Small business owners have been hit hard by the pandemic, especially brick and mortars. In fact, 75% of small businesses expect to let go of at least one employee due to the pandemic, and the estimated impact of COVID-19 sits at $64,000.
During these uncertain times, small business owners are faced with challenging roadblocks, such as temporary shutdowns, new safety regulations, and tighter restrictions. In addition, small business owners are worried about when to re-open, loss of finances and employees, and the health of their staff and customers.
It hasn’t been an easy road for business owners, and today, we ask the pressing question: What small businesses advice can help owners stay afloat and get their power back during uncertain times?
To answer this question, we chatted with Daymond John, founder of FUBU and star of ABC’s smash hit, Shark Tank. He’s also a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and has become globally recognized for his relentless commitment to promoting and supporting entrepreneurs.
Below, Daymond shares advice for business owners on how to survive and thrive during uncertain times.
📚 Get a deep dive into Daymond John’s advice for small business owners on how to thrive during uncertain times with this free eBook.
1. Take inventory
When asked, “How can business owners get their power back during the pandemic?” Daymond’s first response was, “Business owners right now have to look at their inventory.” You can’t be in control of the environment and everything else surrounding you, so what can you be in control of? Inventory. Inventory is how much cash and resources you have. Ask yourself how much of your staff is on hand and what inventory do you have?
Because people can connect via digital channels (such as video conferencing, phone, and messaging all in one app) and work from anywhere, start thinking about who outside your talent pool can become global now? Before, you might’ve felt geographically that your team had to be in your city, but with new changes comes new opportunities. You might be surprised and take a liking to new talent outside of your typical network. As you reassess your inventory, take these new opportunities into consideration.
“Every single one of us has to take inventory of themselves and see what they have. My mentor shared with me that after the Declaration of Independence was signed, 47 major events happened in this country, whether it being a Spanish flu, going to war, planes crashing, dotcoms, or great depressions. And every single time we managed to bounce back, something else is going to happen. So, you can’t be in control of necessarily everything else. What are you in control of? And that’s inventory, right? That is how much cash to death that you have. How much of your staff is on hand? What inventory do you have?”
Part of taking inventory is dealing with customers. Daymond shared this key piece of small business advice: “There’s only three ways to deal with the customer: Acquire a new one, upsell a current one, or make one buy more frequently.”
Ask yourself: If your store is closed right now, how are you going to make changes and satisfy your customers at the same time? For example, if you’re in the restaurant business, do you need 20,000 square feet or do you need to become a virtual kitchen? What are you delivering and what’s your service? These are the type of questions you should be asking yourself because it comes down to the inventory you have.
Daymond shares a great example of how a business took inventory and successfully pivoted their business model during uncertain times.
“I was speaking to a gym owner that we were consulting, and he had 2,000 gym memberships. He said, ‘I have to get my people back.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I sell memberships.’ I replied, ‘No, you don’t. You sell a healthy lifestyle. You don’t sell memberships.’ So, what did he do? He sent all those machines to everybody and said, ‘It’s part of your membership.’ He went to a store that sold Lululemon-type products and said, ‘You can’t move goods, but I have 2,000 people you can market to. Market to them, give them 20% off, and give me a 10% affiliate fee.’ Now, the customer feels like they’re getting a discount, the store is moving goods, and he’s making money. He also started doing Peloton-type classes off of his iPhone, and he did the same deal he did with them with a fresh juice shop and various other things. The membership went up to 3,000 members instead of 2,000 because people understood what he was selling. A lot of us don’t think about what we’re actually selling. We confuse it, and you have to take inventory.”
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2. Connect with your customers and employees
Are you connecting with your customers and employees? Everyone has a heightened sense of emotions during uncertain times, and this is a key time to strengthen connections and invest in people.
When the pandemic hit, Daymond reached out to a lot of his clients. He understood that behind every client, there’s an individual person who’s been impacted by the event, whether losing a loved one or feeling closer to family at home. Checking on others personally is one of the first things you do when faced with an uncertain situation. This is the same thing you want to do with your customers and employees.
“Check on your customer. You don’t want people getting sales fatigue. You want to just know if they’re okay and have a genuine concern for them. Then ask the tough questions with your employees. What’s your why? Where are things changing for you? How can I help? When it comes from a good place, people see it. It’s all about reaching out to people, showing them that you care, asking what’s going on, and just being a giving person and a little vulnerable during this time.”
3. Be vulnerable
We’re human, and when faced with challenges, it’s not always easy. Don’t feel like you’re alone during uncertain times. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and share your struggles with others.
Take the time to connect with peers and other small business owners—they’re going through something similar, and you can learn from another by exchanging small business advice and top tips. Daymond discusses the importance of being vulnerable, especially now.
“This is the only time that you’re ever going to be vulnerable and get away with it. Everybody has a past right now, right? Because last year, you may have felt as a small business owner, you’re not doing that well. You’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to share my problems with people because as small business owners, we can’t tell everybody our problems.’ But, now you can tell everybody your problem because everybody’s going through something similar. Share what’s going on with you. Everybody can share what’s going on with them, and they get a pass right now.”
4. Continue to educate yourself
Keep educating yourself, especially if you’re reinventing your business. Daymond said, “Reinventing yourself and/or pivoting is about educating yourself.” There’s a vast amount of small business resources available with tips and tricks that you can apply to your business today.
