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Entrepreneurs, it's time to pivot. Here’s how to switch gears amid coronavirus

Steve Strauss, Special to USA TODAY

My friend Tara Reed is both a great artist and a savvy businesswoman. That's no small task, as the term “starving artist” is a thing for a reason: We all know someone who is more comfortable with creative endeavors than running a business.

That's not Reed. She has succeeded because, among other things, she knows how to pivot – which might be what you need to do right now.

Like any good entrepreneur, Reed has a few different profit centers:

• On her busy Etsy shop, she bundles and sells her digital art and files to crafters.

• On her website (www.TaraReed.com), she not only promotes patterns that she designs, but she also licenses those designs to manufacturers who use them for products sold in stores like Home Goods.

Reed has a new fabric collection shipping this month, and as part of that, she gets a free bolt of each of the 12 designs in the line for her use in promoting the collection. But as you can imagine, promoting a new line of fabric is no easy task right now as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the country.

And then it hit her.

Reed saw a video about how to sew face masks, desperately needed in her Portland, Oregon, community like so many others. Given that she had a lot of fabric on hand, she got to work.

Not only was this a chance to give back, and not only is sewing "therapeutic,” but from a business perspective, this was also a chance to showcase her fabric in a unique way.

A worker of the state-owned Concepcion Palacios Maternity Hospital manufactures face masks in Caracas, Venezuela, March 17, 2020. Workers of the city's main maternity are preparing makeshift masks with disposable blue sheets to distribute to medical staff and other workers of the health center for protection of an eventual spread of the COVID-19 illness.

While these are not the N95 masks doctors and nurses need, cloth masks are still needed by home health care clinicians, physical therapists and others who are in contact with patients.

Reed has sewn and given away for free more than 100 masks and has also posted free directions and a PDF at her site so others who want to help can make masks.

As I said, like Reed, you might need to think on your feet and pivot right now. Here are the steps to take:

1. Recognize your need to pivot.

In normal circumstances, realizing that you need to make a change may take time. But today, if you think you need to pivot, you do.

2. Home in on new goals.

If a pivot is needed, the next step is to find a realistic new direction. Unfortunately, in an exigent moment like this, there is not a lot of time to dig deep. What you have to do is quickly come up with a Plan B.

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Is there a market for this new direction? Are there customers? Do you have the resources to do this or can you get them? How will you need to change? Work with your team, speak with your customers, solicit advice from advisers and get moving.

3. Make the change from within.

Start implementing these changes. This varies from business to business, but ultimately what this means is getting buy-in from your team and realigning your structure.

Example: For what seems like forever, Microsoft was a behemoth that installed bulky software on desktops. As tastes, technology, Amazon, the cloud and the internet grew, this business model got increasingly creaky and lame.

Craig Harris models fabric face masks sewn and given away free by his wife, artist Tara Reed, in Portland, Oregon in March 2020. Reed is among entrepreneurs pivoting as the country confronts the coronavirus pandemic.

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer knew it, but it took their protégé, Satya Nadella, to come up with and implement a bold new pivot when he took the reins in 2014. Stuffy Microsoft would become a nimble cloud-based, software-as-a-service provider.

Talk about trying to get a supertanker to head in a new direction.

But Nadella and his team did it. Starting at least four years behind Amazon’s cloud business, at that time almost 90% of Microsoft’s business was focused on Windows. But Nadella was clear: a big change was needed, and you were either in or out. According to a 2019 Bloomberg Businessweek article on Nadella's turnaround of the company, "At his Microsoft, there would be only 'fixers,' no 'complainers.' If people didn’t buy into his vision, he’d tell them, 'Don’t stay. Time to move on.'"

Your team has to buy in. Period.

4. Try, try again.

Now is the time to be bold and nimble. Don’t get invested in anything but results. See what works and double down on that.

So, does pivoting work? You tell me: Today, Microsoft is the most valuable company in the world.

Steve Strauss is an attorney, popular speaker and the best-selling author of 17 books, including "The Small Business Bible." You can learn more about Steve at MrAllBiz.com, get more tips at his site TheSelfEmployed, and connect with him on Twitter @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at TheSelfEmployed.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amid coronavirus, small business owners should be ready to pivot