Dietitians Australia president Tara Diversi shares some great strategies for coping in tough times.

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known for her many talents, from open-ocean swimming to mentoring young people starting out in business, Tara Diversi is one busy lady! The current President of the Dietitians Association of Australia, Tara is also a sports dietitian, holder of an MBA and qualifications in psychology. She shares her personal lessons from nearly 20 years of nutrition and business leadership. 

As I write this, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and I will not profess to give you any business strategies to get you and your business through this difficult time. I am hoping that as I read this article in the May issue of Infuse, that we are on the other side of this crisis and my advice below is in preparation for the next crisis (there will be more). 

To be honest, my business was thriving in 2008/2009 when the Global Financial Crisis hit, and many health businesses and households including mine were not as affected as other businesses. I absolutely do not have experience in thriving after an event such as COVID-19, where all work evaporates seemingly overnight. What I do know a lot about, is dealing with tough times and adopting a sense of resilience with the knowledge that you will come out on the other side. From the outside, when you look at my life and what I have achieved, you could easily mistake that life is easy for me. It is not and I won’t take you down some of the more personal difficulties I have faced in my life, but living with a disability – Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – has prepared me to deal with continual hard times. Each day I deal with pain, dislocations and fatigue… but I have embraced these as my normal. Most years (except the last 2 – fingers crossed), my life stops as my doctor tells me I need another surgery and all of my plans will be swept to the side for 8 – 12 weeks. This sucks, like our situation today sucks, and hopefully the below strategies that I use to get me through these periods help you in this situation.

“If you are not healthy (including financially healthy) you cannot help others.”

Foster generosity if you can.

If you are not financially affected by the crisis, or the Government incentives allow you to keep staff and re-purpose their work to build for the future, please do this. We need those people who are still getting a pay packet to help small businesses and their employees if they can. 

You must feed yourself first.

If you are not healthy (including financially healthy) you cannot help others. As noble as it is to answer the call of campaigns (putting others first, shopping local and supporting small businesses etc) you need to reasonably look after yourself first now. Do a personal cashflow analysis (moneysmart.gov.au budget template here) and a business cashflow analysis (template here from ANZ Bank). Get personal advice from your accountant and/or financial planner. Overall, do not spend money you do not have, unless you have a strategy to be able to pay back the loans that you obtain during this time. Finally, if you have employees that you do not need and you cannot sustain, you may need to let them go or put them on leave without pay until your work picks up again. At the moment, Government incentives may help cushion this blow for many people. 

Understand what Government incentives you are eligible for.

by taking a good look at your business numbers, and speaking to your accountant or business advisor. australia.gov.au details all of the Australian and State Government incentives. Speaking to your local Entrepreneurship Facilitator can also help ensure you’re not missing out on something. You may need to redo your financial forecasts based on these incentives and downturn in revenue.

Maximise available income.

Take a step back to see what income is available to you at the moment – this may be looking for those clients who you can do work for from home, or if you are in private practice that are willing to pay for telehealth. If you have veterans who need to be seen, apply for prior approval for telehealth consultations. At the time of writing there was word that telehealth for Medicare rebates will be approved. Some private health insurers also cover tele-dietetics and information can be found on this google sheet. If you are going to do telehealth in the long-term, please look into some. 

Work when you can.

When it comes to business strategy, I admit to being a bit of a nerd, and have spent the last week devouring business journals, trade magazines, books and audiobooks that describe great organisations and businesses that are born or thrive through a crisis (for my work with DAA). Besides the obvious winners who directly solve new problems created by the crisis, the one common thread with successful companies is that they work when everyone else isn’t. What do they do? That seems to vary and can include product development, pivoting business models, exploring new markets or perfecting their offerings. When I was out with swine flu after bringing it home from FNCE 2009, I wrote my communication for change book series. When I was stuck in Dover waiting for the weather to clear for my English Channel swim, I wrote my psychology thesis. When I had my knee and ankle surgeries, I developed content for Sophus Nutrition. For all of these projects, I was able to rest when I needed, and work when I could, without any pressure… Getting the projects done were a bonus but not essential. How can you make the most of your time working from home, or off?

Get back to business basics.

Many advisers are suggesting you ramp up your digital media presence now. I agree, but in many of my business coaching clients I see more benefit from getting back to basics and traditional marketing strategies. Operationalise with diverse income streams – it is always a danger to rely on one source of revenue. Many practitioners who rely on Medicare are seeing this now. What types of products or services can you add that can help you have a more sustainable business in times of crisis? Set up systems so businesses can run themselves. I have seen businesses this week affected because key employees have needed to self-isolate. What happens if this is you, or something happens to you or a key staff member? Get systems and processes in place and sort out that filing you have been waiting to do. Finally, get your database of potential customers ready so that when it is appropriate to do so, you can market your services. There are a number of free basic courses I have developed for YEP Entrepreneurship Facilitators and you can access these free of charge at www.yepcairns.com

Feel the feels.

Allow yourself to have negative feelings. Of course, people have it worse than you… but this doesn’t take away from the fact that you are allowed to be disappointed, sad, stressed, anxious and angry. Since I have allowed myself to be annoyed at the world because of my pain and dislocations, it bothers me less. I let myself have a cry, take it easy and woe for a while and even make time for it. I love Brene Brown’s saying “if you numb pain, you numb joy”, so I let myself feel and accept the pain and work through it rather than believing I have to put on a brave face for my family and the outside world. 

“Allow yourself to have negative feelings. Of course, people have it worse than you… “

Reflect.

Every 90 days, I take the time to reflect on my previous 90 days. I look at aspects of my life that align with my core values (external – contribution, empowerment; internal – flexibility, freedom, growth) [yours will likely be different] and I see how I’ve gone. I look at data (business and personal) to objectively measure and track, then get some feedback from someone (can vary depending on when I do it) and then reflect on how I have felt at different times over the quarter. After doing this I journal, talk to myself to process and make a plan for the next 90 days. When I started this, I used to be way off what I could achieve, and now I know what to expect from myself and my goals are more realistic. Sometimes my goals are focussed on achievements, and sometimes they are focussed on doing less. Often I achieve nothing on my list because something will come up unexpectedly that increases my commitments, travel or one of my work channels. These can be my best quarters, and they allow me to know that even when I am uncertain, life can be great. 

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