sign that says come in we're open

If your business is struggling right now because of COVID-19, or has been completely shut down due to government’s policies designed to fundamentally save us from ourselves, it’s natural to look for a new way, a new offering, a pivot into something that will allow you to continue to operate the business that, I hope, you love.

And this world, although messed up right now, is so amazingly full of opportunity. It’s natural to look for the next move.

It’s also fraught.

Things are changing at such an alarming and accelerated rate that there’s scarcely any time to put thought into action before everything changes again…and so must newly conceived pivot plans.

For some reason (maybe due to my hopelessly-optimistic personality), one of my super-powers is seeing possibilities, envisioning things that don’t yet exist, and helping people find their way when they can’t see it for themselves. At this point in the journey, that has involved talking with folks about creating pivots for their businesses that can no longer be sustained in the usual way(s).

For instance, on Saturday, I had a pivot idea for a local salon who was closed to offering services to protect staff and customers. They had, though, a really robust retail operation, selling hair and self-care products. And clients, unable to get services, were wanting to buy those products.

The pivot idea, born from the current restaurant pivot of offering curb-side pickup, was to have customers call and order products two mornings each week. The employee who would handle this would be one of the front-desk staff, and each week a different person would man the operation. Each morning, that person would take phone orders (so that she could verify having the products at hand), pull the products and bag them, and run the charges. Each afternoon, the clients would come to get the products, call from their cars from the parking area outside the salon’s front door, and the employee would take the bagged items outside and put them into the customer’s trunk. Genius.

Except that today is Monday, March 23rd, it’s early evening, and our governor just closed all non-essential businesses. That includes—you guessed it—this salon and its retail business.

You can see how fast things changed.

There was disappointment all around. Sadness all around. Worry all around.

We’re talking now about doing a 100% online model with ordering and shipping, but for many reasons, it doesn’t seem viable for them.

What came of it from the salon owner was a desire to stop; a lack of wanting to look for any other possible pivots because these times are just too volatile, and they—we all have only so much heart before we’re completely defeated. I get that. But what’s a business owner to do?

I was thinking about how when a person is in recovery, or after a primary loss of family, and sometimes after a divorce, the advice is to wait a year before making any big decisions or taking any really big actions. That suggestion comes, in part, because there’s inner work to be done, including grieving. And we (all of us) deserve to be able to take the time to grieve for what was that no longer is, and never will be again. With so much changing, there’s no way that things will be the same once we’re on the other side of this pandemic.

I don’t say that to be depressing, but truthful. That truth is why we all deserve the time to take a beat and feel what we feel before trying to get busy figuring out our next moves. And, while I wouldn’t suggest that a business owner can wait a year to see what happens to the world, maybe my natural inclination to urge businesses to find rapid pivots isn’t just unwise, but also unkind.

For the past week or so, I’ve been watching what’s happening in Nature. As we have retreated, the Earth has started to heal herself it seems to me. As an example, canals in Italy are clean for the first time in 60 years. Fish are coming back, and swans are swimming on them again.  And maybe what the Italians do when it’s time to return to work and being together again will be different, and better than what they were doing before. Maybe the pivot they choose will be better and sustainable for having waited.

And taking that beat around our businesses that I suggested, hard though it is, is to allow us to not only feel things, but also to see how things are shaking out and to notice the good and beauty all around us before we try to create pivots for ourselves. I’m reminded of friends, who when laid off from their jobs didn’t immediately launch into looking for new jobs. Instead, they said things to me like, “I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks with a pile of novels,” and, “It’s going to be great to get a jump building my planting beds,” and, “BIKE RIDES FOR DAYS!”

And, this amazing video of Lukas Nelson with his dad, Willie and brother Micah singing “Turn Off the News,” came to me (thank you, Jude!) as behind the scenes the salon’s pivot was falling apart. Give it a watch. It’s wonderful.

Maybe the messages we’re getting are telling us to stop pushing, and to, instead, go ahead and retreat. Go build a garden (or our own versions of it) and breathe for a bit. In doing so, the hope is that something will more organically make itself apparent to us, and that “something” will be of a sort that we could never have predicted.

Of course, I acknowledge that we all need to make money to feed and shelter ourselves. We can’t all just run off and bike or garden, and waiting, while it may sound nice, may not really be an option for many who are self-employed. I don’t claim to have the answer. I don’t even think there is one perfect answer. But to the extent that we can pause, and breathe, and wait and see for a bit, I have to think the outcomes and pivots could be amazing.