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made in crisis


How to Pivot Your Small Business Strategy During COVID-19

You may have heard that if the earth goes up in smoke, only the cockroaches will survive.

Well I believe the entrepreneurs of the world will be right there with them, along with everyone else who benefits from the vital services and innovations we provide. 

Entrepreneurs have the essential qualities of resourcefulness and resilience that can get you through the most challenging times… including the current global economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

So how exactly can you pivot your business and messaging to survive these challenging times?

Pivoting from Optional to Essential 

In good times, many entrepreneurs get rich by providing non-essential or luxury products and services. 

But in bad times, you have to pivot your business model to provide what people would still consider necessary if not essential even when resources are scarce. You can’t afford to be “optional” right now. 

Just like the government has shut down physical stores, offices and manufacturers in non-essential industries, many consumers are cutting out the non-essentials. They’re looking at their credit card statements each month and deciding what to keep and what to cut.

So you have to think about how your business can start providing essential products and services, and that pivot may be easier than you imagine (see section below on Specific Ideas By Industry).

I’ve been teaching entrepreneurs around the world how to start and scale online businesses for almost a decade and I often teach niching and product creation using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow was an American psychologist who studied how human motivation changes over time based on whether our basic needs are met.

In times of stability, we can focus on our higher-order growth needs for creativity and the desire to become the best version of ourselves. As well as our need for status, recognition and esteem.

But, when something comes along and threatens our personal security or our health — like the current COVID-19 pandemic — our attention shifts back down the pyramid to what Maslow called our deficiency needs. 

maslow's hierarchy of needs In other words, our priorities change…

And that basic psychological imperative is backed up by some major consumer studies that have been run over the past couple months. 

From Tone Deaf to Pitch Perfect

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer’s Spring Update on Trust and the Covid-19 Pandemic, 56% of people around the world are concerned about job loss due to the pandemic and not being able to find a new job for a very long time.

And according to the major study on Understanding the Evolving U.S. Consumer Sentiment During the Coronavirus Pandemic (April 2020), 62% of Americans have decreased their spending overall in April 2020… but interestingly sales are up in online courses, e-learning services, food delivery, and virtual gyms (like Peloton). 

But what’s most interesting is that, according to this report, in the last few months the values that impact our decisions have essentially turned on their head. 

For the last 5 years or so, our top values have fallen squarely in the Self-Actualization and Esteem buckets:

• having a life full of excitement, novelties and challenges (Self-Actualization)
• acquiring wealth, status and influence (Esteem)
• maintaining a good public image and being treated with respect dignity (Esteem)
• being successful and admired for your achievements (Esteem)
• being in charge and directing people (Esteem)

This has fueled the Instagram influencer movement and led to people flaunting their bodies, their wealth and their accomplishments… 

And now the values that were at the bottom of the list have risen to the top:

• helping and caring for friends and families (Love and Belonging)

• Preserving your own safety and the safety of your family (Safety)
• being dependable and trustworthy for family and friends (Love and Belonging)

Which means that if you continue to flaunt your body, your wealth and your accomplishments, you’re going to come across as tone deaf… 

Because now people are less concerned about growing their income then they are about maintaining their income and providing safety and security for themselves.  personal values during crisis This means that you have to shift from selling to serving. Your messaging can’t be all about you in any more. It has to be your prospect — their needs, their current experience, how they’re feeling and the results they’re getting.

While you can still sell, it’s important to lead with a give…

Here’s an example that Dev Basu of the B2B SaaS marketing agency Powered by Search gave to show how FreshBooks has pivoted to their advertising… powered by search ads The message has gone from touting the features and benefits of the product with a scaling/growth message, to one of serving and giveback.

Other companies that can afford to focus on lead generation right now (while ad costs are down) are publishing free guides and resources to support their community (also from Dev Basu). dev basu ad pivot As you can see, even if it doesn’t make sense to pivot your business, it is important to pivot your message so you come across as pitch perfect and not tone deaf right now…

Understanding Our Universal Human Needs

I often teach my students to address 1-3 universal human needs in every offer they make from this list of 20 Universal Human Needs… and to ground every self-actualization offer (the needs listed here in orange at the bottom of the list) with at least one deficiency need (listed in purple, green, yellow or blue).

20 universal human needs But right now — for much of the world — the list of essential needs has become a lot shorter… so I highly recommend wrapping your offer around one of these 9 deficiency needs.

maslow's hierarchy and universal human needs

Here’s another example from Dev Basu for how the project management tool has changed their ad copy from focusing on innovation (Self-Actualization and Growth) to creating fulfilling professional relationships (Love and Belonging). ads during covid-19

So right now it’s mission critical for you to both understand the shifting values and needs that are driving your customer’s behavior, while taking a more service-oriented approach to sales and marketing.

That may include redefining how you approach sales and marketing.

Most people define marketing as the tips, tricks and tools you use to attract new customers into your business. In other words, most people approach and practice marketing in a transactional way.

I’ve always defined and taught marketing as the transformational process of helping someone create the mindset, beliefs and conditions to make a change in their life that they want, but can’t attain on their own. 

And while most people see sales as desperately trying to convince, persuade or even manipulate people into working with you.

I teach that sales is helping someone make an empowered decision around how they can solve their problems, reach their goals and ultimately transform their lives.

Now more than ever it’s important to practice conscious marketing that uplifts anyone who experiences it, because your prospects can’t make an empowered choice from a disempowered emotional state, so part of our practice as entrepreneurs and marketers is to empower our audience to make healthy choices for them and their family. 

