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How to know when it’s time to pivot your business model, and how to do it

Posted by Kanika Sinha

June 4, 2021    |     4-minute read (671 words)

Small businesses were among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100,000 small U.S. firms were permanently closed just two months into the crisis, while countless others struggled to stay afloat.

Those who managed to stay open were often forced to pivot, meaning fundamentally change their direction. To adapt to the extraordinary challenges of the pandemic, some improvised to offer a new product or service, while others changed their target market or leveraged digital technology to start connecting with customers.

When’s the right time to pivot?

Changing direction can be a good thing for businesses, especially startups and smaller firms who will likely have to pivot at some point to stay in the game. But how do you know it’s time?

There are a number internal and external signs that will help you identify whether — and when — to consider the lateral move.

  •       If you are no longer achieving the desired results from doing things that previously made you successful. You have stopped growing, sales have plateaued, or your processes are no longer working well, profits are dropping, or you are losing people, it’s time to evolve.
  •       If there is growing apathy among your employees, the founding team is less inspired or your get-up-and-go has waned, pivoting could be in the cards.
  •       If your target audience aims to be served differently, one option could be pivoting toward improvising your product or service accordingly while still retaining what works and what makes your firm special. Or consider shifting to a new market that seeks your original product or service.
  •       Take a cue from the market itself. Analyze trends to see whether your firm is operating at its best capacity, whether you need to tweak the existing business model or even push it in a new direction at full throttle.
  •       If you have a eureka moment where you suddenly conceive a new and better way of doing business, get ready to pivot without further ado to capitalize on your momentum.

How do I pivot effectively?

Whether big or small, ensure that your business’ pivot is carefully planned and well-timed. A poorly handled pivot can do more damage than good, especially for a startup. So, invest sufficient time, thought and effort in planning.

Execute quickly and cleanly. Otherwise, you risk losing valuable resources including money, energy, your team members’ passion and most important of all your time.

If pivoting comes as a lateral extension of your firm’s existing capabilities, make sure it is strengthening and in no way undermining its strategy.

It’s not necessarily the best practice to do away with all your previous work when pivoting. Try to preserve the narrative that has defined your firm and your vision. 

Finally, pivot with passion and positivity. Exude confidence and believe in it.

Success Stories

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Puneet Nanda pivoted his California-based essential oils and accessory company, Guru Nada, to begin producing pandemic-specific products such as essential oil-based hand sanitizer and masks.

Black Travel Box founder Orion Brown was looking forward to the launch of her beauty brand when the pandemic hit. She changed the course of her travel-friendly beauty basics manufacturing startup to align with trends for the market by launching a combo pack of body balm and lip balm marketed as a COVID-19 relief kit.

San Diego County, California-based Lovely Leaps owner Lisa McCabe took her dance classes online after her studio, was forced to shutter during lockdown. What started as a gig teaching helped her get 2,000 paid students into the virtual dance studio.

Jan-le Low, an event planner and restaurant owner in Las Vegas, had to get creative after her eatery shut down during the pandemic. She initially relied on her event planning firm, Golden Catalyst, to help Asian American businesses navigate federal relief aid during the COVID-19 shutdown. Later, Low turned to producing virtual events such as festivals and celebrations. 

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