In this three-part series, we’ll shine a spotlight on the struggle for livelihood. We’ll share suggestions for how intrepid entrepreneurs can pivot and reinvent themselves.
What makes headlines are crises and tragedies, moments of triumph or of intense pain. Yet the vast majority of us live in the realm of small stressors and hard-worn moments of achievement, the daily struggle of life.
During war, the same dynamics are at play. We’re all acutely aware of the life-threatening situations, the battle for our very existence.
And that should be in the forefront of our minds.
And at the same time, there are smaller battles being waged in homes and businesses across Israel, a struggle not for life, but for livelihood.
In this three-part series, we’ll shine a spotlight on these untold stories. We’ll share suggestions for how intrepid entrepreneurs can pivot and reinvent themselves.
And perhaps in their stories, you’ll find a reflection of your own. As you watch what others are doing during these uncertain times, you may come away with nuggets of wisdom to apply to your own business and your own life.
Meira ran a thriving project management company, providing essential managerial assistance to firms whose needs surpassed their in-house capabilities.
She was a one-woman show until the late summer, when she landed her dream project.
“Bonim Nachon,”* one of the largest players in the construction industry, wanted her to upgrade all the hardware and software in their plants. This project was enough to keep three people busy full-time for months, and it was her chance to move from freelancer to business owner, and put her company on the map.
Meira poured over résumés and assembled a top-notch team. She met with the building company, and together they crafted a comprehensive plan of action. It was all ready to launch for “acharei hachagim,” after the Yamim Tovim.
Then the world exploded.
Within a week, the COO of Bonim Nachon was drafted, as were several other key players. The company, located in the south of the country, scrambled to ensure the safety of its employees. Many projects were canceled, including the one Meira had planned to devote the next half-year to.
With a heavy heart, she let her new hires go. And then she looked at her yawningly empty calendar and thought: What now?
I’m sitting with my team in Temech’s office. Temech is a Jerusalem-based organization that helps chareidi women advance in the workplace, be they entrepreneurs or salaried employees. From our vantage point, we have a unique bird’s-eye view of the struggles of the religious businesswoman.
And the picture we’ve been seeing since the war broke out is troubling.
Speak about resilience, and you’ll hear a lot about the importance of staying in routine. But the calls have been pouring in from women whose lives are anything but routine.
There are women eager to work, yet they have few customers. Then there are those who have customers, but their suppliers are currently fighting in Gaza.
And then there are women like Meira, who have lost a significant project and suddenly find themselves with no workflow.
We meet to brainstorm services we can offer to all the women impacted by the war. And I think of how easily the best of plans can get derailed.
Crisis hits — be it war or a new competitor, a crucial shipment that’s delayed or a business plan gone awry. How do we respond?
Some people freeze. When reality is this overwhelming, some of us just want to curl up and go to sleep. Wake me up when this is over…. Meira can sit waiting for the phone to ring, telling her the project is back on track, even though it’s unlikely to occur.
Others run. They look at the mess, feel overwhelmed, and escape. Escapism has many forms: checking the news multiple times an hour, devoting huge chunks of time to unimportant tasks, and sometimes even daydreaming about better times.
There’s a third option, the wisest choice: Keep moving in the right direction.
We love planning and having everything mapped out, but in times of crisis, we may need to keep taking action, and through that gain the information that can help us build our strategy: Act > learn > plan is a positive cycle.
Many entrepreneurs lack sufficient information for strategic planning when crisis hits. There are too many moving parts, too many unknown variables.
Yet business owners like Meira have to do something; freezing or fleeing will only exacerbate their difficulties.
What they need is to stay in motion, taking small, positive steps toward business growth day after day. This serves a dual purpose. Firstly, by consistently taking action, testing, and experimenting, they will eventually bring themselves into uncharted territories. And any one of these steps might unlock new opportunities.Second, by staying in motion and preventing their hard-earned businesses from deteriorating, they remain in the driver’s seat. This proactive stance will keep their ventures viable, poised to rebound as soon as the circumstances change.
Here are some snippets from our “Forty Days of Planting” program. We spoke to various consultants we work with and asked them for a list of actionable “to do” items. Every morning the women who registered receive an email outlining a single step they can take to move their business forward.
Much like seeds, we can’t know what will sprout. However, the only way to yield a harvest is to sow.
Plant a Seed
Reach Out to Lapsed Customers
Reach out to three past customers who haven’t purchased from you in the last three months.
- Be Prepared: Before reaching out, analyze their past buying patterns and preferences. You don’t know why they haven’t purchased lately. Don’t make assumptions. Be curious.
- Show Interest: Show genuine curiosity. Ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share their recent experiences.
- Offer Subtle Reminders of Value: Mention any updates or improvements to your product that might be relevant to them. No updates? You can tell a story about a recent purchase.
- Take Notes: During the conversation, jot down whatever they share about their needs or concerns. As a manager of mine taught me years ago, the opposite of forgetting is taking notes.
- Follow Up: Send a thank-you note, a special offer tailored to their needs, or even a solution to a problem they mentioned during the call. Note that this follow-up should be generous. They may have told you they’re busy with their daughter’s wedding and looking for a place for Shabbos sheva brachos. Sending a lead is an investment in your long-term relationship with the client.
Cut Subscription Expenses
family economics consultant
Review your credit cards bills aiming to find subscriptions you can cancel.
