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Warning Signs That It's Time for Your Business to Pivot

Too many business owners are scared of change. They’ve established a way of doing things over the years, they’ve trained their people well, and they boast a loyal base of clients who keep coming back. But what happens when a global pandemic rocks the business world? What happens when their biggest client goes out of business and they lose a third of their revenue? The market is always changing, especially in 2020, and so many business owners out there are failing to adapt quickly enough to catch up. The problem lies deep in the DNA of their company, even in their understanding of what a company is. They have gotten complacent, taking for granted the fact that they will always be relevant, always meet important needs, and always best their competitors. For a business to be successful, it is crucial that its owner understands when it is time to pivot. Change is integral to a healthy, future-proof business model, and it may just save your business from COVID destruction. Here are some of the most common (and most overlooked) warning signs that it may be time for your business to pivot!

1. Imminent financial failure

This is pretty obvious. If your bottom line is shrinking, you’re consistently in the red, or your customer base is shrinking rapidly, a strong pivot is necessary for mere survival. Any business owner with a brain can figure that out. Later, we will discuss exactly what a pivot could look like in this situation, but the fact remains; if you’re about to go out of business, you should probably change some things up.

2. Customer input

Listen to your customers! They are your #1 source for feedback, advice, and growth. Far too many companies ignore (or don’t give enough credit to) the feedback they’re getting from their customers, and it is often the case that they could have avoided a world of hardship by simply taking the feedback they were offered. It is important to not only listen to the concerns of individual customers, but to consistently track the overall tone of your feedback from a bird’s-eye view. Are customers satisfied across the board? Are their comments generally positive or negative? It can be easy to ignore negative reviews and fixate on the positive ones (or vice-versa), resulting in a skewed view of the broader state of your company’s client relationships.

By taking a step back and tracing the arc of feedback over the course of a year, two years, or even five years, you can get a better idea of the general demeanor of your customers. In doing this, you can more easily pinpoint problems in your operation, and hopefully make the necessary changes to your business to improve your feedback! If customer reviews are declining in positivity, it is important to make some changes. Your business exists to serve the customer, not to serve you! That being true, make it a priority to establish a simple medium for clients to share their feedback with you. Whether it’s a follow-up email, a button on your website, or a phone call, make a point to simplify the customer’s experience in providing you with critiques, commendations, or recommendations. You’ll thank yourself later.

3. Competitors are passing you up

As a business owner, it is all too easy to become overly comfortable in the current climate, especially if you’ve been around for some time. Say you’re a family business that sells hot tubs in a small town. Your grandfather started the business in 1954 and everyone in the town knows your company. For you, it may seem unfathomable that the little upstart store across the street could ever match, let alone surpass you. After all, people trust you. Never fall into this mindset. Though you may remain dominant for now, your complacency is fuel for your competitor’s steamroller. If you don’t consistently change, adapt, and improve your company, you will get overtaken. That little upstart across the street, if they’re hungry and determined, will find ways to be better than you and ultimately surpass you.

A simple example is e-commerce. As a hot tub retailer, you may not see a need for an online store. Most people want to come browse in person anyway, right? That may be true of the 40+ population, which you’re used to serving, but the younger generation is very different. They want things to be instantaneous. Most people under the age of 40 won’t take the time to physically come to a store and browse; they’ll buy from someone who offers the convenience of online shopping. In this case, if the company across the street offers an online store, young people will buy from them every single time. Always be observing your competitors, whether by visiting their storefront, following their social media, or setting up Google alerts for news about them. In doing this, you can keep tabs on them and constantly search for ways to improve your own business. If you’re not consistently looking for ways to better your company, a better company will take your place. Pivot to stay on top.

4. New opportunities to change and adapt

2020 has been the year of adaptation. Life as we know it has come to a screeching halt. If you’re not careful, the same will happen to your business. This reality hits an important vein in the broader conversation about business in general. If a company isn’t willing to take the changes of the world in stride, they will quickly become obsolete. It is crucial that as the needs of society change, your business changes with them. Even though it has brought about much hardship and anxiety, the COVID outbreak does provide some exciting new opportunities for your company to change and adapt for the better. Maybe you’ve been too comfortable in running your business, sitting idly by and not doing enough to improve, and this worldwide pandemic has provided the shock to your system that you needed all along to steer your business in the right direction.

