be discouraging at the very least. With fear dominating headlines across every continent, it is easy for most new businesses on the verge of launching to stop planning any steps forward and to stall while sitting and hand-wringing in despair.
The fact is, however, that shaping any business decision on the basis of fear is never a constructive strategy. This always holds true, regardless of whether it is a pandemic or a recession (or both, as we are facing presently) that suddenly changes the context in which you are looking to launch your business within. Fear clouds judgment and leads to rushed strategies that can potentially dismantle previously calibrated decisions in just moments. Yes, the current situation is turbulent, and not only in the business world, but that should not trigger knee-jerk reactions just because everyone else is running around in headless-chicken mode as the house is, figuratively speaking, on fire.
So once the fear threshold is crossed and the decision as to whether to launch is looked at squarely in the eye, how is an answer to be reached? There is no cookie-cutter strategy to apply to this question, and each business owner will have to consider subjective elements that are unique to their own products or services. Nevertheless, there are distinct parameters between which all brands and individuals about to start operating for business will be taking their decisions from, unique to these extraordinary times.
Consumers have changed. Should you?
It is clear that even if self-isolation and quarantine restrictions are gradually lifted in the weeks and months ahead, the psychological impact of what we are currently experiencing will continue to affect our daily interactions and mindset for much longer. Such drastic changes in daily routines have already heavily impacted consumer patterns, and the longer this disruption prevails, the more marked the difference in consumer behaviour will be compared to pre-pandemic times. Consequently, any new business owner who is now in the pre-launch phase has to recognise that the behaviour of its end consumer has significantly changed. This holds true regardless of industry — the fact is, as consumers and as a collective, we are no longer buying the way we did, and this behavioural change is set to stay.
Initial surveys and reports suggest that mass consumer culture will be abandoned in favour of a more conscientious form of spending money, where individuals will be less inclined to mindlessly shop — not only because financial resources will continue to be prioritised towards sustaining essential needs, but also because consumers’ values will have shifted radically. Although this will not see a total eradication of unethical, environmentally damaging businesses in the short-term, futurist trend forecaster Li Edeelkort strongly believes that at the very least, this will force us all to slow down and reassess whether our old ways and systems really were better that those that we could potentially create and implement once the lockdown provisions are lifted.
Photo of Li Edeelkort, futurist trend forecaster
For businesses that are considering launching in these times, this raises the all-important question — are you planning to offer a product or service that will match the altered demands of the new consumer, or is the core intention of your business solely to maximise profits hard and fast? Consumers’ preference for purpose-driven brands already began emerging several years back, as this study showed, and in the post-pandemic landscape, it’s a behaviour that is expected to rise.
Making a positive impact while doing business will become more and more adopted and we will see more mindful and caring brands. I hope once this is over the world will become a better place for all of us — to live, to work, to play and to care more about each other and about our planet.
— Farshad Kazemian, The Ethical Butcher
Ultimately, brands that genuinely care and build positive impact into their business models are the ones which are set to dominate the landscape moving forward.
So if, as a business owner on the verge of launching, you are sitting uncomfortably with the prospect of a new consumer emerging, is a pivot worth considering?
Left: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash / Right: Photo by The Ethical Butcher
The world is not ending. It’s shifting.
Business is still happening, despite economic figures being much lower than what had been predicted earlier this year, and funding rounds for startups having plummeted by over 22%. Deals are still being brokered, and money is still changing hands. The media is filled with story upon story of how current businesses have completely changed their direction practically overnight, to fit the radically different demand that the pandemic has created. Countless restaurants have turned to the online delivery model, while everyone from a bike accessories brand to luxury fashion houses have dedicated a part of their production to face masks.
Does that mean that your soon-to-be-launched business should change route too? Not necessarily so. As recently explained by Fleur Emery, a Courier columnist and start-up expert, the rush towards a senseless pivot should be avoided as far as possible.
Take your time to assess the viability of your business under these conditions. We are all triggered into this sense of anxiety and of going down the path to [figure out] what help your business can get, but actually, if you have [financial] padding to stay afloat for 2 or 3 months and operate on the bare minimum operating costs, your business will survive without doing a huge dramatic pivot.
My basic problem with insta-pivots is that they undermine the basic progress that you have made up until that point establishing who you are, what you do, what your message is. That is really gold. If you suddenly say, ‘I’m no longer a fishmonger, I’m a children’s entertainer,’ it just leaves me thinking, ‘What?! I didn’t know you did that.’ It’s confusing and it doesn’t make much sense, and maybe it’s just time to put the business into a coma for some time.
— Fleur Emery
If you are considering changing your business purpose ahead of your launch, the question you should be asking yourself is — will this shift continue to reflect my brand values and what my business represents? Pivoting for the sake of staying afloat and squeezing money in any way possible out of a situation in which consumers are already dealing with high levels of anxiety and stress is far from a long-term vision for success. If anything, it will damage any seeds of relationships you were planning to cultivate with your clients, who will see right through such shortsighted strategies. If you are being forced to consider such strategies, it is quite possibly the biggest red flag that indicates you should step back and consider cancelling the business launch definitively.
Above and beyond, launching a longevous business in any sector should be an extension of your personal values and vision of life. It should be a reflection of your identity, of your personality, and of a desire to pursue what you do through your business for more than the sole goal of accumulating profit. If all of these elements continue to hold true while you strive to uplevel to meet the conscientious consumer that is emerging and which will prevail, now is a good a time as any to launch.
About the Author: Rossella E. Frigerio
The founder of One Blue Dot, Rossella is a writer and advisor to emerging small-scale creative and lifestyle brands that uphold positive values. With a legal background, she holds almost a decade of experience in both launching her own accessories label while using her success to guide and support other founders to flourish. She has collaborated with the likes of Monocle, Design Anthology and another startup story, and is the co-founder of the Malta Creative Collective.