See our full discussion on successful pivot strategies.

Throughout 2020, small business owners have stood tall against adversity, pivoting their operations to succeed now and in the future. As part of The Big Week for Small Business this week, CO— gathered a panel of small business owners who have found success despite the seemingly nonstop challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created.

The panel, called Perfecting the Pivot: Strategies from Star Business Owners, was moderated by Kelly Shupe, executive director, market manager for business banking at Chase. It included insights from Joel Clark, co-founder and CEO of Kodiak Cakes; Hadley Douglas, owner of The Urban Grape; and Yvette Jenkins, owner of Love Travels Imports.

Here are some insights the speakers shared during the panel.

Don’t forget who you are

One of the biggest takeaways of the panel was not to forget what your company stands for, even in the face of adversity. Douglas from The Urban Grape said this year the company quickly shifted from in-person to virtual events, while keeping focused on principles that set the company apart.

“Being in the wine industry, which has historically been very white, it’s been difficult for us to build a racially diverse team like we’ve always wanted to,” Douglas said. “It’s sort of crazy to take on this huge initiative at this moment, but the support of our business has been so incredible that we were able to fulfill a longstanding dream of ours — to start a scholarship award program to help diversify the wine industry in Boston. We’ve raised $160,000 to endow funds at Boston University … It’s really important that even while we are in the middle of a pandemic, do not forget what your values and goals are as a business.”

 screenshot of panelists from The Big Week for Small Business 2020
Our panelists, from left to right: Joel Clark, Hadley Douglas, Yvette Jenkins, and moderator Kelly Shupe. — U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Set clear expectations for employees

Kodiak Cakes’ Clark said his business got busier when the pandemic hit because the demand for the company’s baking mixes skyrocketed. To help account for this, the company enforced strong accountability for employees.

“We have a good accountability and reporting structure in place,” Clark said. “Everybody in the company has really clear goals and expectations set for them. Then it’s a cadence of weekly meetings between managers and direct reports. We didn’t have to worry so much about if people were working while at home.”

We all have to adapt, but you have to be careful to not dilute your brand or your positioning.

Joel Clark, co-founder and CEO, Kodiak Cakes

Adapt with your customers and partners

Jenkins from Love Travels Imports said the company has evolved along with both customers and partners, which has helped everyone involved.

“[When the pandemic hit], we had to quickly innovate and pivot,” Jenkins said. “We had to communicate with our artisans that we couldn’t do hand-painted scarves [anymore], so we did hand-painted face masks. Because they are small producers, it’s important to be flexible and we could test things quickly. The thing that helped us was creating unique face masks and lavender products to help people relax. We are going to continue with these packages and continue telling these stories,” she said. “We were going through this at the same time as our producers — for example, in Guatemala, where they shut everything down there as well. This was an important thing to do for the livelihoods of the artisans we work with. It’s made a tighter bond.”

Don’t dilute your brand

Clark from Kodiak Cakes said one of the most important things he could share was that even when times are tough, remember what your brand is and what it stands for.

“Sometimes you get tempted to go a different way,” Clark said. “We all have to adapt, but you have to be careful to not dilute your brand or your positioning. It was taking us forever to get our pancake business off the ground, and our brand positioning was around whole grains. We were tempted to do a white flour pancake mix, but we were having second thoughts. My brother told me, ‘If you launch this, then what do we stand for?’ One of the best decisions we ever made was to not launch it.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published October 15, 2020