Businesses now have some breathing room to look back on the year that will be forever remembered in infamy: 2020. What lessons were learned, and how will business be different moving forward?
Aside from the surface-level changes, there’s a lot to uncover behind the scenes.
To get some inside info, we talked to business leaders about their own personal lessons from 2020 – and how they plan to stay relevant and resilient in the new business world.
Nobody could have predicted how the events of 2020 would unfold, but we know now that a crisis management strategy is a must for businesses in every imaginable sector.
We all hope this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, but there’s no telling if something similar might happen in the future. Best to be prepared.
“If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that there should always be a crisis plan,” said Joshua Tatum, Co-Founder of Canvas Cultures. “We saw many businesses and schools buckle as soon as COVID came to the United States and that is because no one was ready for such a radical change. In prior years, if you were to have a crisis planned prepared for a super flu, you might be seen as crazy, but now, not having a crisis plan seems to be the crazy idea. Set up a system within your company to make sure that if things go south again, you know what to do.”
Some firms specialize in crisis management solutions, so this might be something to consider outsourcing if your business is at a loss.
Social Media Soars
The rise of social media was slow but steady over the past decade or so, but these platforms quickly came to dominate the internet during the twisting saga of 2020.
People logged on to get news, interact with friends, and buy products at unprecedented volume. Now, social media is a must in every marketing mix.
“2020 showed the world the power of social media,” Ryan Solomon, CEO of Kissmetrics. “Major companies across the world flocked to the sites over the past year to showcase their products and start to pull in new customers through their ads. Everyone knew that social media played a major role in our society, but no one could have predicted the impact it would have on the marking world. If you lack social media presence as a business, then you are behind everyone else.”
The barrier to entry is low on social media, but mastery takes time.
New Moral Standards
With time to research and consider the global implications of the pandemic, more people are adopting conscious consumption and thinking about where their goods actually come from.
This is great news for small companies that thoughtfully source products and employ sustainable practices.
“Businesses across the globe should see the importance of morality in business practices following 2020,” said Carrie Derocher, CMO of TextSanity. “Consumers are now not only looking for quality products, but also for companies that keep track of their moral compasses as well. Businesses should strive to better their business operations to fit social and environmental needs. This seems to be nearly a universal agreement amongst consumers and companies to better the world in some way.”
As environmentalism and other movements enter the mainstream, these trends will likely remain in the foreground.
Some companies made a seamless shift to remote work in 2020, while others are still stumbling out of the starting gate.
Factors like technology, communication, and industry limitations all played roles in these outcomes, and businesses still have plenty of work to do on this front.
“In my view, the workplace has never been a building,” said Ben Whitter, Author and Founder of the World Employee Experience Institute. “It’s the spaces and places that enable our best work. We have lots of choice in this regard. It has taken something like COVID-19 to force through a mindset shift, yet the goals of great businesses have not really changed. We want people to be at their best and deliver their best work. Any option or choice that helps with that is in scope.”
Time will tell if the traditional office ever fully returns, but for now, leaders need to make do with their remote work infrastructure and improve it where necessary.
Prior to 2020, the jury was still out on whether remote work could be accomplished at scale, but now the results are in.
Working from home can be done effectively – but only if employees are given the right tools for the job and allowed to exercise autonomy to achieve full productivity.
“Businesses should take into account how well their employees work from home and see about implementing this type of work style past this year,” said Melissa South, SVP of SwingTie. “In some fields, working from home is beneficial to everyone and should be encouraged. Employees can work from the comfort of their home without having to travel to their office and businesses can even work toward having more cost-efficient office spaces if they keep some of their team members at home rather than coming into an office.”
With the right tools and conditions, almost any remote workforce can thrive in 2021 and beyond.
Bumps in the Road
So many businesses struggled in 2020 despite doing everything in their power to overcome the obstacles in their way.
More often than not, it just takes time and compounded effort to break through barriers and reach the outcomes we want.
