by Steve Strauss
24 Jun 2020
Do the Opposite
It is one of the funniest, but also most prescient, episodes of Seinfeld. The gang is sitting at the coffee shop and George is lamenting (of course) the sad state of his life. The waitress comes over to take their order and says to George,
“Waitress: Tuna on toast, coleslaw, cup of coffee.
George: Yeah. No, wait a minute, I always have tuna on toast. Nothing’s ever worked out for me with tuna on toast. I want the complete opposite of on toast! [He orders chicken salad.]
Elaine: Well, there’s no telling what can happen from this . . . Ah, George, you know what? That woman just looked at you. Go talk to her!
George: Elaine, bald men, with no jobs, and no money, who live with their parents, don’t approach strange women.
Jerry: Well here’s your chance to try the opposite. Instead of tuna salad and being intimidated by women, chicken salad and going right up to them.
George: Yes, I will do the opposite! I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!”
George gets the date, and everything begins to turn around for him as he does the opposite.
I am suggesting that this episode is prescient because, maybe surprisingly, there is a lot of truth in the insight that George had, especially in economic times like these, and especially for small businesses.
As the senior small business columnist for USA TODAY, I have been writing about, and speaking to and with, small businesses for over 20 years. And this is the third economic earthquake I have witnessed. The first was in 2001 after 9/11. Next was during what I call The Not-So-Great Recession in 2008-09, and now this, the coronavirus catastrophe.
And throughout that time, I have seen it all: success and failure, fear and bravery, intelligence and stupidity. During times like these, some small businesses make bold, smart decisions, but far more often, many make short-sighted, bad ones, based mostly on fear.
Indeed, it is understandable that the initial reaction of many small businesses during a time of economic calamity is to pull back, retrench. They cut overhead, reduce spending, trim the sails, and hope to just ride out the storm until things begin to shift again. Then, and only then, will they start to spend money, market aggressively, invest in training, and move on.
What I am here to tell you is that you should seriously consider doing the opposite.
Both data and anecdotes have taught me that in a time of crisis like this, it is the wise entrepreneur who sees what a tremendous opportunity this moment can actually be and acts accordingly.
But don’t just take it from me. Consider what none other than Warren Buffett has to say about doing the opposite (yes, he is talking about investing, but what does Buffett invest in? That’s right, businesses.)
- Those who invest only when commentators are upbeat end up paying a heavy price for meaningless reassurance;
- We’ve put a lot of money to work during [times of] chaos. It’s an ideal period for investors. A climate of fear is their best friend . . . Big opportunities come infrequently, [and so, when] it’s raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble. (Source: Time Magazine.)
What all of this means is that right now is not the time to contract, but to expand. Think about it: How often comes a time when your competitors are truncating, when top talent is scared and looking for greener pastures, when customers are open to switching brands?
That’s right, not often.
But that time is now, not later. Before long there will be a coronavirus vaccine and life will get back to normal. The economy will boom from pent-up demand and competition for customers and eyeballs will be fierce again.
But not now. Right now you have the chance to unexpectedly grow when everyone else is shrinking. Like Warren Buffett, right now, you can buy when everyone else is selling.
Certainly, some savvy entrepreneurs in 2008 saw the opportunity that was before them when everyone else only saw doom and gloom:
- In 2009, Yahoo alumni Jan Koum and Brian Acton saw that people around the globe needed a better, cheaper, way to connect. They launched WhatsApp
- Fees are always an issue for college kids, but especially so during a recession. That’s why in 2009, college pals Iqram Magdon-Ismail and Andrew Kortina created a digital payment app requiring no fees. They dubbed it Venmo
- One night in 2009, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp could not find a taxi on a cold night in Paris. They went home and founded Uber
Be bold. Boldness can payoff big right now.
Specifically, I think that this can manifest in two smart ways.
First, double down on marketing. Most small businesses come up with a few ways to attract clients, but then they run them into the ground. Either the method stops being effective, or a crisis like this can overwhelms what worked previously.
Whatever the case, right now is a great time to test, perfect, and roll out some new marketing strategies.
Second, invest in your people. Many of your people, the backbone of your company, are likely still working from home. As such, they need direction and help more than ever. If you invest in them, support them, if you help them learn new skills, give them training, and are there for them, they will reward you back with loyalty multifold.
And this is just one of the reasons that I am so excited about getting to team up with Cornerstone. Over the next few months, I will be blogging and presenting on a variety of topics designed to help your small business succeed during this challenging time.
Indeed, a tool like Cornerstone Learning is just the sort of thing that I am talking about. It is a system that can set you apart and take you from good to great (and at a time when your competition is likely going from good to mediocre.)
So that’s the secret.
Be like George Costanza. Do the opposite and you’ll get the date too.