As anyone who has read my book Get Clients Now! might guess, I love to make plans. I recommend planning as a tool in almost every situation. You have a new business? You need a plan. We’re taking a trip to Italy? We must have a plan. You’d like to meet me for dinner while you’re in town? Let’s make a plan.
So, it’s not surprising that I’ve been feeling frustrated lately. Due to the worldwide impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing I had planned for this year is coming to pass. And, with the rolling uncertainty of pandemic life and business, making new plans seems impossible. How can I plan ahead when I have no idea what this fall will look like, not to mention what to expect in 2021?
Other self-employed professionals I’ve spoken with share my sense of feeling adrift. In Self magazine, writer Anna Borges says: “The uncertainty of the pandemic — and the long-term impact it will have on both a personal level and a larger scale — is one of the most common themes” that therapists are addressing with their patients now.
But at the same time, we business owners can’t just sit back and wait to see what will happen next. We need to make crucial decisions. Like these, for example:
- Should you be doing more (or all) of your business online?
- Do you need to find a new target market because the bottom has dropped out of the one you had?
- Would it make sense to create new products and services to meet pandemic-related needs?
- Since you can’t network in person right now, should you launch a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel?
- Is it a good idea to drop your prices because everyone is so broke?
With concerns like these in mind, here are five guidelines I’ve found helpful for moving your business forward when you don’t know where the world is going.
1. Choose what’s truly important.
Before you make any decisions or plans, clarify why you want to make them. Is it critical that you make more money right now, or are you okay financially for a while? Is this a time when you can spare extra energy and attention to launch something new, or does your family need most of your focus? Are the goals you’re working toward still essential, or would it be okay to shelve them for a year or so?
Be sure that your underlying reasons for planning or action still make sense under current conditions, and you’re not just flying on autopilot.
2. Plan for shorter time horizons.
Normally, it’s a solid business practice to build plans for the year, quarter, and month. During the pandemic, it may be more useful to plan week by week, re-evaluating the relevance of your plan each time.
In The Atlantic piece “Our Pandemic Summer,” Ashley Shew of Virginia Tech suggests that abled people might adopt a point of view that people with disabilities know well: “Everything I enter in my calendar has an asterisk in my mind. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t.”
3. Ask what can you do?
It’s inevitable that some of the plans you make will be thwarted. Ideas that looked promising in August may become untenable by October. Instead of allowing this to depress or anger you, respond with, “Okay then, what can I do?”
Psychologist Eileen Feliciano recommends, “Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it.” If the conference where you were planning to present gets canceled, can you give your session online and invite some of the same people? If your idea to jump from the travel sector to the real estate industry doesn’t pan out, would online retailers be a viable target market?
4. Let go of getting it right.
A pandemic is no time for perfectionism. According to psychology professor Jelena Kecmanovic, you’ll have more success if you “…approach this time as an opportunity to strive for ‘good enough’ in most of your activities.” It’s okay to make a plan, give it your best shot, then if it doesn’t work, throw it out and make a new plan. That’s what we’re all doing right now. “Good enough” is enough.
5. Pace yourself.
It may seem like every choice you’re facing is an emergency. But operating under emergency conditions isn’t sustainable in the long run. Political science professor Aisha S. Ahmad advises: “Understand that this is a marathon… Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12 to 18 months, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, most of us thought we’d only need to do business differently for a few weeks at most. Now, we know better. Instead of a brief period of uncertainty followed by a rapid return to normal, uncertainty is now the status quo.
We must build for ourselves what strategy professor Nathan Furr calls “uncertainty capability.” Furr affirms that dealing with the unknown is a learnable skill. Those who develop it are “more creative, more successful, and better able to turn uncertainty into possibility.”
And that’s a state of being that will continue to benefit us long after the pandemic is over.