2020 is coming to an end (and what a year it was ...) and at this time most people (and companies, big or small) take stock of their lives (or businesses), to understand what went well, what went well wrong (or not so well) and what can be improved. The problem is that taking stock in years like this one (I’m still on the first paragraph and I’ve already used this expression twice, such is the ‘nature of this beast’…!) is not an easy task and can intimidate even the ‘big ones’.
Take, for example, YouTube (a subsidiary of the giant Google, as I’m sure you know) that has issued a statement in mid-November, saying that this year it would not produce its celebratory recap video (YouTube Rewind), with which it ends every year since 2010, because "it doesn't feel appropriate, given the chaos of 2020". So, let’s break it down nice and easy.
What went well is deeply personal (even from a business standpoint) and, since ‘it was good’, it will be relatively easy for everyone to identify, right? Well… If you have a yes to this question at the tip of your tongue, you might want to think twice. In years like the one that’s now ending (and, again, what a year this one…), where there were so many challenges, and resilience was the keyword, it is not always easy to ‘look and see’ the things that went well in our lives, in our businesses. Perhaps there were not that many and certainly less than the ‘bad’ ones but, if for nothing else, for the sake of our mental health, we must identify them. Of course, their magnitude may not have been exactly what we wanted, but they are still there, it's just a matter of being able to name them.
As for what went wrong, I can already hear a chorus of voices saying in unison, without any doubt or hesitation, "Covid". Don't get me wrong, as I’m nowhere close to being a ‘negationist’: SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus, for friends) is real; Covid-19 is real. It was indeed 2020’s ‘Event’, but isn't it reductive to ‘shove all the woes of the world’ into a single microscopic particle? (I would call it a microorganism, but the truth is that the scientific community has, for some time, been divided in its definition of virus, and there are many reticent to calling ‘living organism’ to a kind of cell membrane with genetic material inside, devoid of cells and cell structures, or organelles, without its own metabolism and unable to reproduce independently) Perhaps, if we look more closely at our own ‘worlds’, we will be surprised to discover that Covid-19 was just ‘the icing on our cake’, whose layers and ingredients we had previously prepared and carefully put in place. Again, mind you, I am not saying that this is what happened in your particular case, I am just ‘asking you’ to look at ‘your world’, considering this as a possibility. If you are, for instance, a small business owner, how often (even in pre-Covid times) did you have people suggesting you to change this or add that to the way you conduct your sales, to the channels you use, to the way you go about your business (and your life)? More than what you would like to admit, right? And I’m willing to bet that your response to such suggestions was (90% of the times) something along the lines of "why, if I always did it like this and it always worked?" So I ask once more (ask yourself once more): was it really the coronavirus the sole responsible for everything bad that happened this year? And now, since we are talking about taking stock, add the positives, subtract the negatives, and get to your final result.
On the other hand, it is also around this time of the year (and no, I will not say again that this was one of those years, as I believe that by now I’ve already made this quite clear!) that we think about next year. One reflects, plans, and makes important decisions (which one swears to keep, as solemn promises to himself). We’ll start working out (no wonder gyms are one of the classic examples of how to divide a marketing budget according to the needs and specificities of each business!); we will learn a new language (because that way we will be able to communicate with even more people and customers from all over the world without the need for Google Translate); we’ll take that online course to be able to better master social media and our website’s SEO, we’ll... well, you got the idea. And now, just between you and me, how many of this year’s New Year's resolutions did you actually take forward in 2020? And don't give me that crap that “it just didn't happen because of Covid-19”, as I'm sure that until March – those wonderful pre-coronavirus times! – you had not yet taken any on, or had already started it, did it for a month, and gracefully gave up for ‘lack of time’ (there’s the gyms’ example, again!). Maybe you don’t even remember what they were to begin with!
Perhaps, the big New Year's resolution that we all need to make (both personally and at a business level) is that of accepting change. But let's be honest, change is a handful and the vast majority of human beings run away from it (like hell!) whenever they can. As I recently heard in a webinar (of the many that now populate the internet and our lives): change, from a strictly biological and physiological point of view, for example, uses energy and, as our body always seeks to reduce this spending, it makes sense that we avoid it. And the five phases of pain, mourning, or reaction to an impending tragedy or catastrophe, as described in the (widely accepted) model of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (denial, anger, negotiation, depression and acceptance) are also the ones we go through when facing change. Once again, it seems logical that we fight it and try to avoid it at all costs, right? But, had it not been for change, where would humanity be today? Would we have gone in search of new worlds throughout the sea (with all the good and bad this implied)? Would there have been an industrial revolution, which laid the foundations for modern society as we know it (again, with all its positives and negatives)? And would the monarchy in Portugal have been replaced by the republic? And Salazar and Marcelo Caetano’s dictatorship, for democracy?
So maybe, some changes are positive (and more a part of our lives than we think). And those that aren’t will still allow us to learn something from it. If you have a small business, this year demanded more of you than any other, mainly because ‘the world’ asked you (your small business) to go digital overnight. In April, in one of the ‘pandemic’ texts I wrote, I spoke of just that: the chaos in which small grocery stores, butchers and local businesses were in, lost in this digital marketing’s brave new world. And if there were many who, between then and now, have adapted and embraced change, sometimes having little more than creativity to work with (and let's face it, if there are inventive and resourceful people fortunately it is us, Portuguese), many others continue to resist and shake their heads saying that ‘they have no way do it’. By this end of the year, in which calls and appeals for Christmas shopping in local shops arouse everywhere (even Facebook created a specific campaign and hashtag: #DoceNatalCompreLocal i.e. #SweetChristmasBuyLocal!), how many ‘took the risk’ and embarked on this adventure of change and digitalisation? “Taking orders and online purchases? Come on lady, forget it, I don’t have two pennies to rub together, let alone to set up an online store…” – but maybe you already use social media, where you can showcase your products, there’s Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct or another way of receiving private messages (orders!) (even if it’s just a mobile phone, that everyone has these days), no? “Deliveries? And how many more employees would I need to do that?” – maybe the one you already have is enough, if you prepare the orders received after closing, behind closed doors, and deliver them, on the following day, at a pre-established time (or not), at the store’s entrance or even in the customer’s car that can pull over to receive them. “What about payments? Do you think those come out of the blue?” – actually they do (so to speak!), and I won't even start listing them, since between MBWay, PayPal, bank transfers and so on, there are so many possibilities that this text would never end and I’m sure you have, certainly, better things to do with your time! Maybe the question is not so much ‘what you can’, but rather ‘what you want to do’... And you have to want to do it. If you want to survive, if you want to keep going, if you want to grow, you really have to (please), because our Algarve, our region, our cities, our streets, and our community needs you, needs your local business.
Change. Portuguese writer Camões said that the whole world is made up of it and that "aside changing every day, another change astonishes me: that we now don't change as we used to." (original sonnet text: “afora este mudar-se cada dia, outra mudança faz de mor espanto: que não se muda já como soía”).
So make it your New Year's resolution and have a wonderful 2021!
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