A great example of this is the restaurant industry. If you own a restaurant, government restrictions necessitate that you either offer a contactless customer dining experience (or delivery) if you want to stay in operation. Perhaps, your customers have been recommending for years that you start offering delivery for your food, but it wasn’t until COVID that you actually took the steps to make it happen. This instance, as well as countless others, is one in which changes made due to the pandemic will help you better serve your customers, even after restrictions are lifted.

Returning to the example of a hot tub store providing an e-commerce store, another thing to note is that modern technology has made it easier than ever to create an online shopping experience for your customers. There are powerful tools out there that make it simple and quick for anyone (even a non-techy person) to build and launch a professional, stylish e-commerce store. Take advantage of the tools that are out there, and don’t be afraid of technology! Retooling is always good, and a pivot in a new direction may just give your business the boost it needed to get to the next level.

5. Challenging the status quo

“We’ve always done it that way” is the most common response to questions of why a company is not adapting. So many business owners are incredibly resistant to change, and for what reason? Simply because they prefer comfort over critical thinking and positive re-evaluation. By falling into this mindset, a business owner is effectively shooting themselves in the foot. They are passing up on opportunities to drastically improve their company in favor of less work and simplicity. Do not fall into that way of thinking. Business owners who live by this mantra are the first to go bankrupt during crises and will be the first to get overtaken by their competitors.

A key tenant of business success is a constant evaluation of yourself and your company. Every day, ask yourself, “Why do we do it that way? What can we be doing better?” See the status quo as an enemy to be vanquished. By looking at the past as a model and the future as a sea of unknowns, you are fighting with both arms tied behind your back. Instead, look at the past as a set of lessons and the future as a bottomless well of opportunity. In doing this, you position yourself for growth and success. Never be afraid to ask big, scary questions. Challenge yourself to think critically about every tenant of your business, and never let yourself stray from your mission. By keeping your core values at the forefront and consistently evaluating yourself and your business honestly, you will be able to make the pivots necessary for long-term success. Always challenge the status quo.

So you’ve decided it’s time to pivot. Now what?

Thus far, we’ve given you some ways to evaluate your business and decide whether or not it’s time to pivot. But, once you’ve decided that you need a pivot, what’s next? Well, it could be a number of things. A pivot looks different for just about everyone. If your company is a victim of the economic drought brought on by COVID, a pivot may mean shifting your inventory to offer more products that are considered “essential.” It may mean finally listening to the dozens of customers who have told you that they would love to see your company offer an online store, or finally expanding your restaurant to include delivery. Whatever it is, make sure it results from customer feedback and real needs. By serving the customer to the best of your ability, you ensure that they’ll keep coming back even after the pandemic ends.

If your problem is more serious (and is greater than COVID-related downturns), it may be time to consider making a more drastic pivot. Maybe you need a total rebrand. If your service area has gotten so used to your brand that they don’t give your storefront a second thought anymore, a fresh design could drum up some serious attention. If your online presence looks dated — your website was designed in 1996 and your logo has been the same since the 80’s — it may be time for a new logo and a fresh, cleaner website. A new aesthetic can have surprisingly transformative results; humans are visual beings. If your brand is losing its appeal, you’re seeing less and less engagement with your online content, your storefront is losing people’s attention, or your website is becoming obsolete, a rebrand can work wonders.

If you haven’t surmised this yet, the ultimate answer to the question of when your business needs to pivot is this: always. There is no such thing as a business standing still. Either you’re expanding or you’re shrinking; there’s no in-between. If you want to be successful, especially in a COVID world, it is crucial for you to always be evaluating what you’re doing well, what needs improvement, and what could be added or taken away based on the needs of customers. By being proactive, listening to customers, and sticking to your core values, you can guarantee that your business will thrive. Always be pivoting.


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