Nurses in Business: Adapting and Adjusting During COVID-19
This blog post is composed of notes from NNBA’s conference call discussing strategies, tools and tips for nurse business owners. Most common categories of businesses represented on the call were: Educators, Authors, Case Management, Patient Advocacy, Legal Nurse Consultants, Life and Business Coaching, Nurse Practitioner and Nurse Midwife Practices, Freelance Writers, Eldercare with several specialization areas, Software designers, Inventors, Workshop Leaders, Information Systems, Aesthetics, Cannabis Coaching, Hospice and Palliative Care.
Assessing Our New Reality: I’ve always shared with nurses how legislative, technologic, financial, and socio-economic factors influence business planning. Never in my 40 years of nursing have I seen an impact that crosses all factors, so we are truly dealing with a new reality. The most important thing to realize here is that COVID-19 is affecting all nurses and all nurse’s businesses. We are not alone. A great benefit to entrepreneurship is speed and our ability to pivot. Recommendations are going to be made on how to adapt and adjust to stabilize and prepare for the growth of your business as we move to this new future.
I highly recommend starting with reassessing each component of your business plan. Here is an outline of a lean type business plan. This is adapted from my one-page snapshot used with my UNconventional Nurse® coaching clients. In reassessing your plan, it will give you clarity and illuminate where the needs are to focus your attention. For most small business owners, these components are all you need to keep on track.
Value proposition: If you’re at a party and someone asks you what your business does, can you describe it in a single sentence? Your goal is to communicate the value you are providing to your customers in a way that is as simple and direct as possible.
Problem/Plan/Need: What’s the problem you solve for your customers? Why would they go out shopping for a solution? Why does your business need to exist? If you’re not sure, try talking to your potential customers and ask them what they might like about your products or services.
Your Secret Recipe: Describe your product or service and why it’s better than the alternatives. Essentially, it is your unique selling proposition. Why would they choose you over other alternatives?
Target market: Describe your ideal customer. Who are they? Be as specific as possible—age, shopping habits, influencers, and so on. If you target different customer types, create market segments for each type.
Competition: Every business has competition. Who do your customers buy from if they aren’t going to buy from you? What makes your business and products better than the alternatives that are out there?
Business Model: This is how your company will make money. What is the transaction the customer experiences and how you will process the transaction?
Funding needs: Nearly every business needs money to get off the ground. Think about how much money you’ll need and how you plan on using it. Even if you’re using your own savings or using credit card debt, it’s a good idea to plan on how you will use the funds until you start generating revenue.
Sales channels: These are the places where you will sell your products. If you’re selling online, your online store is a sales channel. If you also have a physical store, that’s another sales channel.
Marketing activities: What will you do to market your business? If you plan on buying advertising, list the types of advertising you plan on doing here. Remember, different target markets might need different types of marketing activities to get your product in front of them.
Key Metrics/budget and sales goals: How much is it going to cost to run your business? What sales goals do you need to reach for your business to be a success? Start and just think in broad strokes to get a rough idea of how your business will work financially. You can refine the details later.
Milestones: What are the major tasks you need to accomplish to get your business up and running? This will help you stay on track and meet your goals. Make sure to assign milestones to people on your team so you have real responsibility and accountability.
Resources / Team: Even if you’re starting out with just you, write a few quick bullets about why you’re the right person to run this business. If you need to hire key people in the future, list those positions as well, even if you don’t know who specifically will fill those positions right now.
Resonance – Sensitivity – Service: This is a difficult time for many nurse business owners in questioning promotion and selling of products and services. [At this point in our call, Lisbeth Overton, Certified Energy Officer at Healthy Nurse by Design provided our group a valuable centering exercise as we moved forward in our discussion] You really need to give thought to your customer base during this pandemic. Business is about getting and keeping a customer. What is your customer experiencing right now? Remember when communicating with your customer to use their language. Let’s look at a couple different perspectives, taking as an example the elder care market. A 75-year-old woman living independently is not the same as a 75-year-old in assisted living or a nursing home. In a care facility, there are people that come around, helping them with their daily living needs around the clock. They are missing their families and visitors, but they are not isolated as the 75-year-old woman living on her own. Another example is if you are working with nursing students, what is going on in their mind right now? I guarantee you it is not the same as was going on in our minds when we graduated nursing school. How about the nurses on the frontlines right now, especially the hot spots, are they your client? Keep in mind all the factors affecting their work, their families, their patients, and their own safety. So, you really need to be clear on you customer so you can serve to the best of your ability. Serve, serve, serve, that’s what it is all about right now. How can you serve your customers, and how can you improve their lives? Think about what they need and how you can best serve them.
Common Business Issues Communication – Funding – Expansion: Make sure you are communicating to your customers, so they hear from you and how you are addressing COVID-19. Communication is essential right now. You need to communicate with your employees and your customers to let them know what is going on with your business. For those of you with websites, add your business’s COVID-19 response on a page that you can link to in communications. There is enough uncertainty out there, give your customers some clarity on your business.
Funding – Be aware of Federal, State and Private Assistance programs. There are multiple small business funding relief options. The Small Business Administration has done an outstanding job of putting together a tremendous bulk of helpful information. There are three vital relationships you should have for the administration of your business. 1. Your accountant 2. Your banker 3. Your attorney. As soon as we heard about the different options available, we contacted our banker. When our banker wasn’t sure as the best potential option for our business, she recommended we contact our accountant. We did and received appropriate recommendations. The four main options available are:
The IRS is also offering some help for small business owners allowing individuals, sole proprietors and some businesses to postpone paying income tax for three months in 2020 without paying any penalty.