This may seem so simple. And for some of us it is. But for others, the task seems daunting. Here’s how we can make it manageable.
- Categorize and Assess: Categorize each subscription based on its utility to your business or personal life. Ask yourself: Are there cheaper alternatives that offer the same value? Are you utilizing all the features you’re paying for?
- Identify Redundancies: Look for overlaps. Two or more subscriptions may offer similar services.
- Decision Time: Mark the subscriptions you’ve identified as unnecessary or not cost-effective. Decide whether to cancel them outright or replace them with more frugal alternatives.
- Set Reminders: For yearly subscriptions you choose to keep, set reminders a few weeks before renewal dates.
Cancel or Renegotiate Subscriptions
Using the list from the previous day, tackle three of the subscriptions you’ve marked.
- Prepare for the Calls: If you want to negotiate for subscriptions deemed necessary but overpriced, check the pricing of similar services. Knowing the market rate gives you leverage in negotiation.
- Highlight Loyalty: If you’ve been a long-term customer, emphasize your loyalty to the company. Businesses often have special rates or discounts for retaining loyal customers.
- Ask for Options: Inquire about any ongoing promotions, discounts, or the possibility of downgrading to an alternative plan that could be more cost-effective for your needs.
- Document the Outcome: Whether you receive a discount, a plan change, or no change, document the conversation for future reference.
Turn Competition into Collaboration
CEO of Tzofnat Business Consulting
Call a competitor and schedule a meeting to see if you can discover room for collaboration.
- Identify Potential: Create a list of competitors who offer complementary services or products. They should be similar to yours, yet distinct in aspects such as product, location, or business model, so you each bring something unique to the table.
- Prepare for the Call: Understand their business model, strengths, and potential areas where your businesses could synergize. Study the competitor’s newsletters and advertisements. Additionally, find common ground or shared goals that could serve as the foundation for collaboration.
- Consider Potential Benefits: Prepare a brief outline of how a partnership could be mutually beneficial. This could include shared marketing efforts, referring customers to each other, or cross-promoting products. Knowing this before you reach out will enhance your persuasiveness. At the same time, be open to new ideas that may emerge during the meeting.
- Reach Out. Make the call and set up a meeting. Try to keep the phone call focused on setting up a meeting. It’s best to discuss sensitive topics in person.
Create an Empowerment List
(This is mine…)
Craft a list of activities that strengthen you.
- Realize your significance. As a small business owner, the burden of sustaining the business rests on your shoulders. This makes your resilience not just beneficial, but essential. Aim to protect it.
- Create an Empowerment List: Identify what rejuvenates and empowers you. Some possibilities:
– A brisk walk
-30 minutes of reading a good book
-Talking to a friend who will empower you (note that not every good friend is an empowering friend.)
-An inspiring shiur
-A large cup of coffee or other treat
- Keep the List Handy: Have the list in an easily accessible place, and train yourself to reach for it when you feel your spirts lagging. Do at least one item on the list each day.
Keep It Simple
Some of the steps outlined here may seem elementary.
However, according to Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their bestselling book Switch, if you want to achieve large milestones, you should break them down into “inch-pebbles,” tiny, easily completed tasks.
A similar concept is promoted by James Clear in his outstanding Atomic Habits. He speaks about micro-action, tiny actions that slowly, but consistently move you closer to your goals. Winners often improve by 1 percent increments; each improvement compounds the previous progress, and eventually, large shifts take place.
How It Looks
When I think of the “stay in motion,” principle, the person who comes to mind is Esti Zomer. While her story took place several years ago, it’s the perfect illustration of this principle at work.
Esti’s father came to Israel as a penniless Holocaust refugee — and created one of the largest telecommunications companies in the country. He sold the company he founded to Tadiran, then opened another company that created call centers for businesses.
Both Esti and her husband worked at the company for years.
Then her father passed away, and after twenty years of running the business together, there was a split with their partner. On top of that, their core product — switchboards — were waning in use. Suddenly, the couple found themselves jobless.
And this was the year they were marrying off three children.
It would have been easy to freeze or flee. But Esti chose the third option. She kept in motion.
She networked relentlessly, did consulting in the field of data analytics, and partnered with several people on a range of projects. She also embarked on a degree in business administration.
Then Covid hit.
She and her husband decided that if they were already stuck at home, they should learn something. Their choice? Salesforce.
Salesforce is a cloud-based CRM (customer relationship management) platform that assists businesses in managing customer interactions and streamlining sales, marketing, and support processes.
Salesforce played to the couple’s strengths as they already had a deep knowledge of business processes, data, and technology.
They mastered the software to such an extent that as soon as the course finished, the training center invited Esti’s husband to join its staff, and he started teaching several courses there.
They opened their own business Summercloud. Joined by their son, the trio customizes Salesforce for specific businesses.
They’ve also teamed up with Temech and taught an intensive course in Salesforce to a small, handpicked cohort of women. The three-month course ran eight hours a day, four days a week. All the members weren’t employed and badly needed work.
As soon as the program ended, half the group had already landed excellent jobs, and several months later, all the members were employed. Esti is thrilled to not only to have created a profitable revenue stream for herself but also to assist others in enhancing their opportunities.
Although it wasn’t her first attempt — nor her second or third — she stayed in motion. Her perseverance in exploring various options ultimately led to the discovery of an exhilarating new business.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 998)
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