The Time for 2021 Planning Has Arrived: Some Advice

By Tom Nixon, Certified Volunteer Mentor,
Southeast Michigan Chapter of SCORE

Labor Day is behind us, marking the unofficial end of summer, the newly uneven opening of back-to-school season, and the artificial marker of the start of the fourth quarter. As we approach Q4 2020, there is no better time to reassess where this past year has taken us, and to be more purposeful about how we finish the year—and perhaps look ahead to 2021 with a clearer picture of what we want the future to look like.

Consider this, if we can muster the optimism to do so, the moment at which you regained a degree of control over events, rather than being a victim to circumstances unforeseen and out of one’s control. The time to take charge of your fortunes is now, but it will require not only a shift in mindset, but also an admission of what has changed...some things permanently, and most indefinitely.

Mindset: Accepting Reality and Moving On

There are plenty of books out there to help those motivated and open to addressing mindset challenges and resets. I cannot imagine a time more critical than now for professionals in any industry to address the health, and perhaps the course correction, of one’s mindset...certainly so for small business owners and entrepreneurs. I believe it all starts here, for if you’re stuck in a scarcity mindset (and you would be forgiven for being so, given events of 2020 so far), you will find it difficult to have the courage and optimism it takes to plan for a successful end of the year and prosperous 2021.

No longer can we consider this massive upheaval in our lives to be temporary or fleeting. Many business owners are coming to the realization that there are no immediate or predictable timelines for returning to normalcy. Rather than waiting for the Godot of “normalcy” to arrive, perhaps business owners should be settling in and accepting the circumstances for what they are: lamentable, but largely acceptable...for a few, preferable...and to a large degree, manageable. We can work remotely, we can service clients and customers imperfectly, and we can even capture the new business that moves forward apace, despite our worst fears that the world would stop earlier this year.

There are markets to pursue, there are customers to serve, and there is new opportunity out there for the taking. Aligning your mindset around abundance (rather than scarcity) is the critical first step in mapping out the next 15 months of your business plan. 

Read a book if you need to, consult with a mentor if you’re open to, but get that mindset right before you do any level of long-term planning, or you’ll be overly cautious or pessimistic about your prospects for growth.

The Pivot: Leaning In and Charging Ahead

While it may seem difficult to find the silver lining amid the foreboding darkness of the cloud, take solace in some of the pleasant discoveries and surprises we’ve uncovered out of necessity. Who knew just how valuable and viable remote working technologies could be? Words like “Zoom,” “virtual” and “e-commerce,” though not new, became part of our everyday vernaculars overnight. Now that we are comfortable with once foreign technologies and environs, now is the time to leverage their power and make up for some of what is lost through distance working.

We hear the word “pivot” a lot these days, as enterprising entrepreneurs are taking this time to change their business plans by pivoting in one of three ways (or more):

  • Pivoting the Product or Service: As with most crises, this pandemic has created sudden and urgent demand for all sorts of new products and services: PPE, home improvement goods, home office supplies, etc. Perhaps the product or service that your company has historically offered is no longer in great demand as it once was; but can you pivot what you sell in order to address a market that is in greater demand but probably still underserved?
  • Pivoting the Market: Similarly, new markets have opened up for the product or service that many have offered all along, and these business owners don’t need to reassess their offering so much as to whom they are making their offer. Look at your product or service set and take a fresh look at who might find what you offer of greater value in this new, strange environment. There might be a whole new market out there just waiting to be discovered!
  • Pivoting the Delivery Model: We heard a lot from desperate brick-and-mortar retailers during the government-imposed shutdowns. Even now, as restrictions are loosening and businesses are opening up, many are still finding foot traffic to be slow in returning to normal. Who knows how long that consumer hesitancy will last? Rather than fighting the trend, lean into it, and look for ways that you can serve customers where and how they want to be served. My pet store began same-day delivery. Shops and retailers have hastened to convert their sales to online fulfillment. Others have gone from in-salon service to house calls, for example. What can you do to pivot the way you make money and retain clientele?

Accept the new reality, adopt the available technologies, train your teams to become adept at leveraging them, and move into the fourth quarter and beyond with the confidence and skill set to master the “the new normal.”

In short, the future’s not what it used to be. Let’s accept that. Let’s embrace it, to the extent reasonable. And let’s get busy taking greater control of our uncertain futures...with purpose, strategy and enthusiasm.

About the Author

Tom Nixon serves as volunteer mentor with SCORE of Southeast Michigan. He has spent his nearly 30-year career advising startups and established businesses in all areas of marketing, including advertising, public relations, corporate communications, digital marketing, social media and more. He currently serves as Principal + Chief Strategy Officer at HARRINGTON, a thought-leadership PR and marketing firm serving professional service firms.

Settling In and Looking Out