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Farzana Nasser shares how employees can come out on top after challenging times.

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Times of disruption can catalyze groundbreaking change—just think of how companies like Uber and Airbnb arose from the last recession. But navigating a crisis requires the right mindset and strategies. Farzana Nasser, partner and interim VP of ecommerce growth marketing and business transformation with Chameleon Collective, shares sage advice on how to navigate a downturn and come out on top. In a conversation with Freddie Laker, she speaks to how founders, leaders, employees, consultants, and freelancers alike can successfully emerge from a recession.

Communicate to Set the Course

During a recession, leaders must become a source of strength that employees can tap into. Leaders are often battle-hardened; they can take on additional stress without panicking. Employees need to be able to tap into that source of strength, Farzana emphasizes.

First and foremost, they must communicate to set the course.

As a founder, you’re under a great deal of pressure to maintain accountability, she asserts. “The most important element is communication. Because of that accountability, you need your team to be on the same boat with you, and you need to be setting the course,” she says. 

Freddie adds that acknowledging negative information is vital. Couple it with a solution, if possible, or at least own that you’re working on the problem. Are you trying to respond to the return of physical retail or cope with rising advertising costs? Tell employees about what you’re planning, so they’ll know someone’s driving the bus.

But what about people in other swimlanes—like employees or independent contractors? Farzana shares advice specific to them.

Find Ways to Chip In

“As an employee, it’s really about finding the places to chip in,” Farzana says. If your company is at war, find out how you can jump in and move things forward. “You don’t want to be the one who’s paralyzed in fear. I think the most important thing during challenging times is to keep moving.” 

Show you trust and believe in your leadership, supporting the plan they’ve laid out every step of the way. By finding new and timely ways to contribute, you’ll improve your job security.

The same goes for independent freelancers. Similar to employees, think about what you can do to help clients in the current situation. How are you positioned to help mitigate the key issues and challenges they’re facing? 

Focus on What You Can Control

Sixty percent of what’s happening may be out of your hands—so don’t focus there. “Focus on the stuff you can control,” Farzana emphasizes. Laser in on that 30–40% that lies within your sphere of influence. This will build your momentum, allowing you to make progress, impress investors, and gain confidence.

Reinvest in Yourself

“Recessions are an incredible time to upskill, and to learn, and to embrace new things,” Farzana says. 

“From an independent consultant perspective, diversifying your own portfolio is really key,” says Farzana. “Think about the industries and the verticals you work with and the type of work you do, and the number of clients you have. Being able to diversify that so you’re protecting yourself, I think, is really important.” By doing so, you’ll stay relevant as the terrain changes.

So, if you find yourself between jobs, take time to explore your career interests and insights, urges Freddie. 

“Fine-tune your value proposition, personally,” he advises. “Take that downtime and reinvest in yourself.Use it to find new disruptive technologies or opportunities for career exploration, or reinvest it in making sure that people really understand what you do.” For instance, create case studies of your work.

“Be a lifelong student; be curious, keep learning. This is a good opportunity to upskill, learn new things, ask a lot of questions. Education is not just formal; it can be informal,” Farzana says. You can learn from peer communities in your industry, she notes, adding that the women’s network Chief has proven valuable for her throughout the pandemic.

Be Tenacious

You also have to have tenacity, Farzana emphasizes. Push through the challenges, knowing that change is part of life. “From a marketer’s perspective, we’re always testing. A marketer’s work is never done,” she says. “That goes for anything. If you’re a consultant, or whatever line of work you’re doing, there are always opportunities to evolve, to grow, to keep trying new things, and to keep pushing forward.”

Keeping up the hustle, being scrappy, and thinking outside of the box are always key skills for entrepreneurs, but that’s especially true during challenging times. “Flex that muscle; don’t get complacent. Stay relevant,” she urges. 

Step Outside of the Situation

Finally, during stressful times, get creative, Farzana says. “And the only way to get creative is to pull yourself out of the situation. Find a way mentally to step out of the problem so you’re looking at it from the outside in, so that you can really get into defining what is the problem and how can I solve it?” 

Obsessively focusing on a problem can actually block solutions, she emphasizes. She gets some of her best ideas when she wakes up in the morning or in the shower, she notes. “Stepping out of the situation helps me to look into it in a more objective way overall.” Simply doing something different can get the creative juices flowing. 

Find Community

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Get outside perspectives from others, too. Talking with a supportive community helps alleviate stress and generate fresh ideas, she asserts. Community is vital to problem-solving, giving you an outlet to talk about things. “Being able to speak with others, and getting ideas from other people, and being able to have kind of a think tank is such a nice way to build community and also bounce ideas off people,” she says.

Having a supportive community can remind us that we’re not alone, whether we find it online or in person—which will keep us optimistic. There are safe forums for chatting with others about your struggles—if you feel isolated, join one online, suggests Freddie. You can even do it anonymously. 

As you and your company navigate the post-pandemic impacts on e-commerce, these strategies will help you stay relevant and innovative. As a result, you might share thought leadership through the crisis that lets you emerge stronger than ever. Change is inevitable, but you can help shape the new terrain.

Find Farzana on LinkedIn or on Twitter @FarzanaNasser.

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