Challenge Factory, COVID-19, and the critical question: Do you go big or small?

May 7, 2020

By Lisa Taylor

Challenge Factory has always focused on trends and events that have the potential to upend the world of work. It’s why we gather data during every engagement we have and challenge assumptions that feel like they should be true—but just might not be. I recently told Challenge Factory’s story on Tony Chapman’s #smallbusinessmatters podcast and shared the impact COVID-19 has had on the business. In the episode, experts provide me valuable advice on what to consider as Challenge Factory marches forward with the bold ambition to unlock workforce potential and enhance Canadian productivity, especially in these challenging times. Some of the change to is a direct response to this expert advice.

Starting a business is hard. The early days are tough.

Tony and I joked that during Challenge Factory’s first year, I started a business to help people who had built successful careers yet still weren’t satisfied…and ended up personally satisfied without much of my own success. I think every entrepreneur goes through that phase where there’s never enough time or money and the goal-line of “success” is continually being redrawn farther down the field.

The other side of those difficult start-up years is a period of growth, investing in the future, and reaping the benefits of past hard work. Doors seem wide open, possibilities seem more plentiful, and resources seem more available.

At the beginning of March, Challenge Factory was on track to more than double its revenue this year. We had gained international exposure and I had been invited to share our research at more than 20 conferences in 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and I was abruptly reminded of Challenge Factory’s early days when growth was never guaranteed and sleep was continually interrupted by a long list of business and staff concerns.

But Challenge Factory is no longer a start-up and we can better weather uncertainty. Understanding all the resources at our disposal (including not just finances, but also our relationships, knowledge, assets, and reputation), I needed to decide: do we go big or small?

Choosing to go big or small is key in moments of uncertainty. Both are viable, reasonable responses.

Going small means minimizing expenses, cancelling discretionary projects, and focusing on activities that deliver the fastest return. It’s the “hunker down and wait this out” approach—and it focuses on protection for survival. Many advisors recommend strategies that favour going small until a path forward becomes clearer.

The alternative is to seize the moment. In Challenge Factory’s case, this means recognizing that our unique intellectual property, tools, and practical know-how for developing strategy out of chaos is needed now more than ever.

First, we focused on helping our existing clients. We provided personalized reports tailored to each leader, manager, and employee to help them make the transition to remote work. We addressed the

immediate needs of front-line managers and implemented systems for executives to maintain connections, engagement, and productivity in a remote reality.

Then, we set our sights on a very big initiative.

We imagined a unique business recovery program aimed at main street businesses that could leverage student talent through a supercharged summer internship. The program is still under development; consider this a sneak peek at the work we’ve been doing. We’re hoping to have more formal communications in the coming weeks.

Recovery Ready Canada provides a guided and supported step-by-step process for local businesses across the country to take control of their own future. It challenges them to develop their own recovery plan even before an official reopening date is known. Through this proactive planning, they’ll be armed with a strategic blueprint and future-focused mindset—allowing them to launch their recovery process the very moment that businesses are given the go-ahead to reopen.

Our goals are bold: help up to 5,000 businesses prepare to reopen and recover, supported by up to 5,000 students ready to do research and legwork and offer the program at low-cost or no-cost to the businesses.

This is the most ambitious project that Challenge Factory has ever embarked upon. It’s national in scope, under intense time pressure, and requires others who share our vision to step forward as partners.

Recovery Ready Canada’s story is still being written, but it’s already led to dozens upon dozens of discussions with small businesses, supporting organizations, policymakers, and politicians across the country. Out of all this engagement, we’ve gained incredible insight, clarity, and optimism for the future, as well as a fuller understanding of the very real challenges and disproportionate pain that small businesses are experiencing.

The network of supporting organizations that have engaged with us is astounding. This is a true pan-Canadian story of collaboration and creativity at a time when everything is at risk—yet many things remain possible. Every one of us understands that if we can harness the right resources and support small businesses as they pivot and evolve, our communities, economy and country will both come out of this crisis stronger and more resilient. If you want to learn more, you can sign up here to join us as a partner or stay informed when the program is open for registration.

How have you responded to COVID-19’s disruptions? Are you going small? Should we talk about how you might go big? Together, we can build new opportunities and find success even in these challenging times.

I can’t think of anything more satisfying.