“First would be to breathe; nothing gets solved instantly, even though we wish it could,” said Ben Cook, Jr., Vice President and General Counsel at Printed Kicks. “Another is to inspect what you expect; never assume everything is working flawlessly if there are no problems -sometimes the problems are buried behind success.”
There’s only so much we can do as business leaders, and it’s okay if success takes a little longer than we might have come to expect.
We often talk about legacy systems and old-school ways of thinking when it comes to business. These might have been reliable pre-pandemic, but there’s too much on the table right now to be stuck in our old ways.
“Some of the valuable lessons I learned are to be patient, embrace change, don’t fight it,” said Jay Shah, CEO of Auris. “Find happiness in simple things, and make self-care a priority.”
Even if you aren’t sure how your business needs to change, it’s worth starting a conversation to get the gears turning and maybe brainstorm new solutions.
It was hard to watch many businesses go under during 2020, but you have to wonder what went on behind the scenes at companies that may have been struggling long before the pandemic.
Maybe there were internal disputes at the executive level, or perhaps they had poor financial planning for years leading up. This is a reminder to all leaders that something can always be done better in your company.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” said Sunny Mills, Design and Production Director at Yoga Club. “Unforeseen circumstances like a pandemic can happen at any given moment, it’s important to always be prepared. To do this, be aware of what resources you have and how you can maximize the resources to the maximum efficiency.”
Look for Opportunity
When everyone was in the midst of the 2020 panic, it was hard to see any possible upside to the situation. Pessimism was rampant, and nobody knew what was coming next.
Now that things have calmed down slightly, many companies are discovering ways to save money, give employees better contracts, or even sell products they might not have previously considered offering.
“Business will be done differently on the other side of this,” said Jan van der Hoop. President of Fit First Technologies. “More people will work from home, permanently. People will not converge the way they did. They won’t travel, commute or take mass transit in the way they did, at least not for a long time. People will consume and spend differently. All of these things have implications to almost every aspect of your business. Now is your golden opportunity to think through how you could shift, change, restructure, re-staff to be ready for when things turn around.
Never be closed off to opportunity, and look for every possible angle to outcompete.
Fear has the unique ability to paralyze our thinking when we really need to be firing on all cylinders. It takes a sense of self-confidence and internal strength to guide your business through the chaos when the pressure mounts.
This also requires a level of open-minded thinking and the boldness to pivot quickly. Even if your decisions aren’t perfect, it’s better than standing still.
“Companies must always keep an open mind when adapting to change,” said Lezlie Karls, CEO of Mid-Day Squares. “Many businesses have been able to pivot amid massive rapid change. Those who were not able to adjust to the changes quick enough unfortunately took a big loss or weren’t able to survive. Rather than automatically thinking negative during a crisis, such as a pandemic, it’s imperative to see opportunity in the midst of it all, and not be intimidated by the fear these changes cause.”
Remember that everyone is going through the same struggles, and the captain of the ship is the one in control. There’s a lot of power in bold decision-making during these times.
Businesses endured a lot of trial and error during 2020, and many of their makeshift solutions did not shape up to be very useful.
Leaders learned the lesson that experimentation and flexibility win the day during a crisis, even if it seems like no clear solution is in sight.
“Remaining flexible through it all and learning to work with what we have,” said Eric Gist, CEO of Awesome OS. “The pandemic taught us a new way to host events and speak to different networks. Shifting to digital and hosting online zoom conferences reinforced the value of becoming adaptable and taught us to be flexible to new ideas when learning to speak to our audience.”
You truly never know if a certain strategy will work out until you try it, and hopefully, this lesson will be remembered from now on.
Imagine a business that was firing on all cylinders prior to 2020, and it seemed like nothing could slow them down on their path to success.
These companies quickly learned that things can go south fast, even if they think they have everything under control. Are you ready for anything, or faking preparedness? That’s the key question nowadays.
“Some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned are not to take one day for granted,” said Grant Hosking, CEO of Total Hydration. “Also, the importance of preparing for a rainy day. As we all now know too well, the future can be extremely unpredictable.”
Flipping Bad into Good
How many times has your business fallen on hard times, only to figure things out and come out better on the other end?
