Be Prepared to Improvise
Tom Stimson
March 18, 2022
A stack of toilet paper roles sits diagonally against a bright blue wall.

That the pandemic has changed the world has become so obvious it’s almost a cliché.

But it’s true.

Things have changed in a big way. And the only thing that won’t change is change. It’s nothing new.

More than 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted that “everything is in constant flux.” It’s as true now as it was then.

The question is, can you change too?

Prepare Like a Prepper (The Old Way)

Our old way of doing business assumed the continuation of a steady stream of predictable work. To that end, we kept enough staff and equipment on hand in preparation to immediately fulfill the next customer’s needs.

The old way of doing business was the Boy Scout way — be prepared.

Or maybe we were more like survivalists preparing for the mother of all emergencies. We built our underground warehouses and stocked them with everything from toilet paper to gasoline.

It can seem like a sound strategy. You always have the resources on hand to meet the needs you know will arise.

I know one survivalist who felt the pandemic proved his method. When toilet paper got scarce, close friends and family knew where they could find it — in the survival warehouse, sitting on a shelf.

When the supply chain caught up and toilet paper was back at Walmart, the survivalist restocked his warehouse to wait for the next emergency.

But he might have to wait another month, or year, or ten years for the next emergency to arrive. Maybe another big emergency won’t even occur in his lifetime. And in the meantime, his capital is all tied up in toilet paper and other supplies.

In the events business, this is like having a bunch of techs sitting on the bench and a warehouse full of equipment waiting for the next job. It used to work better, back when you knew exactly what kind of jobs would come up and could rely on that with regularity.

But since the pandemic, client requests have changed, and we no longer know what to expect. You may not need that equipment in your warehouse for every job. You may need varying techs with different skills that don’t apply to every project.

It’s not that being prepared is a bad thing. It’s not. But today, being prepared doesn’t mean the same thing it used to.

Today, you need to be prepared to improvise.

Prepare to Improvise (The New Way)

Under the “be prepared” way of doing business, all we had to do was punch the right buttons and a job got rolling. Everything was simple and predictable (and commoditized).

Being prepared is easy when you always know what’s going to happen.

But when you don’t even know what your next job will look like, simple and predictable go out the window. The survivalist warehouse loses its usefulness; you need a new way of approaching preparedness.

Today, perhaps a better mantra for the live events business is the U.S. Marines’ “improvise, adapt, and overcome.”

This method relies on skills and training. A few highly knowledgeable people are more valuable than a bench full of specialists.

When you know that client needs are in flux and that you have a lot of demand with limited supply, you have to change your approach. Instead of preparing through stockpiling, you have to prepare to improvise.

In today’s landscape of shifting needs and limited supply, you have to be the Marines of live events.

Pivot to On Demand

Right now, you might be paying employees and keeping the warehouse stocked year-round. That’s a huge expense, especially combined with unreliable demand.

If you had constant demand, having all the people and resources at your fingertips would make sense. But you don’t have constant demand. You have irregular demand, so having on-demand resources is in your best interests.

This will reduce your overall capacity, but increase your ability to respond profitably.

Your value to customers shifts from what you have to what you can get. Accessing supply becomes your essential skill set. You learn how to build a supply chain and procure it as needed.

In other words, you need a supply chain that is mostly on demand. This will end up costing you less than keeping a team of technicians and a warehouse of equipment year-round.

Your team procures whatever the job requires — whether it be contract labor or rental equipment — but never more than you need. When the job is done, you’re done paying for it.

Take a simple projector as an example. The old way had you buying the projector outright and storing it in the warehouse until somebody rented it. If it failed to rent for a day or a week, you never got that time back. You didn’t make any money on the investment for that period.

In the new model, you don’t buy the projector in the first place, but your team knows where they can get one when a customer wants it. You make money with each projector rental; you lose nothing when the projector isn’t wanted. And you don’t have to pay for upkeep and repairs.

When you invest in developing the people and processes to manage an external supply chain, it saves you money and provides the flexibility to meet changing client needs.

Procure Early and Make Clients Happy

Your ability to procure resources on demand is highly valuable to your customers. That’s why they’re willing to pay more even as you save money through outsourcing. They’re paying not just for your resources, but also for your procurement skills.

Managing the best supply chain is more valuable than managing the last available supply chain.

Therefore, your best customers are the ones that engage with you early in the process. Isn’t that what you’ve always said?

“Be Prepared to Improvise.”

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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