Co-founder of The Entrepreneurial Mind, serial entrepreneur and professor of entrepreneurship.
Author: Jeff Cornwall
Dr. Jeff Cornwall is the inaugural Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Cornwall's current research and teaching interests include entrepreneurial finance and entrepreneurial ethics.
Dr. Jeff Cornwall is the inaugural Jack C. Massey Chair in Entrepreneurship at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Dr. Cornwall's current research and teaching interests include entrepreneurial finance and entrepreneurial ethics.
Cash is King, Queen, President for Life, and Master of the Universe for entrepreneurs. Just ask any of my students!
One of my alums, Ben Cooper, founder of Amplify, is offering a free cash planner tool for small businesses. What a great gift to help all of us who are navigating the treacherous waters of cash flow during the current crises.
The word from Washington (and the word from here in Tennessee, too) is that we better get settled in to working from home for a while longer. Even though I’ve been doing quite a bit of working from home over the years, it is an adjustment to be only working from home.
So, I reached out to a couple of my alums who have a lot of personal experience in working from home and working as part of a virtual team.
Key Work Habits
Corey Griggs, whose business helps companies build scalable web and mobile applications and integratesdisconnected systems, graduated from our program a decade ago. He recently shared in an article at Medium the four work habits he’s developed from his experience working from home:
Have a routine
Keep your space clean
Focus on client communication
Stop working at the end of the day
It is a great read, and offers some good, practical insights for bringing these habits to life.
Corey also suggested a few additional hacks to facilitate successfully work from home:
Stand up for phone calls
Over-the-ear headphones for focus
If you can, use a noise cancelling app that removes background noise from video calls
If you have a client that doesn’t want to see your cat on a Zoom call, show them your name, company, and brand by generating a Zoom virtual background on ScreenBrander
Keep it clean. If you eat, sleep, and work in the same place, you can’t create a balance. Cleanliness reduces stress when there’s less clutter.
Stop working. If you don’t take breaks and separate yourself, you’re going to lose productivity for all of your customers. Recharging when at home is harder when you’re in the same room where you work.
Exercise. I have used the 100 push-ups app and 100 sit-ups app for some quick, efficient exercises
If you get distracted easily using something like the Freedom app can help
Virtual Teams Done Right
Chris Tompkins, Director of Sales for Rustici Software, graduated from our MBA program in 2009. Although Rustici is headquartered in Nashville, Chris works remotely from his home in Seattle.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the entire Rustici team now works virtually. Here are tips Chris shared with me about virtual teams:
Work from the Cloud: “We’re already paperless and serverless,” says Chris. “All agreements, invoices, POs, etc, are in digital pdf, all systems are ‘in the cloud’ including email and internal tools. We have nothing in the building that requires someone to be in the office.” Fortunately, this is not something Rustici put together just to deal with the coronavirus. They have been working toward this approach for several years. “I’m proud that our whole company is back to fully-functional speed, within a week of a massive change'” adds Chris. “Nearly every Rustician feels like we might actually be getting more done day-to-day, myself included.”
Single Best Tool Award: Slack. “It’s a place to meet internally, have open-door rooms, converse on a topic, work as a team, and more,” Chris explains. “If there’s one tool I’d point at, as our key to success right now, it’s slack. I don’t know how businesses operate without it.”
Video On By Default: “We’ve all got cameras, turn them on by default. Remove the post it, flip the little cover over, put effort into your back-drop,” Chris advises. “We’re all performing at work, the video camera provides a stage. Turn it on, keep it on, even if the other side does not.”
Create Fun Spaces: “We all need to goof-off and bond,” says Chris. “Everyone does it, so I like to create places for us to burn work time together. At least the team is getting some value out of the downtime we all need, if we’re sharing that down time with one another. A successful team needs to create ways to ‘waste time’ and bond. We’ve created slack channels for The Pets of Rustici, car talk, ‘ping-pong-room,’ and even a standing team video chat running where people can pop-in as they want. Just because we’re all working remotely does not mean we’re alone, we’re actively working on ways to make sure the human relationship continues to grow, not just our remote productivity.”
The Biggest Challenge: “Scheduled conversations,” Chris admits. “We’re noticing that we haven’t solved for the casual drop in. The open video room is one attempt, but Leadership has noticed that the additional step to ‘schedule a call’ means we’re not just walking office to office to organically catch-up, then casually dive into work. Without this pop-in approach, it makes every interaction feel way more intentional and formal than someone sticking their head into an office, when it looks like someone is free-enough to chat. Since we can’t visibly really know if someone is heads-down, the way our office doors signal in the building, it’s likely reducing the total number of interactions within the company.”
Over the past few days, I have talked to many business owners whose business is either stable, or even growing. Many express a sense of guilt over their current success. I get it. The news is full of small businesses failing, and yet they are lucky enough to have a business that is doing okay.
