Strategy in the time of pandemic

Philip Morgan

I've been sick with what seems to be a garden variety chest cold. This feels, in a way, fortunate because rather than reflexively responding to the big pandemic energy of late and offering hasty advice to this list, it's helped me take a beat.

It seems likely that COVID-19 will get a whole lot more people sick, kill a terrible number of people, and have serious second-order consequences for commerce and other domains. I don't know what I can say that doesn't minimize the potential suffering, but I'll risk saying there is nothing like sickness to make us realize what a blessing health is, and how health contributes to our resiliency.

You don't need me to give you common sense advice about social distancing or the like. Instead, I'll offer some brief but thought-out reflections on your business strategy during a time of pandemic.


A specialized market position is an asset you build up. It has weight and momentum. If you have a specialized market position you've been building up for years, don't be tempted to start a re-positioning effort right now, even if you're specialized in a vertical that's suffering immediate damage from the pandemic (travel and hospitality, to name two).

Even the best executed re-positioning efforts take time to shift the momentum of the previous market position. I'd bet you could use the energy it takes to make that kind of change elsewhere in your business.

If I was specialized in a vertical that's suffering from the pandemic, I'm not sure I'd trust myself to make a solid re-positioning decision right now. I'd want a few months for the dust to clear and some of the current uncertainty to be at least partially resolved.

Is this a time to accept or seek work outside your area of focus? Absolutely, if that's what it takes to keep the lights on. Stay in the game, even if it dilutes your specialization.

Is this a time to specialize for the first time? Possibly.

Seeking change is risky. So is avoiding change. :) I'd like us all to embrace as much risk as we can while avoiding two things: 1) a level of risk that causes you to flinch and 2) risks that are likely to be business-killers (non-ergodic risks).

Avoid specializing for the first time if it's too much risk, or it's non-ergodic risk for you. But if you've been sitting on the idea of specializing and have a shortlist of options, now could be a "rip the Band Aid off" moment for this decision. The fear and sense of urgency of this current moment in history could help you fuel a bold move forward in your business.

Lead generation

While it remains to be seen for how long large gatherings won't be happening, there could be a 6 to 12 months window of time when picking up speaking engagements is somewhat easier and less costly for you because the events are virtual instead of IRL and event organizers are scrambling for a bit and willing to consider a less experienced spaker.

Consider starting to speak for lead generation now if you haven't already.

Content marketing

What content in your content marketing pipeline seems trivial or superficial in light of current events? Consider why you were ever considering publishing that content in the first place. Commit to go big or go home with your thinking. Seek impact through your content marketing. This may require growth. That's OK.


How can you extend generosity towards your clients? Now is the time for generosity and solidarity. Extend as much as you can afford, perhaps 10% more. Some of them will remember it and you'll sleep the sleep of the generous.

If you are focused in a market vertical suffering economic damage from the pandemic, I think client-facing generosity for the next month or two is a better investment of time and energy than re-positioning would be. To be clear, re-positioning means changing from one specialization to a different one and re-building the reputation asset that goes with it. That's the investment I suggest delaying. Investing in your clients, even if they're currently struggling, feels like a better investment now and for the next few months.

If this is your first encounter with extreme volatility as a business owner, know that it probably will not be your last. Sear it into your memory and use it as motivation to face the next one with a more robust business with sharper positioning and a stronger pipeline.

Finally, I'll reiterate something I said about brand marketing earlier this week. How can your presence as an individual, your way of thinking, or some asset you are custodian of (relationships with other experts might be one example) create safe harbor in a storm for your audience? Storms don't last forever, but there's value in thinking through the sorts of "natural disasters" that effect your audience on a semi-regular basis (economic downturns, sector-wide PR bombs, etc.) now to prepare you for the next one where you can serve as a source of stability, safety, or simple emotional comfort during a difficult time.

If there's some way I can help your business, please don't be bashful about reaching out.