We never stop learning, and during uncertain times, it’s especially important to learn from your mistakes and wins and carry them with you moving forward. No one has all the answers, and that’s ok—it’s the drive to keep learning that keeps you moving forward.
“Make sure you’re always trying to educate yourself and take inventory. Go out and spend that 10, 15, 20% trying to improve who you are as a whole.”
5. Diversify your portfolio
Think outside the box when it comes to your business offering. Start diversifying your portfolio within the speciality of what you know best. It’s important to understand the market and position yourself in a way that gets you maximum exposure.
Daymond shares an example of when he started diversifying his portfolio during uncertain times. His story below is the type of small business advice that you can’t get anywhere else.
“When 9/11 happened, people started nesting. It was a challenging time especially in New York as a native New Yorker. When ’08 came around, we felt it in ’06 in the apparel industry. Why? Because somebody will wear a t-shirt 100 more times and not buy a new t-shirt when they can’t pay their mortgage. So, downturn, it happened, and then of course, technology came around and clothes retailers. And throughout that, I always diversify my portfolio as well as my education. I’d ask, ‘If I can’t make the newest, hottest thing, can I go acquire defunct brands and bring them over? How can I make more out of these celebrity contacts?’ For example, I started managing the Kardashians, and simultaneously I was combining both my fashion with their intellectual properties. What I’m trying to say is that I always looked at myself and didn’t take myself too seriously. I asked, ‘What are my assets and liabilities?’ Well, my liability is that I’m not as young anymore as when I started FUBU, so I may not have my ear to the street the way I did, so let me acquire and/or partner with other companies that do. Let me put that with intellectual properties and let me use my pipeline to go to the buyers. Then I try to elaborate again. I ended up getting a call from the show, Shark Tank. I’m going to go on the show because I’m only getting clothing lines, and I have 10 clothing lines, and eight of them are dead. I’m not diversifying my offering. I want to be able to be a one-stop shop for Macy’s. I want to be able to go to the Macy’s buyer and say, ‘I want to take up real estate in men’s clothing, but I also want to take up real estate in lotions and electronics, and so forth.’ Well, the show became a hit, and now, I’m all over the place. It’s always about understanding what you have, understanding how you can slowly increase what you have, and then that leads to other things.”
6. Develop a unique selling proposition
As times change, it’s important to develop unique selling propositions. Understand your selling proposition and try to explain it in less than five words. Think of Nike’s famous slogan “Just do it” for inspiration.
Clearly define your positioning and try to be creative. Daymond shares a perfect example of a business that developed a unique selling proposition.
“My buddy Ryan broke down the other day in a really great way. He said, ‘When I first bought my house, I had a big green lawn and I bought this lawnmower. And I bought it on Friday, and I set my alarm for Saturday morning. I live in Austin, so it gets really hot during the day. I got out there, mowed that lawn, and knocked it out at 8:00 a.m.’ Next morning, he’s tired, he hits the alarm, he gets up, and he goes out there. He’s pulling on that lawnmower, and it won’t start because he forgot to buy gas. Now, he went to the gas station, got a gas can, and mowed the lawn. But all these little pieces of grass now are all on the driveway, and they’re getting into the pool. By the time it’s 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon, it’s hot and he can’t do anything. He said, ‘[A lawnmower company] came by and they said, “You know what we do? We give you back your Saturdays. It is all we do. We give you back your Saturdays.”’ Now, you can even break that down in two or three different ways. We give you back your Saturday, meaning you get all Saturday to do whatever you want, and that’s what we do. Or they can also do this. ‘By the way, we don’t even cut grass on Saturday, we’re like Chick-fil-A; Chick-fil-A does not open on Sunday. We cut grass on Monday through Friday so you don’t even hear our machines out there on Saturdays, so you can be out there doing whatever you want to do on Saturday.’ Now, that’s just a unique way to sell what everybody is already selling, but they have a very defined position. So whether you are an attorney, whether you’re a spa, whether you are a cleaning service, there’s always unique ways to sell it.”
7. Fail fast, recover fast
The best small business advice is understanding failure is a part of the process and that’s completely ok. What matters most when it comes to failure is how you recover.
This leads us to one of Daymond’s most important words of advice for small business owners: Fail fast, recover fast. Allow yourself to fail. Your job as a leader is to manage the level of failure—to make them not feel too big, but instead, have them be a bunch of small attempts that you can fail at and move on from.
“A lot of people talk about failure, but I’ve probably failed 300 times and had 50 or 30 or 40 successes. People will say, ‘Well, wow, look at the number!” But, when you think about it, when I fail and I fail fast and I fail small, I just wipe it away. It’s gone and I move on from it and recover. And when I succeed, it keeps living. That’s why you hear me talk about the FUBUs and Obamas in Shark Tank, because they keep growing. The failures are happening more and quicker and faster, but I’m getting rid of them. And that’s what you have to do. You’re going to be a problem solver. The true meaning of investing in others is allowing them to fail and not putting the onus that they have to be perfect.”
Small business advice for long-term success
If you’re a small business owner looking for effective ways to grow your business during uncertain times, keep Daymond’s words of advice in your backpocket. Remember to take inventory, connect with your customers and team, be vulnerable, and develop creative selling propositions. And most importantly, get comfortable with failing fast and recovering fast.
These are hard times for small business owners, and how you pivot your strategy today can make a huge impact on your business’s long-term success.
Originally published Apr 10, 2023, updated Apr 06, 2023