The art of pivoting: how to survive a pandemic

These are unprecedented times. The Coronavirus pandemic appeared seemingly out of nowhere, putting a halt to our easy-going way of life, and the freedom to meet a friend for a coffee on a Saturday afternoon. For those in full-time employment, the crisis means getting used to working at home surrounded by roommates/ pets/ small children, and adjusting to online meetings. But for entrepreneurs, Coronavirus is threatening our very livelihood. Department stores have stopped restocking perishable goods, and for photographers, events planners, and people in the wedding industry, work has pretty much dried up altogether. With varying degrees of support available from the Dutch government, it’s time to do what entrepreneurs do best: pivot.

Pivoting is the act of changing the core of your business, either because you’ve reached a dead-end, or because market research indicates that you’d be better focusing your energy differently. In this case, many businesses are pivoting out of necessity, to try and stay afloat during what is certain to be a global recession. Eric Ries, the author of cult business book and theory The Lean Startup, is the one credited with introducing the term ‘pivot’ into everyday business vernacular.

Crises like the current pandemic cause a great deal of anxiety for business owners, but some choose to look for opportunity in the uncertainty. Callie Pettigrew is a graphic designer who designs, amongst other things, wedding stationery. The wedding industry has taken a massive hit, with government bans on large gatherings, and the crisis is likely to continue deep into the spring — peak wedding season. Pettigrew made a quick pivot in her business, and brought out a collection of isolation-themed postcards for people to send to their friends and family in quarantine. With hipster designs and slogans like “dancing on my own” and “kiss me thru the phone”, Pettigrew has landed on an idea that spreads joy and humour in difficult times, and that directly addresses a need we didn’t realise we’d ever have: staying in touch with friends and family we’re used to seeing on a very regular basis. Skype calls are great, but nothing can replace the thoughtfulness that goes into handwriting a postcard for your nearest and dearest.

Other businesses that have pivoted include The Wing, the American all-female chain of co-working spaces that have exploded across the world in the past couple of years. The Wing is known for the high quality panel discussions, salons and events it hosts, so it has taken them online in light of the shutdown measures on both sides of the Atlantic. Similarly, yoga teachers and personal trainers are now hosting their classes online, giving the cabin feverish a chance to stretch out from the comfort and safety of their own living rooms. It’s not the same, but it’s a good start.

As a society, we’re learning that necessity really is the mother of all invention. Things that we thought had to be done in person – doctor’s appointments, therapy lessons, that business meeting you would otherwise have flown across the world for – can all be shifted online. If nothing else, this crisis is teaching us that despite the protests we throw at climate change activists, it is possible to radically change our way of life if we need to.

The long term repercussions and effects of the crisis are yet to be seen, but in the meantime, it’s a perfect time to audit your business. If your current business model isn’t making you enough money, or is suffering during the Corona crisis, it might be time to pivot.

Take a look at your business, and conduct an audit of the state of affairs. What do you do that works really well? What doesn’t work so well? Speak to a few of your most loyal customers, and find out which of their needs you could be meeting in a better or different way. Is there a new type of product or service you could be offering? My business BURO155 runs month-long courses teaching brands how to create and implement a content strategy. Given small businesses are counting their pennies more than ever at the moment, I performed a mini pivot, and started offering one-off hour long workshops focusing on one niche area of digital content. These workshops are better than my month-long course, because it’s a far smaller investment.

Pivoting doesn’t have to be ultra radical – it can be as simple as widening your horizons to target a new market with your existing product. Is your product currently only stocked in stores in The Netherlands? Consider expanding to other countries with similar markets, like the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany. Whatever you decide, remember to keep checking in with your target audience. After all, they’re the ones you need to convince.

Edition 10 April, by Phoebe Dodds