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The silver lining during the pandemic: You can flex your creativity muscles as an entrepreneur

Yes, the litany of woes that small businesses can attribute to this pandemic is not small: Businesses closing, scared staff, customers gone and, adding insult to injury, a do-nothing Congress.

That said, what I also know is that there is a silver lining in your small business pandemic, and I am not saying that in some Pollyanna-ish, rah-rah, “you can do it!” way.

Instead, what I know is that for some small businesses, the pandemic has been a boon, not a bust. Having been forced to pivot, many intrepid entrepreneurs have grown their businesses in ways that they had not even considered way back in, oh, say February.

Small businesses are nothing if not adaptable.

In the past couple of months, I teamed up with PayPal to interview some of their best small business merchants about successful pivots and have come away quite impressed.

If I do say so myself, the series is great. Interesting. Inspirational. And full of valuable lessons for the rest of us. Not surprisingly, we are calling it, “The Adaptables.”

Take for example Malbon Golf. The business was launched in 2017 by husband and wife team Stephen and Erica Malbon. Between their brick-and-mortar stores in Los Angeles and Seoul selling their clever, contemporary golf togs, and their “Malbon Social Club” that held group golf events, Mabon Golf was as physical a business as there is.

So what do you do when you have an analogue business and the world turns digital?

You adapt, that’s what.

The Malbons got creative and transformed their offline business into an online one. The low-hanging fruit of course was e-commerce, so they rapidly ramped up their online store.

Online sales for MalbonGolf.com have doubled this past year.

But here’s the real conundrum: How could you have golf tournaments when people were quarantining at home? You launch “The Quarantine Classic.” Team Malbon sent mobile putting mats to members and then, on Zoom or FaceTime, club members participated in online putting tournaments.

These days, like the rest of the world, Malbon Golf is slowly getting back to normal, holding real tournaments again, but the lessons learned this past year will stay with them forever, and their business will be better for it.

Silver linings, see?

Think about your customer base, their needs

The same holds true for another PayPal merchant Funlayo Alabi, owner of Shea Radiance.

Shea Radiance makes fantastic natural beauty products – I know because my wife is a customer. When the pandemic hit, Funlayo’s business also took a big hit. But two things allowed her to not only survive, but thrive:

► The right attitude, and

► A new strategy

As she told me, “Somewhere (during) the panic, I realized that we were going to get through this. I made the decision that I wanted to come out at the end of this pandemic better than ever before. With that decision, we started (seeing new) opportunities.”

Among other things, one of the things Shea Radiance realized is that with people washing their hands more, the need for a great moisturizer with, say, shea butter, was suddenly a golden market opportunity. Bingo!

Similarly, their female clientele were requiring more “me time,” and again, Funlayo’s product line spoke to that need. However, a marketing pivot was required. “That’s when we started doing Zoom and Instagram Lives” she said, showing their customers how their Shea Radiance body wash, moisturizer, and shea butter cream could help. Bingo, again!

So yes, even though the pandemic remains a huge challenge for small business, productive pivots are possible.

Indeed, as Erica Malbon told me, “It would have been easy to say, ‘OK, we don’t know what to do, maybe we need to throw in the towel … to get into a funk and not think about other ways to reach your customers.’ ” But what these entrepreneurs have learned, and what we can learn too, is that you need to “see opportunities when maybe it seems like there aren’t any.”

“The key,” she said, “is to be adaptable.”

Steve Strauss is an attorney, speaker and the author of 17 books, including “The Small Business Bible.” You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.com, get more tips at his site TheSelfEmployed, and connect with him on Twitter @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at TheSelfEmployed.

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