A Sense of Guilt
The coronavirus has not impacted all small businesses in the same way. Certainly many have been decimated by the sudden shock of the virus to our daily lives. Here in Franklin, TN, where Mrs. C and I call home, restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, and other “non-essential” businesses have been ordered to close their doors. The owners of these businesses struggle to make it through by offering carryout, delivery, and/or going online. Anything to keep the lifeblood, that is cash, flowing into their businesses.
On the other hand, some small businesses are holding their own. For various reasons, their business models help insulate them from the ravages of the current economic chaos.
I would urge these business owners to save their feelings of guilt for things that they have consciously done that are wrong. You did not cause these crises. You have done nothing wrong. We need your businesses to succeed. Your businesses will be the foundation of economic growth once we get through the immediate crisis. Your businesses will help reignite the economy, helping to create jobs and spawn entrepreneurs to create new businesses out of the ashes of this economic disaster.
A good way to frame this is to think of the impact of a tornado. One house can be completely wiped out by the storm, and yet the house next door is completely intact. Is it because the one whose home was spared had some great foresight to pick their lot over the one next to theirs? Of course not! It is a result of the randomness that is a part of our lives.
So what should these business owners be feeling right now? How should they psychologically process the seemingly randomness of their good fortune while seeing others fail?
I would urge business owners whose businesses are still operational to turn any guilt they have into humility.
Feel humble that out of events that no one could have predicted, you are fortunate enough to have a business model that allows your business to continue.
Remember those entrepreneurs less fortunate than you. Be humble, feel grateful, and keep moving forward. We need you!
The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.
Apply for these loans directly from the SBA. You can apply for a disaster loan here.
The SBA offers bridge loans to businesses that have an existing relationship with the SBA to help provide quick cash until their disaster loan application gets processed.
Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program allows small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 with less paperwork. These loans can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing and can be a term loans or used to bridge the gap while applying for a direct SBA Economic Injury Disaster loan. If a small business has an urgent need for cash while waiting for decision and disbursement on Economic Injury Disaster Loan, they may qualify for an SBA Express Disaster Bridge Loan.
Perhaps the recession we are entering into should be called the “Mount St. Helens” Recession.
Mrs. C. suggested this to me on one of our walks this past week. When she said that the events surrounding the 1980 eruption reminded her of the current state of the world, I knew it was the perfect metaphor for our current and future economic conditions.
A History Lesson
Although us older folks remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens like it was yesterday, many of you were probably not around when this volcano erupted in Washington State forty years ago.
Scientists saw signs that Mount St. Helens was coming to life years before it erupted. However, concerns heightened in 1980 when the mountain’s activity created thousands of small earthquakes. Then the volcano began to change shape. The movement of magma upward created a huge bulge on the side of the mountain. As the mountain came to life, it spit out steam and ash. As the earthquakes and small eruptions intensified, experts predicted an eruption was imminent. They could not, however, predict the exact time and date.
On May 18, 1980, a massive earthquake from deep within Mount St. Helens caused a huge landslide on the north side of the mountain. The landslide was followed by a lateral eruption that sent gas, rock, and ash out at over 600 mph, devastating an area of 230 square miles.
The lateral eruption was unusual, so dozens of people who were observing the volcano or just waiting it out in an area they assumed was a safe distance were killed by the blast.
After salvaging much of the lumber leveled by the blast, officials decided to let nature take its course and heal the landscape. Over the coming years, vegetation grew back, animals returned, and the lakes and rivers that had been choked with mud and debris returned. For a detailed history of this event, see this link to The History Channel’s website.
The Lessons for Today
As evidence showed that an eruption of the volcano could happen at any time, people were warned or given precautions to take – some listened, some chose not to.
Just as the days, weeks, and years before Mount St. Helens erupted, we had signs that we might face a crisis. Epidemiologists warned of a possible pandemic. Economists insisted that the economic boom that we faced was becoming fragile and unsustainable. But just as with Mount St. Helens, nobody could have predicted when things would turn, nor the immediate devastation that would result.
The coronavirus pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere. We were living our lives, planning for our spring breaks, starting new businesses, getting ready for new careers, and then suddenly everything catastrophically changed in what seemed like an instant.
The landscape after the eruption of the volcano looked like a moonscape. How could it ever return to normal after such devastation?
And yet, it did return. Not exactly like it was before, but it did return to a thriving ecosystem, and much more quickly that many experts predicted. It showed the resiliency of nature.
If we let things take their natural course, our society and economy will come back. Not quite like before. Hopefully, through all of us working together, it will be a bit better. Consumers will begin to spend again. Small businesses will start back up. Entrepreneurs will find new opportunities in the ashes of this recession.
