Most business owners, leaders and entrepreneurs appreciate having a plan and things going according to plan. If we’re seasoned, we know it’s not all going to go according to plan, but it helps to have confidence that we’re at least heading in the right direction.

We rely on past experiences, external cues, advice from advisers and our own entrepreneurial instincts to guide our efforts. Nine times out of 10, we end up pretty close to where we were trying to land.

Which is one of the reasons this whole pandemic has us so uneasy. We have no direct past experience. The external cues are changing hourly, and there’s little consistency among all of the voices. Our advisers are as much in the dark as we are, and it’s scary to trust your instincts.

As Iowa opens up, this uncertainty gets more pronounced, rather than less. If we open up, will our customers come back? If we make our dining rooms available, will we have patrons? If we plan on heading back to the office, how will the employees react?

In some ways, being locked down was easier. It was very clear what our customers and we could and couldn’t do. But as Iowans ease back into life outside their own homes, everything seems more tenuous.

I believe that many people saw the state’s reopening as the end of this. But really, for most of us, it’s the beginning. We have to navigate doing business in an environment of fear, worry, financial challenges and — as always, it seems — political polarization.

Assumptions have always been dangerous when it comes to marketing. It’s so easy to apply our own bias to any situation and get it very wrong. That’s even more true when it’s an emotional issue, and COVID-19 has escalated everyone’s emotions.

Now is not the time for you to guess. The stakes are too high. An empty store or dining room can cost more than being closed. Silent but disgruntled employees can affect your ability to serve customers or recruit additional help.

I am always a fan of knowing more. Knowledge and insights are rarely wasted assets. As you venture back toward pre-COVID normal, now would be an excellent time for you to have candid conversations with your customers and team members.

I know there’s discomfort that comes with hearing reactions, worries or sentiments that you do not want to hear. But if there was ever a time for not stepping out in complete darkness, now is that time. 

Ask the questions. Listen with unbiased ears to the answers. If you can’t remove your own bias, hire an outsider to listen on your behalf and help you interpret the data.

In last week’s column, I outlined the kinds of communication and information that clients want from you right now. Marketing should never be a monologue anymore. We don’t have to revert back to that. But if there was ever a time for a dialogue, that time is now. Rich, compassionate, deep dialogue that will help you anticipate what the next month or two will bring.

No one is going to fault you for caring enough to ask, listen and then act based on what you heard. You can also use that effort to explain to your audiences why you are making the choices you’ve made. Let them know they played a role in helping you set the course for the next phase of this moment in time.

Push aside your fears about what you will hear, and let’s answer the “now what” question with as much insight as we can garner in these early days of reopening the state.