Protect your business from some of the most common pitfalls agency owners can run into during the COVID-19 pandemic

The global COVID-19 pandemic is a serious threat to the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world. It has already impacted nearly 2.5 million people directly and shows every sign of continuing for the foreseeable future.

For small business owners, the threat is larger and more complex. Not only do you have your employees, customers, and their families to worry about, but you also have to find a way to keep your business running despite the uncertain economic climate.

Unsurprisingly, many digital agency owners are making panic-driven mistakes that could end up costing them in the long run.

When dealing with unprecedented situations like this one, learning from the mistakes of others is critical to identifying the path to success. Using the right resources and following the guidance of recognized experts is key to making the best of a terribly challenging situation.

Learn From These Five COVID-19 Mistakes

While there are dozens of particulars that different organizations will have to accommodate in their coronavirus response strategy, there are a few universal areas where agency leaders can learn from one another. These are the five categories where agency owners are most likely to make panic-driven errors of judgment.

  1. Settling For the Appearance of Employee Safety
    As an agency owner, the responsibility for creating a safe work environment for employees and their families falls squarely on your shoulders. Many digital agencies and other organizations in the technology sector lean too conservatively in their adoption of employee safety policies.

    For instance, temperature checks might make employees feel safer, but they do not address the risk of the virus transmitting asymptomatically. Even if no one in the office shows any symptoms, the sudden onset of the disease in a close family member will absolutely disrupt production and increase the level of panic in the workplace, leading to more severe repercussions.

    Social distancing and work-from-home frameworks are policies that pay for themselves during times like these. Reducing the risk of transmission require thinking policies through and being willing to adapt them to environmental changes.
  2. Not Escalating When the Time is Right
    It’s hard to internalize exactly what the latest Coronavirus statistics really mean in terms of your business in your local neighborhood. Every agency owner is going to have to identify a series of escalation steps and be willing to trigger them when the occasion demands it.

    These escalation mechanisms involve many of the employee safety policies that people are talking about in every industry. They can also include shifts in customer outreach strategies and the core value propositions your agency offers or taking out credit lines to maintain cash flow now, rather than waiting and suffering in the meantime.

    Crisis case studies are full of examples of managers who failed to escalate when circumstances demanded it. It takes a great degree of courage and wisdom to enact difficult policies when they are truly needed. 
  3. Confusing Optimism with Idealism
    We would all like the economy to bounce back as quickly as possible, and we should plan for that to be the case. However, every single agency owner and small business leader needs to have a contingency plan behind that one, and another plan behind that one, and so on.

    Agency owners who are losing clients, running out of working capital, or coming up short on cash are far more likely to indulge fantastic beliefs in a quick recovery than their more resilient counterparts. There is nothing wrong with hoping for the best, but you must also prepare for the worst.

    For instance, if a true recession sets in, the options available to you now are going to seem far better than the ones you will be able to choose from in six months’ time. If you have to reduce hours, sell agency assets, or restructure your business to survive, doing it now is going to be far more effective than doing it later.
  4. Under investing in Big Picture Thinking
    Owners of small agencies have a tendency to get lost in the specific, tactical elements of their business strategy rather than looking at the big picture. Business leaders who do this often find themselves trapped in organizational silos.

    For instance, if you think of losing your clients purely in terms of a “demand crisis for digital marketing services”, you will lose out on the ability to leverage new opportunities where demand does exist.

    Neither you nor your agency, exist in a vacuum. You may not be able to save that one particular client contract, but you can invest your time and energy into developing new ones that follow the new paths of value being carved out in the post-COVID world.
  5. Losing Focus on the Long Term
    There is arguably nothing more important than an effective, immediate response to any crisis. However, every choice you make now is going to have long-term repercussions, and failing to think about them is also a strategic mistake.

    As mentioned above in #2, knowing when to escalate your near-term response can be vital to keeping your business healthy in the long- term. Taking a credit line out now might mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy if, indeed, things get worse from here on out.

    Keeping an eye on the business horizon in this way ensures that you don’t make decisions that end up costing you more than they should in the end.

The Number One Coronavirus Response Strategy: Don’t Panic!

If there is a common thread linking the five most common mistakes that agency owners are making right now, it’s panic. When leaders give in to panic, they obsess over near-term tactics, lose sight of the big picture, and engage in fantastic hope-driven idealism. That fantastic idealism then prevents them from triggering escalation scenarios when they have to, making employees pay for it.

Now is the time to demonstrate your leadership skills. If there is one thing to incorporate into your response strategy, it’s showing your employees, customers, and business partners that you refuse to give in to panic-driven thinking.