A Note of Caution
One of the lessons of Mount St. Helens is that something like its 1980 eruption will come again, if not on that mountain, on one of the string of volcanoes that make up the part of the ring of fire circling the Pacific Ocean that cuts across the Western US. It may not come for many decades or even centuries, but it will happen again.
My parents and grandparents never forgot the lessons of the Great Depression. They tried to pass them along, but over the generations, memories faded. None of us alive today will ever forget these challenging times. But to our grandchildren and grandchildren’s children, the events of 2020 will just be a vague part of history.
Let the wafts of steam that still come out of Mount St. Helen today act as a warning: sometime in the future, generations to come will also face devastating events in their lives.
Managing the message has never more critical than the times we are now facing.
In this interview, Raminta Lilaitė, co-founder of Blue Oceans PR, offers her insights on managing the message as it relates to the current crises both internally to your staff, and externally to your customers and other stakeholders. Blue Oceans PR is a firm that offers support in global PR, Digital Marketing and Communications, with specific expertise in crisis management.
EM: How much information should business owners share with their staff? Is now a time to be guarded or transparent?
RL: When a crisis begins, employees need to understand how it will affect their work and the company itself, so it’s the time to be as open as possible. It is important to appoint a person or a team which will be responsible for sharing the information with employees. Staff should receive all mandatory information regarding the critical points and risks of a crisis, how to ensure a safe and responsible environment and how the work will look like from this point.
EM: What are the key steps to communicate with customers in a way that will ensure they stay with you when we all make to the other side of this crisis?
RL: Do not stop fostering relationships with clients, partners and investors. Use various communication channels, such as social networks, just to chat and show that you are responding to the situation. Clients need to understand that in spite of temporary troubles, the company is still in business and you are ready to help and answer any questions. The communication should take place regularly and be available at all times. It is important to stay open about the challenges ahead and how you are prepared to deal with them. Crisis can be a great time to re-communicate your company’s core values.
EM: Most small business owners have never been through anything even close to this crisis. What are the key mistakes to avoid when communicating with employees, investors, customers and the general public?
RL: Do not ignore the problem. A pandemic will inevitably affect your company and employees, thus talking about security and any foreseen plans during quarantine with clients, employees and partners should be a priority. Everybody needs to know clearly what your business plans are, whether the team will now work remotely or you will temporarily be out of business, how you can be contacted and how you are willing to help the others. This will allow the company to maintain seamless communication and provide clarity in shaping future communications.
Offer your expert advice to the press. While the first instinct in a crisis is to get away from it all, long-built communication efforts should not be suddenly dropped. Do not push the press away – continue talking about your company by fine-tuning your tone, as people need empathy and sensitivity at this moment. A good way to help is by actively offering your comments and company expertise. For example, if you are a virtual educator, offer tips on what to do with children at home, and if you are a private clinic, share insights on health care, etc.
EM: Any other advice?
RL: Give back to your community. There probably are people around you who need help – take a chance to find ways to contribute safely. Perhaps you can provide food aid to those who have returned from abroad and are in compulsory two-week self-isolation, or assist elderly people struggling to get the essentials – there are many safe opportunities to contribute to the community. Do good deeds and communicate about them, and it will encourage others to join in as much as they can.
America has raised two successive generations trapped in linear thinking.
I see it year after year as students get ready to enter the world of work. Many of the young people view their careers through the lens of linear thinking.
The Linear Career Path
Students come to me for both formal and informal advice. Their career decisions leave many stressed, and even emotionally paralyzed.
They have to get into the right school. They have to get the right professors. They have to land the perfect internship. They have to land a dream job that feeds their passion. Step after step, they are convinced that one wrong move jeopardizes their future. They are convinced that each step along the path predetermines the eventual outcome of their careers. One misstep leads to a dead end, from which they can never come back. They have methodically followed the “one path” in life that they believe will lead them to success once they enter the work world. However, when they reach the point in life when they enter that “real world”, the nice clean path they thought would be waiting for them is not there. No wonder so many students move back home to “figure out life” after college!
The Un-coachable Entrepreneur
Many aspiring entrepreneurs we work with also have this same mentality. They identify the one business that will bring them fulfillment and feed their passion. They accept no feedback from mentors, professors, or even customers that challenges their thinking. They have “figured it out,” so they expect all to get out of their way and let them forge ahead. Customer discovery, market research, advice from experts be damned!
They are what my good friend and mentor-extraordinaire Shawn Glinter calls the un-coachable.
Don’t get me wrong. There have always been un-coachable entrepreneurs, at least during the four decades I’ve been working with entrepreneurs. What is different is how many more we are seeing. They suffer from the same generational affliction of linear thinking as many of the students I work with.