I also recommend you going out to your local Chamber of Commerce site, so you are aware of what business are doing specifically in your area. In your search engine, just type out your city and follow it with Chamber of Commerce and it will pop up to select from. In Nevada, our local COC lists the local banks that are working with the SBA funding relief programs.
Expansion – Give thought to expand your business mix. Go out to the NNBA directory and look through nurse business owners to see what they are offering. Think how you could collaborate, expand services or serve their business. Think about adding customer segments. If you have never sold your services on-line, now is the time to think how to reframe your business to do that.
Think outside the box and think differently. For example, when we had our senior care company, many of our clients needed help with meal preparation. We had caregivers going into someone’s home and cooking their meals. Why not look at having the meals cooked, and dropped off at the client’s home. Offer to have several meals cooked and frozen and dropped off. While many elderly are too frail to cook, they can use a microwave.
Take a course that would benefit expanding your business? If you are into fitness and coaching, now may be the time to evaluate a collateral offers such as vitamin supplements, or implementing new yoga program. Look at your current business with new eyes for ways to expand and diversify your business. This is why it is so important to reassess your business plan as in the outline I provided earlier. It allows you to look at each step and each process to see new possibilities.
Incremental Tools, Tactics, and Tips: Ramp up your emails and email lists building. If you have a website and you do not have an opt-in box to build your list, you should. Emails are not social media and they are the best way to securely communicate with your customer.
Newsletters – I have published a newsletter for the past 30 years. I started with a newsletter called GCR Revue which was an update of what was happening in our company to serve our customers and important state news. The State Watch Monitor, again for our customer’s information on a state by state legislation affecting their claims payments which our software managed. The next newsletter was called Healthy, Wealthy & Wise to our customers, families and vendors of our Comfort Keepers franchise. I wrote health tips, cooking tips and shared lighthearted stories and pictures. The UNconventional Nurse® newsletter was next followed by the NNBA Nurses Business News which has gone out every two weeks for over the past five years. The point of a newsletter is to provide your customer value and keep you at the customer’s top of mind. If you are providing value, they will look forward to hearing from you.
Re-tool your business model – figure out how to stabilize your revenue stream.
Optimize Your Business Processes – look at every step in your communicating with customers. Optimize your email list. How are you capturing customer detail? How easily can you retrieve it?
Evaluate Low Hanging Fruit – an existing customer is the best place to offer more. Use this time to find out what your customers will need in the near and long term and develop products to meet that demand. Use this forced timeout to innovate for long and short term success.
Anyone that knows me and has read a number of my past blogs and articles, knows I strongly recommend not putting all your eggs in one basket. Diversifying your income streams to expand your income sources is helpful at all times and especially these times. I have written several articles on why nurses need a plan B https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-nurses-need-plan-b-understanding-mergers-delizio-podlesni-rn/. Look for ways to diversify and expand. If you are a writer, angle your skills and offer to document curriculums for those individuals that would want to offer their courses on-line. Offer to write scripts for videos or social media content for other business owners.
Telehealth – is here to stay and this crisis has pushed it to the forefront in a major way. What has generally taken years to complete, the updating of CPT codes for reimbursement, is now taking days! Understanding the technology and the apps that users and providers use is very marketable. There will be great need for app development, patient/provider liaisons, and strategic educational partners.
Building Your Platform – A platform is a “stage” that gives you and your message leverage and visibility. A platform amplifies and legitimizes your message. It gives you authority to influence. Any responsible communicator knows the importance of platform. It extends your reach and magnifies your voice so you can make the most difference. Building a large platform happens through relationships. Providing value, engagement, and relationship. It takes time and consistency.
Social Media – Make sure that all your social media sites, profiles and pictures are up to date.
Marketing – Every piece of your marketing material needs evaluated. If your messaging is not clear, it will not serve you. The marketing mix in business is known as the 4 Ps, Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. I add a few more Ps in my coaching practice, Positioning, Profiting, and Partnering. Remember, message clarity equals profit clarity. Confused referral sources don’t refer.
Build stronger personal relationships with customers and suppliers – While you might not be able to have lunch or grab a cup of coffee with your top customers or suppliers, it is still crucial to maintain personal relationships with them. Everyone will become more selective of who they work and interact with. People usually lean towards those who know and understand them on a personal level.
Contact former customers, contact current customers, and contact competitors (for possible outsourcing of overflow).
Regarding Social Media – Think about your customers, provide them value, offer them support, and build relationships.
I’ll close by recommending techniques to remain top of mind for when businesses are back to running full speed. Some ideas for social media posts:
- An uplifting quote – quotes always work well.
- A joke or funny meme – (you need to have caution here as a former ICU nurse), if you choose any of this, make sure to identify that the humorous post is for your nursing colleagues.
- You can ask your followers questions, such as what do you miss most from pre-COVID-19 days.
- You can post about what you are doing to address COVID-19 – I know we have members that are providing direct patient care, conducting office visits, conducting research, writing articles, providing online instruction on COVID-199, podcasts, and interviewing experts from holistic nursing.
- Let your audience know how to do business with you during this time – give them a glimpse of you behind the scenes, and what your typical day is like.
- Posts thanking essential workers that are putting their lives on the line taking care of all of us right now.