This was a steep learning curve. We had to think on our feet and react fast, and we didn't always get it right. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused problems for many organizations, and this impact is felt most acutely by small businesses and startups. My company has faced its challenges over the past few months. We've made some mistakes along the way, and we've learned a great deal about conducting business in a positive, collaborative fashion during a time of crisis.
Successfully navigating these troubling times requires more flexibility than you might be comfortable with. You need to negotiate differently, communicate frequently and, above all, maintain positive relationships with clients, vendors, partners and staff.
We all had agreements, partnerships and contracts in effect before the crisis hit. These were carefully negotiated to obtain the best possible outcomes for all parties involved. However, the current situation has radically changed the math. Many organizations simply can't meet the obligations they committed to — or can't use the products or services they had previously requisitioned.
This leaves companies in breach of contract, unable to live up to agreements. The thing is, the pandemic is affecting all of us. Simply demanding the bottom line be met, or conversely, ignoring our obligations completely, will only cause a domino effect, compounding the situation, driving more and more companies into crisis and delaying the recovery. Insisting on the status quo is unreasonable. Simply not paying your bills is not an option.
Negotiate an interim solution and be proactive. The coronavirus crisis was unprecedented and unforeseeable. There are no clauses accounting for it in our contracts. Driving our partner organizations out of business because of circumstances outside of all of our control won't help anyone.
Business has slowed. One of my client CEOs came to me — well before their bill was due — to let me know that he would need more time to make a payment. This gave my team time to manage expectations. We weren't left in the lurch settling our own accounts because we knew that expected income wasn't forthcoming. The client assured me that the bill would be paid, but that he couldn't meet the original timeline. We negotiated a solution that could work for him and his business that was also manageable for us.
Communicate, And Then Overcommunicate
In that example, our client came to me early. This can be one of the keys of successfully collaborating through changing times. Communicate before the situation is critical, keep partners informed of your changing circumstances and be proactive about offering interim solutions. Overcommunicate, even.
Not all organizations are as effective in their communication strategies. The worst-case scenario, and we encounter it often, is when they simply ghost you.
We get it. Work is not normal now. People are working remotely, some companies are operating with reduced staff and priorities have shifted. Those same constraints are on your partner organizations as well. If they need to expend so much of their reduced resources simply to get in touch with you, that conversation — whenever it happens — is going to be strained, potentially heated even.
Don't ghost. Stay in touch.
Human resources departments in particular have been decimated during the Covid-19 crisis. Teams of 12 people have been reduced to one. Approach partners to collaborate: How can we help? It's not about pressuring partners to live up to previous commitments; it's about seeing how you can make it easier for them to get through the current situation. Because right now, when this is all over and at the end of the day, it's relationships that matter.
Lead with empathy. Support your partner organizations and remember why you chose to partner with them in the first place. The current crisis has affected us all, and this has many businesses thinking only about their own shrinking revenue or mounting bills. Of course, these things matter, but they don't make it acceptable to put other people, their businesses and their livelihood at risk.
Your reputation, your brand and your relationships comprise the cornerstone of your company's success. Maintaining these through tough times will be essential to your success moving forward.
Communicate often and early. Negotiate proactively. This means more than just agreeing on terms of payment, but also setting expectations for how to work together, support each other and continue to be the collaborative partners that we always were. The pandemic has been hard on many organizations, but it shouldn't pit us against one another. Going radio silent on our partners, ignoring our obligations and not paying the bills are not ways to maintain and nurture the relationships that are essential to conducting business, whether or not there is a crisis situation.
Being a good business partner during the pandemic means keeping the lines of communication open, supporting each other and negotiating terms that work for all parties. We're in this together, and that is the only way we'll get through this.