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How to develop a new business strategy in turbulent times.

Odds are that you and your business have been scrambling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. From economic impact, to workplace adjustments, to changes in our personal lives; we’ve all had a lot on our plate. 

Responding effectively has been a matter of survival for many businesses. It can be a physically and emotionally exhausting process. 

The fact is that as painful as struggles can be, they are the best time to push for rapid experimentation and observation. These periods are key to developing or refining your strategic plans to help you not only survive for the time being, but also thrive in a post-pandemic world. 

Still not convinced that now is the time to focus on strategy? Most of your competitors are.

The basics: laying a foundation for your strategy.

Start by reviewing your Missionwhat you do, who you do it for, and why. It sounds obvious, but clearly stating your mission helps your team focus on the big picture. In times of severe constraint, we are all having to focus our limited resources on what is truly important, and having a well-defined mission clarifies where you should allocate resources.

Next, review your Visionwhere you want your organization to be at some point in the future. This is the realization of your Mission and how it will manifest itself in the world. There are many ways to take action and implement your mission, but your vision is where you focus on what you want to accomplish.

Assess your Current Situation – how do things stand now, both internally and externally? To map out the best strategic path, you have to know where you are and what the landscape around you looks like.

A SWOT Analysis helps you further capitalize on your situation.

The time-tested tool for defining your landscape is a SWOT analysis. As shown in the diagram below, this technique helps you examine both internal and external factors, determine strengths to leverage, opportunities to seize, weaknesses to fix, and threats to prepare for. 

SWOT analysis
SWOT Analysis is a key step in strategic planning.

An example of how a restaurant might go through this strategic planning process.

Suppose you own a farm-to-table restaurant that has been in operation successfully for a few years, with a mission to “offer healthy, farm-fresh meals to members of our community and promote healthy eating while supporting local farmers”. You have a dine-in restaurant with a pleasant atmosphere and an enthusiastic, regular customer base. Things are looking pretty good until a pandemic hits. How do you respond? 

Strength – You have found and filled a niche in your community; you have a strong relationship with local farmers, a well-developed menu based on your expertise, and a loyal customer base. 

Weakness – you have a dining room and service staff that can’t be fully utilized due to social distancing requirements.

Opportunity – the public is rapidly becoming used to, and even expecting, curbside pickup and/or delivery services from restaurants. This trend could continue even post-pandemic.

Threat – lots of restaurants are offering curbside pickup or delivery via their staff or a third-party service. Worse yet, the nascent trend in ghost kitchens could leapfrog sit-in dining restaurants burdened with related expenses.

While a response can help short-term, a true strategy sets you up for long-term success.

What do you do? There are several possible approaches that would depend on particular circumstances; this is just a hypothetical example, but let’s look at some possibilities for fun. There are two relatively obvious immediate responses that many restaurants have indeed implemented.

Option 1 – fortunately, you have open-air space that you could turn into sidewalk cafe-style seating to increase volume while implementing social distancing.

Option 2 – you transition some of your staff to processing curbside service and/or delivery.

These might work in terms of bringing in enough revenue to allow the restaurant to survive until the pandemic is over and things return to normal. This is what I would call a response – not a strategy, because the end goal is just to return to the previous state, not to forward your Mission to achieve a Vision.

However, there is another option. You could look at your mission statement and see that it says nothing about the dining experience – it’s not about ambiance, a night out, a well-stocked wine cellar, or anything related to a physical location. 

You realize that because you had been clearly communicating and delivering the promise of your farm-to-table vision you have developed a customer base that is motivated by health and supporting local farmers. 

Furthermore, perhaps your initial efforts at curbside and delivery show a strong interest in a combination of healthy food with the convenience of pickup or delivery. You could decide to change your business model to reduce, or even eliminate, sit-in dining in favor of a model focused on curbside/delivery of your existing menu. Perhaps you further decide to enhance the customer experience with video recipes and education, provide tours or on-location dining experiences at some of the local farms, or look into other forms of expansion that are more focused on your vision.

Strategic planning is the first step in evolving your business.

So how are you responding to the pandemic? What’s happening in your organization and in your market? What are you learning as you react? Can you use a martial-arts style technique to leverage a move you are forced to make into something you can take advantage of?

Is your vision of the future starting to change? We’d love to talk to you more about your strategy to achieve your vision and how we can help you get there. 

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