Cliff Ennico, the founder of Succeeding in Your Business, is an attorney whose practice focuses on servicing small businesses’ needs. He’s also a sought-after business expert with 16 publications, countless speaking engagements and several popular YouTube videos to his credit.
His insights, based on decades of professional experience and a lifetime of entrepreneurial ventures, have particular relevance now, as small businesses look for ways to stay viable during and after the pandemic.
Pursuit recently had the opportunity to speak with Cliff, and he shared five actionable goals for you to make your ventures more resilient now.
What inspired you to focus your practice on small businesses?
I’ve always admired entrepreneurs and had an entrepreneurial mindset. As a kid, for example, I had a paper route and realized that I could provide a service to the Avon sales reps in my neighborhood — and make more money — by delivering their Avon orders to customers along my paper route.
Early in my career as an attorney, I worked in venture capital on Wall Street, and now I have the best of everything. I’m at the intersection of law and business, helping people achieve their dreams and goals. I liken it to being the nurse in the maternity ward — I get to see babies as they’re born and growing. Except, of course, in my case it’s businesses that launch and grow.
In your presentations prior to COVID-19, you talked about five essential goals for small businesses to build a strong foundation. Can you tell us what they are and if they’ve changed due to the pandemic?
First, let me say this: Right now, it’s all about survival for the next six to 12 months, and we don’t know what business will look like during that time. I believe we’ll see some back-and-forth and temporary scaling back but not full closures — we can’t afford that on any level.
Second, I’ll admit that many businesses won’t make it — and whether to stay open or close are both difficult options now. With that in mind, here are the essential business goals.
Goal 1: Honestly assess the pandemic’s impact and whether you can pivot to survive
Ask yourself this: Was your business impacted mildly, moderately or critically?
For example, gyms, theaters, event venues and restaurants are critically impacted. So are travel-related businesses, from Broadway to taxis. If you own a bar, can it survive at 25% capacity for another six to 12 months? Look at trends and ask yourself where your business is positioned and whether it’s realistic to keep moving forward.
Also, consider this: If you don’t change your service, can you change your market or delivery enough to rebuild your business? I have a video on how to sell anything to anyone. If you’re not sure how to pivot your goods or services, you may find some of the information helpful.
Goal 2: Raise as much revenue as you can
Cash flow is king. You have to be creative about cash flow. Fire up your startup mentality, especially if you’ve been in business for many years.
Use whatever you have on hand as a revenue source. If you have a stockroom full of paper towels, throw them in with an order, generate fun publicity and show people your business is alive and kicking.
And start thinking ahead. If you’re in travel, for example, don’t worry about 2021 — book 2022-23 trips now to generate revenue. Offer deals, provide cancellation insurance. Act on people’s desires to get away from everything while reducing their fears, whether that’s losing down payments or traveling too soon.
I have a colleague in the business of organizing international trips to soccer matches. He knows that this year is a wash and doesn’t know what next summer will look like, so he’s booking for 2022 and beyond to get revenue in the door.
And if you’re in retail and your business isn’t online everywhere — Amazon, Shopify, Etsy, eBay and anywhere else — get online now. It’s all about e-commerce and that’s not going to change. Retail was headed in this direction for years, and the pandemic only amplified it.
And learn about doing business internationally, too. Can you sell overseas? What are the customs, shipping and duty considerations? Become friends with the folks at your local UPS, DHL, FedEx, and USPS outlets, too, because you’ll need their help. Search online for “customs brokers in [your state]” and find out what those folks can do for you.
Simply put, leverage every opportunity. That’s what it takes to survive.
Goal 3: Get your costs down to the absolute minimum
If you can run your business out of a lower-cost location or online from home, do it.
Talk to your commercial landlord. You likely gave two months’ rent as a security deposit: and many landlords will accept that and let you out of the lease.
Here’s an example that we’re seeing a lot, ghost kitchens. This is basically a restaurant that’s converted to takeout and delivery only. It’s becoming a popular model in which everything’s boiled down to the absolute basics to keep the brand going and the revenue flowing. Many restaurant owners are finding success with that and may never go back to sit-down venues.
Talk to suppliers, too. If you’ve never been a tough negotiator, now’s the time.
Goal 4: Find emergency funds everywhere and anywhere
Put together a list of all the financial resources that you can use toward your business.
If you qualify for emergency loans or business disaster assistance, get it. Open a business line of credit or get a working capital loan. Hit up Uncle Louie who owns a liquor store and is making a killing during the pandemic.
I’m not saying to use all of this: Simply having it available will give you peace of mind — and money to cover expenses, should you need it. It also means that if great opportunities arise, you can take advantage of them, too.
Goal 5: Be ruthless
By ruthless, I don’t mean unethical, never be unethical. But I do mean, get over being nice. Ethical is essential, nice isn’t. I have a video on the three qualities that are essential for successful entrepreneurs, and if this point makes you uncomfortable, I recommend watching it.
You and your business are in survival mode. If you want to see it through to 2022-23 — not just into 2021 when things will still be uncertain, even under the best circumstances — then you have to push the boundaries, like offering to take competitors’ gift cards when they go under. When you do that, you’ll find new ways to offer your services or goods and uncover markets that you never realized were available to you.
Remember the saying, “It’s easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Successful entrepreneurs get results now and clean up messes later.
This is all great advice, thank you. Are there any other insights that you’d like to share?
One last thing, an important point, I know a lot of business owners are on edge now — use that to your advantage. Your fear is one of your best allies. When you’re afraid, your five senses are in overdrive, and that’s when you’ll see things that others don’t. When you’re worried about things, that’s when you’re also the most creative — so find the joy in that.
And keep in mind that nothing is forever. Even if you decide to cut your losses now, that doesn’t mean you can’t reboot or reinvent your business when the crisis passes. And if you do take that track, you can implement the rest of these steps to better position your business.
And take care of yourself — it’s more important now than ever.
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