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5 Days, 5 Lessons: What ‘Forced Home Office’ Taught Me About Building a Business

My first full week of working from home made me realize that the lessons I learned while adapting to these unusual working conditions could be valuable to anyone who is launching and building a new business.

Let’s face it: last week was tough for everyone.

It was the first week almost every knowledge worker spent working from home. This wasn’t the type of home office you took because you needed some time on your own to ‘get stuff done.’ It was the type you took because you had no other choice.

If you’re like me, it was a struggle to find your rhythm. Monday felt OK – the calm before the storm. Tuesday started going downhill. Then came Wednesday, when I felt hopeless; I’d hit rock bottom. Thursday showed some promise, a tiny light at the end of a very long tunnel. On Friday I slowly realized that life would, in fact, go on.
As I reflect on this five-day journey, I learned some important lessons that could be useful to anyone trying to get used to this ‘The New Normal.’ I also realized that many of these lessons could be equally invaluable for an entrepreneur who is building a new business.

Lesson 1: Everything’s easier with a plan

Last week, I lost my normal routine: wake-up, go to the gym, drive to the office, write emails, make calls, have lunch, go to meetings, finish up and go home. All these activities merged into a blur of ‘stuff to do.’

I’m a pretty organized person, yet I found it was easy to get side-tracked, to lose focus and to misjudge my use of time. Suddenly, the natural borders that existed between ‘home’ and ‘work’ disappeared.

I reminded myself that structure is essential to making progress. Having a plan provides a framework for what you want to do, when you want to do it, and how you’re going to get it all done.

This is the same when you’re building a business. You need to have a clear sense of your ‘destination’ – the place you want to take your business – otherwise you’ll never know if you’re headed in the right direction. Once you have your destination, you need to make a plan for how you will get there.

My advice for the ‘New Normal’: Set clear goals for yourself and create an action plan for how you will achieve them. Develop a routine that accommodates your new lifestyle and stick with it until circumstances change.

Lesson 2: People really do matter

The thing I missed most last week was personal contact. I don’t mean the multiple video chats and phone calls that I held throughout the week. These were fine.

I missed the insights and feedback that I normally get from a casual conversation over a cup of coffee or a beer.

I missed not being able to bounce ideas off friends and acquaintances in a leisurely setting. I missed the process of understanding what people in my tribe were focused on and seeing how I might be able to help them.

It took only one week to highlight the importance of something I’ve always thought to be true: having people around you really matters. This is what gives you a sense of community and belonging. It’s what drives you forward when you’re stuck.

If you’re building a company, you need to lean on others to help guide you along the way. No matter how sure you are of your own ability, you can’t build a business by yourself. Whether their co-founders, trusted advisors, or important customers, find people who stand by your side, and help you carry the burden of starting something from nothing.

My advice for the ‘New Normal’: Don’t just schedule video chats to address acute problems. Make time to have ‘casual chats,’ as well. Organize calls just to see how people are doing and keep your eye out for those people who have your back. They are critical to your on-going success.

Lesson 3: Adapt quickly and move on

The most frustrating part of last week was that simple business tools suddenly became unreliable. Mobile service and internet access were on-again, off-again thanks to an overloaded telecom infrastructure.

It was wonderful having to run to various corners of my house and garden to see where I could stand so that the person on the other line could hear me.

Getting together for a quick chat wasn’t so easy. Zoom? Skype? Messenger? What’s your preference? Video chats, no matter what the technology, suddenly became the norm.

It’s become painfully obvious that everyone has had to change their behavior to meet these new circumstances.

I realized that such challenges are the norm for anyone creating a new business. Market circumstances change, people leave the company, customers move on from your service. The more quickly you accept these facts, the more likely you are to prosper.

My advice for the ‘New Normal’: Learn to use various business productivity technologies and learn to accept that not everything will run as smoothly as before. It’s a fact of life. Get used to it, and move on.

Lesson 4: Selling never stops

One of last week’s most unique challenges was judging whether potential customers would be open to discussing their future when their present is so uncertain. I felt unsure about whether I should continue sales conversations with my prospects.

Since virtually all my personal workshops were cancelled or pushed into the Fall, I had no choice. I realized that one-to-one mentoring via video chat was the best way to offer my business development knowledge and experience to my target customer: early stage companies looking for a clear path to growth and profit.

Despite my concerns, I pushed ahead with three promising client discussions. It took ten minutes for me to learn that each Founder-CEO was more than happy work with an advisor. Now more than ever, they needed help tackling the challenges they faced due to this dramatic change in the business environment.

I reminded myself that when you’re building a business, selling never stops. You need to identify how you can add value to your target customers no matter what the circumstances.

If your offering addresses their needs, you will identify prospects who are ready to do business with you.

My advice for the ‘New Normal’: Continue to use sales and marketing channels that don’t require personal contact to offer your services to potential customers. Make sure you tailor your offering if needed, even if it means letting go of certain elements until environmental conditions change.

Lesson 5: Stop and smell the roses

It was difficult to stay positive last week. Every visit to an online news source led to more bad news about Covid-19’s impact on people’s health and on entire countries and industries.

It was easy to feel depressed and lose sight of the future.

I reminded myself that you can’t let the external conditions control your inner thoughts. Letting these factors control your own thinking is self-destructive.

That’s no different when you’re building a business. You need to keep in mind what you signed up for. The mere fact that you chose to create a business makes you far braver and more resilient than 99% of the global workforce.

I drove this point home during my weekly mentoring session with a B2B services company operating in Big Data and analytics. I sensed from our discussions that they were having a tough time dealing with what was going on around them. At the end of our call, I reminded them to take some time to consider what they had achieved so far.

They had overcome so many obstacles already. Pushing through the current one was simply the next stage of their development. Conquering this latest set of challenges would simply make them even more proud when they reached their ideal destination.

My advice for the ‘New Normal’: Stop and smell the roses. Nothing is quite as bad as it seems. It’s important to take some time out of the day-to-day hustle to acknowledge the progress you’ve made so far and consider all the great things that will happen to you in our future.

Make sure you keep these five lessons in mind as you get used to the ‘New Normal,’ and as you continue to build your business. I’m confident that if you do so, you won’t just survive, but you will thrive in these truly historic circumstances.