Time for New Approach to Thinking
And now we face unprecedented economic and social disruption from coronavirus. Linear thinking no longer will work for life plans nor business plans.
Phil Lewis wrote an excellent piece a couple of days ago about the critical need for lateral thinking. Lateral thinking is coming up with novel, even non-logical, solutions to a problem. It is creativity at its best.
The critical point is this: it does not matter a jot what you do or where you work. Everyone has it in them to add transformational value through lateral thinking—even, or especially, in times of change or crisis.
Small business owners and entrepreneurs are facing personal crises within the broader context of the coronavirus crisis. The ones whose businesses have the best chance to survive, and eventually thrive, are the ones who can become nimble, lateral thinkers.
Nothing we have learned in the past can prepare us for what is next. Entrepreneurs, particularly young entrepreneurs, must break free from their habit of linear thinking and find new solutions to the new problems this transformation we are living through has created.
These new problems are coming fast and furious. There is no time for a contemplative approach to business planning and business modeling.
Experiment often. Fail quickly. Find traction. God speed!
What I am hearing in the texts, emails, and calls I am getting from entrepreneurs is resolve. They are determined to get through all of this, by doing whatever it takes. These entrepreneurs have the resolve to learn from what we are going through. They are committed to becoming even stronger on the other side of this chaos.
Countless Stories of Resolve
One of my alums, who is a tech consultant, texted me yesterday. He told me that, in one single day, they lost all of their anchor clients. His next comment? He said that it is an important lesson in managing risk that he wants to share with others going forward. Resolve.
I have several alumni entrepreneurs (and several friends) who own businesses tied to the music industry. One of them emailed me to let me know that all of her planned activities tied to live concerts were indefinitely suspended. She went on to tell me that she is pivoting her business model. She is building her platform to help keep artists and fans connected during this time of cancelled concerts. Resolve.
Another alum told me they were temporarily closing down their operations, which are in multiple cities across the country. His next sentence was an offer to help Mrs. C. and I if we need anything. Resolve.
Countless restaurateurs who I know are scrambling to sell gift cards, build up their take out business, or deliver prepared meals as a new service for their customers until they can open again. Customers are doing what they can to support these small business owners. Resolve.
An alum whose business is tied to live speaking events (all cancelled for next several weeks) encourages all of us to take what comes next “one day and one step at a time.” Resolve.
We’ve Seen This Before
In looking through past posts at this blog, it surprised me to see how many have been about recessions. I guess that happens when you’ve been blogging for 16 years. In the early days of this blog, back in the early 2000s, I found several posts that lauded the entrepreneurs’ critical role in the expansion that had followed the 2001 recession. This recession came on the heels of the dot.com bubble bursting and 9/11.
Entrepreneurs led the recovery after the 2008 real estate collapse. A post that stood out was one based on a talk I heard from venture capitalist Tim Draper, who founded the firm now known as Threshold. I wrote in that 2009 post:
The genesis of the tech boom of the past decades began during the recession of the early 1980s. Microsoft was born during the recession of 1974. Semi-conductors first came to market in the recession of 1957. Even during the Great Depression we saw the founding of Hewlett Packard, Texas Instruments and United Technologies. He assured us that “innovation is relentless.”
Draper predicted we would see “pilotless electric cars, e-education for the masses, all computing from the clouds, genetic disease prediction.” These and many other innovations Draper foresaw have all come to be over the past decade.
We know that it is the creative destruction and innovation from entrepreneurs that creates real economic growth. Schumpeter helped us rethink the role of entrepreneurs in our economy almost eighty years ago. He helped bring entrepreneurs out of the shadows of economic theory.
My Own Journey
In reflecting about all that we are going through, I have been remembering the challenges in my own journey. I prepared a couple of slides to share with my students. They will get this presentation this weekend online, since that is how we will be meeting for the rest of the semester (which would have been almost impossible a decade ago).
The first slide highlights the five major economic downturns that I have experienced in my work life prior to the one we are about to experience. The downturns are shaded in grey, and the events surrounding each are in red.
And yet, life goes on.
This slide shows how Mrs. C. and I continued to move ahead with our lives during all of these ups and downs.
After the back-to-back recessions in the 1970s we went to college. We saw a better life ahead of us if we pursued a college education. During and after the severe double dip recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we got married, I went to grad school, we started having a family, and we bought our first house (with a double-digit interest rate mortgage). The 1991 downturn came at the same time we were raising money to expand our healthcare business. After the 2001 market crash and 9/11 we sent our kids to college. The events in our lives around the 2008 recession involved the next generation in our family — marriage, grandchildren, homeownership, and business startups.
The resolve we are seeing among entrepreneurs will pay off for our economic future. It will take time and hard work, but these entrepreneurs are the ones who will lead us into our next economic expansion….and we will have one!