Specific Business Ideas and Pivots by Industry & Profession

Now let’s get down to brass tacks… say you do need to pivot your business model and your offers right now (not just tweak your messaging). What can you offer that’s going to land in the essential or even indispensable bucket even in a bear market?

They say that fortunes are lost and fortunes are made during times of crisis…

And right now 80% of industries around the globe are taking a hit. Retail. Travel. Tourism. Hospitality. Health care. Commercial real estate. Sports. Events. Entertainment. Fintech. Advertising. There are too many to list.

But many online industries are booming… including education and smart professionals in virtually every niche.

So let me give you examples of specific business ideas and pivots by industry or profession.

OK let’s say you’re a health and fitness coach… my guess is that most people aren’t thinking about losing weight and staying trim right now. I know that I find myself seeking comfort in food from time to time. So maybe you can support your audience in building up their immune system so if they do get COVID-19 (and it’s predicted that over half the population will eventually be infected) they’ll be able to recover faster. Or you can offer private or group virtual personal training or yoga sessions. 

Maybe you can also help them and their family maintain a reasonably healthy diet in quarantine and learn simple, immune-boosting recipes. 

If you’re a relationship coach you can help couples and families survive quarantine without killing each other and even deepen their relationship and become even more supportive and loving.

If you consult, coach or train around business, you can help people pivot their offers, launches, events and marketing to maintain their income during these uncertain times. You can teach people how to run a virtual team or create virtual work systems. If you work with an industry or company that’s doing reasonably well or has enough money in reserve to weather this time period, you can help them tackle a project they haven’t had time to do before such as build operational systems, write a book or create a new online course (which is an industry that’s booming).

If you’re in personal development — maybe you’re a life coach or a shaman — you can help people with their mental health and how to stay sane or at least functional without being able to leave the house. And, if you’re working with a population that has some financial reserves, you can help them use this time to develop a new meditation, mindfulness or self-care practice so they can be more present and supportive to their family when they need it most.

If you’re in a brick and mortar business, you can pivot your existing in-person services to either virtual services, online education or delivery services such as food delivery, selling home health kits or gardening kids. 

I advised one of my hairdresser students to pre-sell appointments for when the world re-opens. To write to her existing client base and ask their help and in exchange offer weekly Zoom calls where she’ll support them in cutting their own hair, their family’s hair, and other grooming and styling tips…

If you’re in a non-profit can you shift to providing essential services for communities in need? You can also partner with a company that wants to giveback at this time. For example Zadig & Voltaire has been running a 30% off sale and a percentage of proceeds that come from this sale are being donated to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you work in professional services (such as legal, financial or another form of consulting), you can support brick and mortar health and wellness businesses with HIPPA compliance requirements switch to virtual medicine; you can help small business navigate the special tax, legal and employment concessions being made by the federal government right now; and a whole lot more.

If you’re in online education, you can create a course, membership, or subscription service to support customers with any one of the above  issues. Or provide online education or virtual tutoring for the over 300 million elementary or high school kids who can’t go to school right now.

The possibility truly is endless… so let me end with some words of wisdom: 

“Close scrutiny will show that most ‘crisis situations’ are opportunities to either advance, or stay where you are.”
– Maxwell Maltz

“Sometimes you need a little crisis to get your adrenaline flowing and help you realize your potential.”
– Jeannette Walls

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”  
– Helen Keller

I hope this article helps you see how much opportunity there is for you and your business right now, even if it doesn’t look the way you first imagined.

In challenging times like these, success always comes down to how fast you’re able to pivot. That’s why the theme of my next retreat is Taking Your Business Fully Virtual & Becoming Indispensable

This intimate retreat is normally reserved for my Mentorship students, but I’ve decided to open up 5 spots for committed students outside our Mentorship community, since I realize so many people are struggling with this right now.

If you’d like my support in pivoting your business and messaging right now, you can apply for a spot here:

During this 3-day virtual workshop on June 5-7, you’ll walk away with:

  • Messaging and positioning strategies to move your business out of the “non-essential” bucket and into the “indispensable” bucket, which people invest in in any economy (we’ll spend a full day helping you move from your business from a World in Scarcity to a Land of Plenty)
  • 3 referrals for hot prospects you can reach out to right now
  • A roadmap for creating extraordinary customer experiences virtually that has your customers sharing your business with others
  • Specific strategies for virtual lead generation you can use to get customers now, plus we’ll match you up with content partners in your niche that you can collaborate with to expand your reach
  • All the elements of a high-converting offer plus an outline for a webinar you can use to sell your offer 
  • Incredible new business relationships to lean into for support and connection during these uncertain times
  • And a whole lot more…

No matter what, you got this! And we got you… <3

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Gretchen Asher Avatar
    Gretchen Asher

    Marisa, I heard you in my head long before you wrote this blog. I’ve put together two video series for corporate execs/managers. The first teaches how to lead projects and teams remotely. The second is all about anticipating the workplace new normal post-covid-19. It’s all free.

    I loved reading this. It tells me that I really DID hear you in my head. LOL!


    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thanks Gretchen! I’m glad my voice continues to haunt you… lol 😉

  2. unnathi Avatar

    This is an insightful post for all business owners and entrepreneurs out there. Your quick suggestions to different business owners are really encouraging Marisa! Glad I bumped onto this piece of content.
    Keeping in mind how businesses across the industry spectrum have gone through a lot in the last 6 months, we have also created some Bounce back Customer Engagement Frameworks to help them sustain or accelerate their growth.
    Have a look:

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