Proactivity in Uncertain Times: Lessons from Squirrels

Devastating isn’t a strong enough word to describe the impact this pandemic is having on businesses across nearly all industries. I’ve spoken to several franchisors over the past week who are particularly concerned as their businesses are both in the services sector and reliant on their locations to generate the largest portion of revenue. There are of course numerous reasons for concern, but few immediate solutions. I’d like to propose some I share with franchisees who are in areas where business is cyclical, seasonal, or who have faced an event that has threatened their business, which I hope will help many of you reading this as well. I call these actions Squirrelling.

In marketing franchise locations to consumers and franchise systems to potential franchisees, lead generation is vital. It never stops on the D2C side, and rarely on the franchise development side. But in a time when the market shifts, or lead flow faces imminent threat, many businesses seem frozen in their tracks. Some of you reading this may be there right now. But learning to “squirrel” is vital to being prepared for the future; even one as uncertain as this.

Squirrels practice storing food reserves in preparation for colder months. Many also huddle together, sharing a den. I’m sure anyone practicing social distancing right now can relate. Only squirrels do so proactively, and throughout their lives. It is how they survive the inevitable. But there are other behaviors they practice which we can learn from and can help you navigate an ever-shifting business climate.

Squirrels understand fall trees produce nuts and plan accordingly. Businesses that experience a seasonality to their revenue stream should front-load their prospecting efforts. ABP. Always Be Prospecting. Only be sure you understand your sales cycle and the customer journey, so you can prospect more in the months you will see the most traffic. Perhaps this seems obvious to some, but often businesses are too busy counting money in the months they are busiest; they lower their marketing spend and they enjoy the influx of leads. Businesses who maximize their prospecting in this time and allocate a portion of marketing dollars from months they know will be dry, can boost their exposure and focus on implementing a higher conversion goal to secure business.

There have to be nuts for the squirrel to store when the time comes. During slower cycles, businesses should not stop marketing. This is the time to build the pipeline and plan for the next wave. And while many believe there’s no business to be had, remember your competition is likely doing very little either. Marketing should always be focused on retention of current customers where applicable. This can lower the cost of seeking and obtaining new business and the reliance on always working to attract new prospects. In order for this to be effective though, you must remain relevant. Don’t make the mistake of sending marketing offers and communications that are tone deaf and make little effort to build a connection with your prospecting base. This is the time to stay top of mind and fill your pipeline.

Squirrels understand external risks and plan accordingly.  Crisis Planning is vital. Having a crisis communication plan is a best practice that should be employed by many businesses, but often is not. But a fatal mistake I think many realize now in the throes of this pandemic, is not having an actual crisis plan. This is where squirrelling is most important. What a business does to prepare for the unexpected isn’t about keeping it profitable. It’s about keeping it sustainable. Squirrels don’t anticipate longer winters—unless you count the groundhog the Amish rely on, who incidentally is a member of the squirrel family (the things you learn while stuck at home during a pandemic). They can’t control disease or natural disasters or urban development which threaten to destroy their food source. But when storing their food they are methodical about it. They organize it in such a way that gives them access to what they need when they need it. Some scatter their food so it’s not all in one place. There is even evidence they place food in ways that keep other squirrels from taking what belongs to them. Squirrels plan for unknowns best they are able, and so should you.

Squirrels are resourceful. When planning isn’t enough, when your business is facing uncertainty and the impact of a situation such as the one we find ourselves in now is unknown, it’s time to seek other ways to survive. If you focus on what you don’t have or see only ways your business may fail, you will miss the opportunity to grow your business in a way you would not have previously. Embrace being faced with this moment. Squirrels seek out more than acorns and nuts to sustain them. While they are selective about what they will eat, their diet is diverse enough to allow them to be less reliant on a single source. Diversify—find new ways to deliver your products and services, new ways to package your brand and new audiences to engage.

If your business has halted, if you are a franchise system whose locations have closed temporarily, if you are uncertain how or if your current consumer and franchise development pipelines will sustain, I encourage you to use this time to re-evaluate your 2020 plan and work on ways to get ahead when the business climate improves. Remember, your customers and prospects are living in the same shadow of uncertainty. The businesses that reach out and take meaningful action now will be better situated when this difficult time is behind us.

I would encourage you each to think of a lesson you have learned which could benefit others right now as we weather this storm together, and post it to LinkedIn to share with others, with the hashtag #squirrelling. Together we are better.



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