By Carrie Santos, CEO of Entrepreneurs’ Organization
The pandemic’s impact on our families, workplaces and communities is profound – and we will be feeling the repercussions for months and years to come. The turmoil of a global pandemic can create fear and inaction that challenge the entrepreneurial mindset. As the world begins to heal, now is the time to remember what we need for growth in every aspect of our lives.
For many entrepreneurs, the pandemic threatened the very core of who they are. They fought to keep their businesses afloat while managing issues in their personal lives: home schooling, illness and overall stress have tested everyone. Yet for others, the pandemic was an opportunity for growth, innovation and even starting new businesses.
Drawing on the experiences of over 15,000 entrepreneurs within our Entrepreneurs’ Organization network, we have observed that three soft skills – or tools – have helped entrepreneurs ride out the highs and lows of the past 18 months. In fact, entrepreneurs may be the best equipped to deal with pandemic upheaval: the ability to tackle a crisis with drive and determination and to pivot in uncertain times are the key skills that brought them to success in the first place.
Tool one: FLEXIBILITY
The top tool that has helped entrepreneurs ride out a year of disruption is flexibility: this year has highlighted that it is crucial both in our personal and professional lives.
Being able to adapt schedules and mindset helped parents home-school their children, adults care for their elderly parents and run entire companies remotely, balancing work and non-work-related roles.
Having an adaptable mindset isn’t news to entrepreneurs: many of our members had 100% remote staff long before the pandemic and were already equipped with robust company cultures that could withstand the loss of in-person interaction. They created solutions that kept staff motivated and engaged even before Covid-19 hit— they were able to escape the trap of one-size-fits-all polices that are common in larger companies with heavy bureaucracies. Entrepreneurs are guided by their core values as they adjust to a new environment.
For example, using online collaboration software, establishing ‘core hours’ and focusing on results to empower staff have always been common practices for entrepreneurs, and they make even more sense today. EO member Tammy Wise, the president of communications firm Wise Group, developed her company with flexibility at its core.
She wanted to be involved in her children’s lives and have control over her time at work – so even before the pandemic, her employees worked from home when necessary, each client project had a back-up person for any unforeseen problems and they all benefited from flexitime. This tool made it easy for Tammy to transition during the pandemic, and her management approach has allowed her staff to stay motivated and her company to continue growing even in the face of challenges.
The pandemic-related shifts have opened the door for businesses to craft the right working model, and for employees to have more freedom in their work and personal lives. Entrepreneurs can benefit from the strong and longstanding values-driven management approaches they’ve used for years, supporting working models that allow for a fulfilling career while providing space to have a balanced personal life.
Tool two: COMMUNITY SUPPORT AND A FAVOURABLE ECOSYSTEM
No entrepreneur succeeds alone – and the pandemic has proved this is more true than ever. We have seen hundreds of examples of entrepreneurs stepping up to help their communities, by raising funds, offering advice or repurposing products to support those around them. What has become clearer is that community matters. It’s the foundation of our businesses and should be in every entrepreneur’s toolkit.
A great example of community spirit comes from EO Kenya member Jamie Pujara, who runs the oldest Chinese restaurant in Nairobi. A few years ago, he introduced catering – which accounted for 90% of the business’s revenue pre-pandemic. When Kenya restricted gatherings to 15 people in March 2020, catering was obliterated.
And yet as Jamie struggled, he felt he still had more to give to the entrepreneurs around him that were also facing dire circumstances. Jamie lobbied EO for support funds, and his efforts meant that entrepreneurs from 21 chapters in the Middle East, Pakistan and Africa area had a lifeline in the pandemic. In return, the fellow members he helped vowed to ensure Jamie himself would get the same support if he ever needed help with paying his EO dues. As a token of appreciation, we awarded Jamie the Mark Lincoln Volunteer of the Year Award, since his example of giving to others even in the most difficult times was an inspiration—and humbling—to so many of his peers.
As Jamie proves, no one can build a business alone, much less a business that can endure a global pandemic – every entrepreneur needs a support network to thrive. Now more than ever, entrepreneurs and business leaders need communities and ecosystems in which they can contribute and find support. A community to lean on can be what makes the difference between a struggling business and a successful one. What is more surprising, giving to your community can also improve your own mindset and motivation when you are struggling, and help you keep your company moving during tough times.
Tool three: A GROWTH MINDSET
Entrepreneurs know that what sets them apart from the herd is their ability to turn a challenge into an opportunity. Anyone considering starting a business needs to cultivate a growth mindset to thrive, and that’s especially true in our rocky times. When the pandemic first hit, business owners didn’t have time to wonder how to come to terms with Covid-19, they needed to jump in and offer solutions to keep their business afloat and their employees at work. For many this meant the complete reimagination of their businesses, rethinking their outlook and position in the community – and they did it successfully.
David Chan, the managing director of China-based fashion production company PPCS Group is a great example of a growth mindset in action. During the outbreak, his garment factories all shifted to producing personal protective equipment (PPE) to help contain the outbreak in Wuhan. This brought a direct revenue loss to his business, but helped his community, and its hospitals, cope with the pandemic. Later on, this gave David unique opportunities to branch into the medical equipment industry – expanding the business further and growing in the midst of a global pandemic.
As entrepreneurs rebuild post-pandemic, they need to make sure they have the right toolkit to thrive. While not revolutionary ideas to any entrepreneur, these ways of thinking – about flexibility, about helping each other, about growth – can easily fall by the wayside in times of stress. Despite the challenges we faced over the past year, entrepreneurs now have the chance to reinvent themselves and their businesses in a post-pandemic world using their unique skills. They can show all of us the blueprint to do the same.