This is a lesson that must be learned countless times before it really sinks in. Struggle is a necessary part of growth on an individual and organizational level.
“2020 taught me how to make the best out of difficult situations,” said Andrew Pires, Owner of The Maskie. “The pandemic created so many issues for everyone around the world, but as entrepreneurs we need to find ways to better everyone’s lives through our products. That is why I started The Maskie. This is a niche that needs to be satisfied amongst the world and I hope people find ways to make businesses and services that cater to the changing world we live in.”
Did your business find a competitive edge in 2020, or are you still looking for that advantage? Look around your industry to see how other companies are making the best of a bad situation.
Safety and Security
When 2020 was at its worst, we all entertained ideas of a worst-case scenario. Were things going to get better? Were they going to turn in a bad direction? These feelings were only natural, and we needed assurance wherever we could find it.
By giving customers a sense of security, many brands were able to earn more business and create loyal followings despite uncertain times.
“We have put a lot of work into making the buyer experience as safe as possible,” said Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie. “It has been an adjustment, as we have taken a lot of time to educate ourselves on precautions and measures to ensure the safety of our customers. A lesson we will take from this all? Always be prepared to be transformative and pivot your business in the event of sudden change. It has taken a lot to ensure that our production is aligning with CDC recommendations, but the effort we’ve put in has paid off in our customer’s eyes.”
Did your brand offer a sense of security and safety when customers needed it most? This aspect of customer service can’t be overlooked in the future.
Remote Work Done Right
Every company was looking for a cookie-cutter solution to remote work in the early stages of the 2020 crisis, but few found a perfect way to address the problem.
Instead, they tried countless different technologies and formats of communication, and kept pushing new solutions until they found one that stuck.
There’s a lesson in there, and many businesses are better for it now.
“With all the precautions we have had to take in the last year, working from home has been enlightening,” said Rishi Kulkarni, CEO & Co-Founder of Revv. “We have noticed time-off requests have dramatically reduced, which is extremely positive, but we can clearly see the mental toll employees are subjecting themselves to with the constant pressures of work. The leaders make sure to recognize that and allocate for adequate downtime. Even with the reality of the great return to office life, the business leaders will continue to allow space for our team to develop their personal lives and spend as much time as they can nurturing their passions.”
Your company’s remote work program will be different from all the rest, so worry less about what the competition is doing and focus on your own ranks.
What’s the one nightmare scenario that every business leader can relate to? Loss of control.
It might seem like everything is spiraling in the short term, but you must put systems in place that maximize your control over the situation and bring things back into balance.
“Last year has taught me you have to recognize there are a lot of moving parts around you but that you are in control of your outcomes based on what you put in,” said Nik Sharma, CEO of NSharma. “This notion motivates me to stay on top of my responsibilities because it reminds me that my destiny as an entrepreneur is inextricably tied to my actions and how much I am willing to grind to meet my goals.”
Communication, transparency, engagement – whatever control means to you, try to track it with clear solutions and never lose your influence as a leader.
Don’t Dwell on Mistakes
In a whirlwind scenario like 2020, mistakes are going to happen. Rather than blaming yourself and reliving those mistakes over and over, find a way to recover fast and implement processes that fix the problems to the best of your ability.
“It’s safe to say that we all have some takeaway lessons from 2020, many of which we should carry into this year and beyond,” said Jared Zabaldo, Founder of USAMM. “That’s why it’s important to really reflect on the past year and the lessons that we’ve learned. And one of those valuable lessons is to always prepare for the unexpected. There’s nothing wrong with having a backup procedure or another process in mind that can help when things are difficult. In fact, it may just be the spark that propels your business forward.”
Remember that failure is only what you make of it, and there’s always a path forward as long as you never give up.
Prepared to Pivot
What does it really mean to pivot your business during a crisis? For some companies, it means starting over from square one, while others only need to make slight adjustments to survive and thrive in the toughest of times.
