Keep Earning Money in a COVID Slowdown

Many parts of the economy are slowing down in these days of city shutdowns and massive social distancing. The language industry is no different.

Do you still have client work coming in regularly? (You're lucky.) Then do that. Clients still come first. Whether they are active projects, prospects on the edge of converting, or other hot leads, of course continue. Are you trying to keep yourself or your staff busy? Let's talk.

If work slows down enough that you - or especially your staff - have free time, this is a great opportunity to invest for later. I don't have any magic answers on how to get revenue right now. But that doesn't mean you can't make this time count.

Keep your staff busy. If you are paying them, get value from them. It may not have an immediate return on investment, but you can create and stockpile value to cash in on later. Your staff may not tell you directly, but if projects are slowing down, they are probably worried and stressed about losing their jobs. Assigning them tasks can help. Being needed reassures them of their job security. Being productive can restore a sense of normalcy, even if working from home. I have one friend who was told to work from home, but the company's VPN crashed. So he has been sitting around the house for a few days with nothing to do. He says he feels "useless" and "they might start to think they don't need me." People are very emotional these days, even sometimes irrational. Being busy can distract people from the realities of the world situation for a while.

Be empathetic to that world situation. You can't expect staff to put in eight hours a day. Maybe some can, but they shouldn't have to. At least not right away. Our routines, our communities, our lives have been changed a lot, and suddenly. Like everyone, your staff need time to adjust. They may need extra time to go to the grocery store and hunt for food and wait in long lines and then go to more grocery stores to see if shelves there are less empty. They may need extra time to take care of kids that aren't in school, or to take care of elderly family members. They may need extra time to take care of neighbors or friends who need assistance. They may be spending a lot of time watching the news, where big changes seem to happen every day. And they may need some time to emotionally process it all. Allow them some time for these things.

But give deadlines. Okay, not to sound cold, but I still believe if it doesn't have a deadline, it doesn't get done. It's easy for anyone to get caught up in those personal activities, or even to lose time watching the news or reading social media. Having deadlines adds some structure and responsibility. Just consider that "empathy time" when you set your deadlines.

So then what should you keep yourself and your staff busy with? Start with anything you already know you need to do. If you needed to do it last week, or last month, or before coronavirus, do that. If not, maybe you have been wanting to work on something but you kept saying "I wish I had the time". Congratulations! You have the time. Isn't that great? But if you still aren't sure what you could work on, here are some ideas.

Marketing. This seems to be the one area small and mid-sized LSCs invest in last. Do you have a marketing plan? Do you need to update it? If you don't have a marketing team, or even one full-time marketing employee, you probably wish you could do more marketing. Create a supply of content for later use. Don't make one infographic, or one whitepaper, make five. Build up an inventory on topics that aren't time sensitive. When clients start to come back, and everyone is busy with projects again, you will already have content you can simply distribute, a little at a time, for weeks or even months. You still need to have a plan for which content types are best for you, and where you will distribute them. So if you don't have a marketing plan, start with that. But there are many different kinds of marketing content your staff could create: flyers, infographics, whitepapers, videos, quizzes, etc. If you start producing something that is ongoing, such as a blog or series, you need a plan to keep it going when the company is back to being busy. One-off pieces are the most versatile. And if your staff isn't great at marketing tools or graphics programs or effective writing, they can still produce parts. For example, you can ask account managers and project managers to compile notes, bullets, or even research on topics they are familiar with. This can then be used as the content in some form of marketing. Even if you hire an outside design company to create your marketing, they will need the raw content to work with.

Infrastructure. This could be technology, tools, or just processes. You can have an employee review the ones you currently use. And if you or your staff already know of problems that you've been putting off addressing, address it now while you can. You can assign someone to look into new tools or technology to help with anything from workflow, integrations, accounting, unique services, or new service lines. And if you have enough staff, you could create mini-task forces to work virtually. That collaboration can help employees feel less disconnected from each other and the company, it gives them some social interaction (at a distance!) and can even increase the quality of the deliverable.

Strategic planning. If you spend too much time working 'in' your business and not enough working 'on' your business, this may be the most important option for you personally. You can still assign any tasks to your staff while you, as leader, focus on the big picture. You know you should be doing that anyway. So if you feel negligent, spend time on your business strategy. You'll feel better; you'll feel accomplished. Do you have a written strategic plan for the next few years? I know everything right now feels so uncertain. But this will pass. I repeat, this will pass. The world will go back to normal. You should still have a plan. Business plans are not about predicting the future or locking yourself into a path. They are a vision of where you think the world, the industry, and your company are going, and plans for how you will react to that vision. So as the future arrives day after day, and your vision evolves, so does the path you choose to take. Understanding the reasons for your plans helps you better adjust them as you go forward. In a year or so, when people are no longer social distancing and the economy is fully active again, where do you want your company to be? Where do you want it to be headed? And what should you be working on now or in the near future to make sure you arrive there? Uncertain times are actually when you need a strong plan the most.

Also consider having a virtual meeting with staff just to brainstorm. A busy company doesn't often have time to just contemplate. But you shouldn't meet simply to talk about current projects or mundane day-to-day work. This meeting could be on anything from crazy ideas and innovations to new service lines. Bring the team back together for some interaction, but add a little fun to it. And keep it focused on the future. This shifts the emotional tone from worry (reaction to crisis) to hope (proactive development). And it will reinforce that sense of job security. It might even spark more employee engagement.

Wait, that sounds like an awful lot to do. So then don't do it all. Prioritize. As a company owner or leader, you probably always have more tasks you want to do than you have time for. So you should already be very familiar with prioritization. Any of these above suggestions may sound like a great idea, but just pick one or two to begin. If you already wanted to do something, then the choice is easy. If you didn't, look at what will have the greatest return on investment six months or a year from now. Don't choose busy work, strategically choose work.

So you shouldn't stop spending time on anything that brings in revenue. But if you and your staff have a lot of "free time," it means you aren't investing in getting paid back later for that time.

Find a balance. Be empathetic. Take care of yourself, your family, and your employees.

And if you're still stressed out, I give free virtual hugs on Skype.


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