Navigating Your Business Through Rough Seas

Leo Resig is the CEO and Co-Founder of Atmosphere, a free, ad-supported streaming TV platform for businesses with 45,000+ subscribers.

Without drafting a laundry list of all the financial, political and social challenges staring us down, or revisiting the upheaval caused by the pandemic, we can all agree that the world is changing—and fast.

From dining and travel to retail and real estate, the economy is behaving in paradoxical ways. On the one hand, consumers’ spending habits are changing and as of September, employment was above pre-pandemic levels. On the other hand, record-high gas prices, soaring inflation and a looming recession are pulling in the other direction.

For entrepreneurs, investors and others, the world today presents some unique challenges, but it also offers a nearly unprecedented opportunity to identify and leverage those new behavioral trends, build new businesses and reimagine old paradigms. As Albert Einstein is often attributed with saying, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

Gloomy, yet speculative, headlines are triggering businesses of all shapes and sizes to consider preemptively cutting costs. But while many larger companies have the experience and coffers to find their way through the storm, regardless of whether it’s a drizzle or a hurricane, smaller businesses are not so fortunate.

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When the pandemic hit in March 2020, my company’s out-of-home streaming TV service, like thousands of other businesses, was clearly facing some unprecedented challenges. Our service relies almost exclusively on offering advertisers a near-direct line to consumers in public, communal places such as bars, restaurants and gyms. When the stay-at-home orders started and people stopped going out, we had to pivot hard to find new audiences for our content and our advertisers. Instead of simply steering the ship into calmer waters, we steered it right into new streams of revenue, including doctors’ offices, auto repair shops and other venues that could not and did not shut down. Now it’s a key part of our growing business.

How To Navigate The Uncertainty

The same sense of purpose and ingenuity that kept my company growing in 2020 can provide a concrete roadmap on what to do when times get tough again. Businesses that not only remain afloat facing impending headwinds but also have the foresight and open-mindedness to see the world through the prism of change will spark and realize new opportunities.

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Strap in and get ready because at some point in the future—whether it’s today or in five years—there is going to be something unexpected, something you couldn’t prepare for, and it’s going to require you to pivot. It might be slight, or it might be a total reimagining of your business, but consider the following as you look toward an uncertain future:

Lean into people, systems and processes. At my company, we believe that if you have the proper people, systems and processes in place, you’ll succeed in the long run. If it isn’t now, there is something that will upend your plans and force your hand just around the corner. Consider how each component of your business, from operations and labor to marketing and shifting consumer habits, could be affected by upheaval, whatever form it takes. By evaluating every element of your business, you’ll discover what people, processes and systems you need to take flight in the right conditions.

Realize that your employees are your biggest assets. It doesn’t matter how good an idea you have or how successful a business is—it’s your employees who make it happen every day, and it’s their loyalty and sense of purpose that will keep them with you through difficult times. Don’t wait for inflation, a recession or worse to invest in your people. Respect the investment they make in your organization by making defensive financial moves to protect jobs, and make a commitment to be transparent no matter how bad things get.

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Don’t panic. There’s only so much that’s in your control, and you’ll have to accept that. Any successful business owner can tell you stories about their ventures that failed or stumbled before they found their footing. The amount of pressure required to turn a piece of coal into a diamond probably isn’t pleasant for the coal. Keep your head and your business focused on your North Star, and you’ll find your way through the challenges that undoubtedly lay ahead.

Historically, times of great upheaval are also times of great opportunity. The next great company or creative, world-changing solution to a problem we now think of as immutable can just as easily come from the mire of uncertainty ahead.

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