“You’ve got to be ready to pivot on a dime these days, and 2020 showed us that in the harshest way possible,” said Tyler Forte, CEO and Co-Founder of Felix Homes. “Some companies are so stuck in their ways, and this was the big wakeup call they needed. For better or worse, we all learned those lessons and made the necessary changes.”
It never hurts to examine the foundational principles of your organization and determine if there needs to be some real changes to succeed in the current business landscape.
Go Easy on Employees
We owe so much to our employees, especially following the unprecedented events of 2020. Consider ways to give back to your staff and show your appreciation for their efforts. They are likely going through difficult times and could use a boost.
“This has not been an easy year for anyone, and you might need to lighten up on employees now and then if they’re more focused on personal or family stuff,” said Aylon Steinhart, CEO and Founder of Eclipse Foods. It’s better to be accommodating for team members than to end up with rampant turnover or something worse.”
This is not the time to be losing your best talent on staff, so be flexible and figure out a solution that suits everyone’s needs.
Confront Issues ASAP
If your business had been experiencing problems prior to 2020, this was the year that it all came to light. From finance and HR to marketing and sales, this is the time to examine your business from top to bottom and see how you can make positive changes.
“We’ll look back on 2020 as a year of great revealing,” said Alex Keyan, CEO and Founder of GoPure Beauty. “The crisis exposed a lot of weaknesses in our organizations. It’s never fun to confront those problems, but definitely worthwhile. Now that we have some space and time to improve, we can strengthen our foundations and be more resilient moving forward.”
Maybe you don’t need a complete organizational overhaul, but there’s surely something you can change for the better with an expedient solution.
It’s the tendency of some executives to separate themselves from daily operations and forget to connect with customers and employees. This hands-off approach might work during easy times, but in a year like 2020, direct engagement is a necessity.
“A lot of executives found themselves in tough positions this year, and they had to roll up their sleeves in ways they didn’t expect,” said Jason Wong, CEO and Founder of Doe Lashes. We learned that many CEOs simply weren’t ready to get involved on the front lines, while others really stepped up to the plate. It will be interesting to see how executive roles change as a result of 2020.”
You may not be an executive yourself, but the lessons still apply. Be more engaged and involved with your coworkers to be more efficient and effective each day.
Engagement is a Must
Now that everyone is separated by computer screens and working solo at home, it’s easy to see why some businesses are struggling to engage customers.
Never forget that you’re dealing with real people – real human beings that need to be engaged with quality service and communication at every stage of the experience.
“I learned that customer engagement is truly the key metric for success in modern business, especially when everything is so up in the air,” said Derin Oyekan, Co-Founder of Reel Paper. “Customers who love and trust your brand will stick by your side despite all the madness happening in the world.”
Figure out how your brand measures engagement and make a commitment to improving those metrics with whatever it takes moving forward.
Many businesses struggled to make it out alive in 2020, but there were also many instances of first-time success and new ventures taking root in these uncertain times.
This just goes to show that there’s opportunity everywhere, whether you’re a serial entrepreneur or someone just getting a foot in the door.
“The fact that so many new businesses started in 2020 is something to celebrate,” said Sarah Morgan, CEO of Even Health. “Even when all the odds are stacked against them, true innovators will find a way to succeed. Any young aspiring entrepreneur should remember that lesson.”
With the power of the internet at your fingertips and endless wisdom to draw from, this is the time to make your dreams come true and create the business you’ve always envisioned.
We will all look back on 2020 as a pivotal year – hopefully with more joy than sorrow. No matter what, it was a reminder that we all move at our own pace, and success has a different definition depending on how you conceive it.
“Last year taught me that finding my own stride instead of striving to match everyone else’s stride is a key component of peaceful progress,” said Olivia Young, Head of Product Design of Conscious Items. “Learning to pace myself has been my method of survival lately. All of our lives came to a certain standstill which helped me gain perspective on the importance of slowing down enough to reevaluate and reprioritize. I have found this to be a vital skill for optimizing my effectiveness in my work life.”
We’re all glad that 2020 is behind us, but these important lessons will remain relevant for many years to come. Keep them in mind as you pursue your next venture and live life to the fullest.