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Two recessions and three hurricanes were just a few things 15-year franchise owner Christy Wilson Delk experienced when running her own franchise business. Here, she shares advice on how business leaders can respond to the challenges ahead.
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Most successful business owners have a crucial moment or event that forced them to start thinking about their businesses differently. Sometimes it takes something terrible to catapult us to a better, higher place. Enter the coronavirus.
As a 15-year franchise owner of a large early childhood center, I experienced many ‘bad’ things: 9/11, two recessions, three hurricanes, employee theft, and news crews at my door. These experiences and one extraordinary book (which I’ll namecheck later) led me to a better, more strategic way of running my business. I’m not sure what I would do if I were in your position today, but I know exactly where I would start.
The most important ‘C’ word for you right now is control. What can you control to keep your business intact? That’s where you should strategically focus your leadership capital for the next several weeks. Strategic leadership and focused planning will protect your business as we move through this new terrain together.
Here are four choice control guideposts for your strategic leadership and planning:
In my book, Adventures in Franchise Ownership, I talk about communication as the ultimate differentiator. Now is the time to show your employees, your clients, and your community that you are the kind of business owner that cares about more than making profits.
A student in my International Organizational Behavior class suggested I listen to the audiobook of The Power Of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I’m glad I did. It reinforced the concept I share in my book about ‘Sweet Spot clients’ and how important they are to your business. Start by identifying the most crucial staff, clients, and community partners you have and then target the communication mode for each group.
Making sure they know how important they are is what you need to communicate first. The same goes for the ‘Sweet Spot employees’. Those are the folks who will be with you now and on the other side of the crisis. Tell them what you are doing and tell them often.
How can you bring your business services safely to your clients and prospects? Think out of the box and run it by your franchise representative if it’s too far out there. Ask your top team or select a group of trusted staff and clients for their suggestions. I recently completed an online survey from a non-franchised business looking for creative ways to serve me better.
Now is the perfect time to institute a new or refurbished rewards program to ensure your clients can’t run their lives without your product or service post-corona. I speak and often write about ‘going big’ with leadership actions that get noticed. In other words: make it count. Letting clients know that their points or gift cards won’t expire is like milk toast compared to doubling them or offering a gift on their first return visit. If you can’t pay your employees for a few weeks and are concerned they may not return, offer them a one-week vacation after working for four-to-six weeks. You want to make sure they are by your side when we come out of this.
You can’t control your competition, but you can make sure you have a true competitive advantage (TCA). A TCA is very different than client loyalty. It means that you have a product, service, or aspect of your business that is extremely difficult to duplicate and that your clients highly value. In this arena, difficult means that it took a lot of time, ingenuity, or money to implement. Highly value means that even if they don’t use it often like a guaranteed replacement policy or complementary birthday or anniversary service, it is a primary reason why they remain loyal.
Even before corona, I recommended to franchising clients that they have an annual planning meeting that included on the agenda, an analysis of their competitive advantage. The goal is to stay one full year ahead of your competition. I faithfully scheduled my meeting each year and successfully outsmarted over a dozen competitors each year. There is more to it than can be explained in an article, but I know you are smart and can use this time wisely to ‘get real’ about the competition and how you can stay ahead each year or get ahead starting now.
The saying ‘cash is king’ has rarely been more true than now. Having enough money to get your franchise through this or for franchisors, helping your franchisees land intact on the other side, is probably your paramount concern. The U.S. Congress passed the C.A.R.E.S. act to stimulate bank and credit loans, many of which will not require repayment and payroll assistance and tax credits. I listened to BBC radio this morning and it sounds like the U.K. will soon pass something similar. As governments affirm that small businesses are vital to their economies, your job is to get your hands on as much low-interest cash and tax relief as possible.
Your first move is to contact your business’s most established bank relationship manager. Bank of America chairman, Brian Moynihan, recently stated that it is the bank and branch where you have taken out a business loan. Be prepared to share your current activities and your plan for the next two months. Then access your line of credit. If you don’t have one, put it on the top of your list for 2021. If you own a home, go to the mortgage lender to defer your mortgage and to establish an equity line of credit. When I started my franchise, I sold my house for the equity and cashed out my 401k retirement fund for the down payment on a $1.67m loan. I did what I knew I had to do to get in business. You know what you need to do now, to stay in business.
My best advice? Don’t be afraid. Remain confidant and focused as we will climb up this mountain together. And, that book I mentioned earlier that had a profound influence on how I ran my business? Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad Times Work for You at Work and in Life by Spencer Johnson, M.D. Thanks again, Dr. Johnson.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christy Wilson Delk is a writer, college professor and franchise industry expert. A former successful franchisee herself, her book Adventures in Franchise Ownership: 4 Pillars to Strengthen, Protect & Grow Your Business is available now.
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