With commerce drying up and the entire service economy grinding to a halt in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that business leaders, from the captains of industry to mom and pop bakeries, take pains to navigate this crisis carefully and deliberately. This is not the time to panic. Businesses can survive this – and business leader, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Liz Elting can speak to how. Elting, who famously shepherded her company TransPerfect from a dorm-room startup into a billion-dollar enterprise through both 9/11 and the 2008 financial meltdown, knows how to handle a growing and unpredictable crisis and wants to help businesses overcome this challenge.
1. Reassure your team. “You can’t predict the future, but you must do what you can to provide calm, steady leadership by renewing your commitment to the people who work for you. Set the tone, and everyone else will follow.”
2. Have backup plans for your backup plans. “Much of the world is lurching suddenly over to primarily work-from-home arrangements, which comes with its own set of problems. Tools like conference call systems are already being overwhelmed by volume beyond capacity, so you need to know what you’re going to do when your plans fall through. The whole world is rushing to find technological solutions, and that’s going to take time. Plan accordingly.”
3. Maintain person-to-person contact. “After 9/11, flights in the United States were grounded for weeks, which meant that business travel was impossible. Thankfully, here in 2020 we have tools we didn’t have nineteen years ago to keep in touch. That means that it’s time to back off from email and text and engage more over voice or video. Don’t become a disconnected presence.”
4. Proactive communication. “If you weren’t a big communicator before, you have to step up and be one now. You need to be proactive and make sure your team and your customers know what’s happening step by step. Stay connected, stay together, and make sure your team knows they’re not alone. You need to up your communication game. And that extends to clients as well. See what they need, because their needs are changing day by day. The better you stay on top of those needs, the stronger your business will be.”
5. ABC – Always be closing. “You need to hustle like you’ve never hustled before. There will be a strong tendency for potential clients to grow timid in these uncertain times, but the same goes for your competition. Be forthright, be out there, and offer solutions to the problems of this strange new world we’re suddenly in. Don’t retrench. Don’t retreat.”
6. Invest in work-from-home solutions. “I know the temptation right now is to preserve cash. But you need to keep your business running, and that’s not going to happen with half-measures or workarounds. Productivity is already going to be struggling right now; don’t let bad tools make it worse. Find a solution that fits your business, and make it work. Give your team time to get up to speed too; there is going to be a learning curve, so make sure to emphasize scheduling and goal-setting (just as you would in the office) to keep everyone on track.”
7. Remember that you aren’t alone. “You don’t have to solve this crisis at once, and luckily, it’s not your responsibility to do it by yourself. You’ve hired a team you trust and believe in. Now is the time to lean on their collective experience, intelligence, and wisdom to help make the right decisions.”
8. Reevaluate your finances. “These are going to be lean times the likes of which the United States hasn’t faced in quite a while. Cut where you can. If you are in a position to get out of a lease on office space, well, your team is already working from home anyway. Let the space go, and get that cash back. Do whatever you can to preserve cash flow without cutting people. And the Fed is busy injecting capital into the financial system and slashing interest rates, which means cash is going to be cheap.”
9. Act with integrity. “You need to understand the weight of the historical moment we are in. This is not a time to shirk responsibilities or balk on commitments. Reaffirm your commitment to your team. If your company is healthy, you have a responsibility to support your team through this crisis. These are times that make and break leaders, and it’s going to require vision and a commitment to the common good to make it through. We have an opportunity here to not only survive the crisis, but to create whatever comes after.
About Liz Elting
Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is an entrepreneur, business leader, linguaphile, philanthropist, feminist, and mother. After living, studying, and working in five countries across the globe, Liz started TransPerfect out of an NYU dorm room. During her tenure as Co-CEO, she grew TransPerfect into the world’s largest language solutions company, with over $600 million in revenue, 4,000+ employees, 11,000+ clients, and offices in more than 90 cities worldwide. Liz has been recognized as a NOW “Woman of Power & Influence,” an Enterprising Women “Enterprising Woman of the Year” and one of Forbes’ “Richest Self-Made Women.”