As a business owner, there have been times when I’ve had to worry about whether the business will make it. When I owned a mortgage company years ago, I understood that a great deal of the success of the business was up to me. Not me alone, but to me as the owner. I was solely responsible for taking the actions and making the decisions that kept the company growing and thriving. It was a ton of responsibility, but I felt up to the challenge. I knew that the success of the business was within my grasp. And indeed, it thrived. For a while, anyway.

Business owners today have no such illusions. With the onset of COVID-19, many businesses have been forced to close. No matter how good the owner’s decision-making ability or penchant for hiring top-notch employees, a business that’s forced to discontinue offering its goods or services to the American public risks failure. Especially when the timeline for reopening is tenuous.

While there are many businesses that have already called it quits because they’re either not able or not motivated to continue the fight to stay solvent, other companies are getting creative at finding ways to keep the business going. Connecting with consumers and keeping employees motivated and engaged are keys to the success of any operation. In today’s environment, the ones that come up with new ways of doing things are likely to be the survivors.

There are a couple of ways that businesses can stay visible to customers. One is to add unique and valuable services to the mix of services already offered. Another is to create new products that fill a void. In both instances, keeping employees engaged is key.

Done with Care Auto Repair, a locally-owned shop, is providing services to customers in a whole new way. They now offer pick-up and drop-off service so that people don’t have to leave their homes. Repair shop employees pick up the car, fix it, and bring it back thoroughly cleaned and disinfected inside. The client pays for the repair over the phone with a credit card. This same repair shop will also stop by a store to pick up a prescription or groceries for the client. Many of the shop’s older customers value this additional level of customer service, since going out is riskier for them these days. This may seem like a strange service for an auto shop to offer, but it builds loyalty with customers and keeps the shop top-of-mind for future transactions.

J. Rieger & Co., a local distillery known for its whiskey, vodka, and other spirits, switched gears to offer a whole new product to consumers. They began making hand sanitizer as soon as it became clear that stores weren’t able to keep up with the demand for this vital product. Requests initially came from healthcare workers and nursing home staff. J. Rieger has donated many gallons of hand sanitizer but walks a fine line there. While the company is grateful to be able to donate where it’s needed most, they also have to pay the employees who are creating, bottling, and distributing the hand sanitizer. Having the ability to charge for it helps replace revenue lost from the sale of cocktails and spirits. 

Many of the businesses that are still open are now tasked with running the business remotely. An excellent example of keeping employees engaged during this stay-at-home period comes from KC-based advertising agency Trozzolo Communications Group. Although employees are working remotely, the company is getting creative at keeping everyone connected. CEO Angelo Trozzolo sends out a morning email, sharing his thoughts for the day, client updates, motivation, and inspiration. They also have daily conference calls on Zoom, as well as a virtual lunchroom, and trivia happy hours. Team spirit is now stronger than it’s ever been, according to Trozzolo.   

While these types of tactics alone may not be enough to save some businesses, the reality for most is that it’s better to try something new than to give up altogether. At least this way, there’s a fighting chance.

What happened to the mortgage company, you ask? I went great for several years, morphing into one of the largest mortgage banks in Kansas City. And then it went belly up when the market crashed in 2007.

These days, I’m focused on keeping my roofing business running, and so far, it’s working. We’re still here despite COVID-19. I’m also focused on keeping myself healthy as I acknowledge year two of being on my LVAD (left ventricular assistive device). This device keeps my blood pumping as I wait for a heart transplant. I recently celebrated this milestone by buying new shoes for my whole medical team at KU Medical Center. I figured since they’re on their feet all day saving lives – mine included – it’s the least I can do. I wouldn’t be here without them, and I’m eternally grateful for their caring and expertise.

Things are tough out there right now. But there are opportunities to be found. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and get creative. That wild idea you have might just be the one that keeps you solvent in the end.

I wish you all success and good fortune. Hang in there.