Review 2020? Oh, let’s not.
Instead, let us focus on what we learned. That is the real gold.
Unprecedented? Yep. Unexpected? Yep. Possible? Yep.
Despite the challenges of 2020, at the Get Smart Group, we learned that our team dynamic and company culture are critical to our success. That as a team – we can accomplish SO MUCH under pressure. That we are incredibly creative. Problem-solving is one of our most amazing strengths and that is probably because “innovate” is our first on the list of our company values.
Does culture affect an organization’s ability to get the job done? Yep.
Here are a few other interesting lessons we learned from watching clients, competitors, partners, and others sink or swim this year.
When you put humans into a confined fishbowl under high-stress conditions, all their character flaws or strengths pop out in obvious ways.
We watched. We interacted when possible. When we got the chance, we even intervened to try to assist and prevent people we care about from making tactical errors we thought would impact them and their clients, families, and communities negatively. Despite the efforts, we found that if character is out of alignment with the company stated mission, you can’t always help people help themselves. It’s perfectly ok to abandon a sinking ship if you aren’t the captain, especially if the captain is hellbent on blowing it up. As hard as it is to walk away, sometimes that is what you have to do.
On the other hand — seeing the inspiring stories of leadership that came out of some of the darkest moments of despair in 2020 has given us even more passion about why we are here with our own mission to help empower small business owners in America to build their brands and to do good in their communities. Seeing leaders like this flex their muscles and lean into challenges to help their employees and customers — even when they themselves were in financial peril — was exemplary of the true spirit of American generosity we know exists in the hearts of our nation. In a year full of political and financial strife, seeing the actions of these leaders showed us what we already knew — that character trumps talent every time. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the organizations managed by these types of leaders are thriving and will continue in their unprecedented growth into the next year.
The players who had a plan stood out from the rest.
One of the things we hear a lot from potential customers who are doing well, but could be doing better, and choose not to do marketing “at this time” is, “I don’t feel like I really need a marketing / growth / training / plan because I have enough customers / revenue / employees.”
And yes, if you are eyeing retirement in a couple of years, you don’t need to sell your business. You are just trying to squirrel money away and collect your nut every winter, and times are good, and the economy is open and everyone is healthy, etc., etc. You’ll be fine. But then, COVID 19 happens!
Coming up with a plan up from scratch and scraping together an organized team in an emergency takes a lot more money, resources, energy — and time. Time is the business killer when your customers have disappeared; your store has to close; your employees get sick; the manufacturer’s run out of pools, hot tubs, and patio furniture; and all you have left to sell is pool floaties and buckets of chlorine (until that also gets bought by one manufacturer who then has a corner on the market).
BUT, when you have a trusted team in place to fulfill your marketing on a monthly basis, if an emergency hits, you already have a group in place who is thinking on the ball about your needs — before you even call them. They already KNOW what others in the industry are doing. They have good ideas, designs, and campaigns to present to you. Most importantly, they can take action quickly and execute your NEW plan immediately. Was it obvious which companies were able to pivot quickly? Yes. It’s the companies who retained their employees, acted on creative ideas quickly, and have grown despite the challenges. These companies are built to last — because they have had a plan in place, they are already comfortable making decisions, they are used to spending money on marketing, and are able to make adjustments required by a new market and economy quickly.
The reason for consistent marketing and branding is that it allows the ability to pivot quickly in unprecedented situations and helps good actors dominate their local market.
One of the advantages we saw for companies who had consistent plans already in place was the ability to change course quickly, in one part because there was a team working for them already, as mentioned above. The other piece of this is that they had already invested resources to become trusted advisors in their own communities. They had a trust relationship in place with potential customers and with existing customers that allowed them to overcome challenges like delivery or construction delays, equipment issues, staffing problems, etc. that may have arisen. In a year like 2020, full of uncertainty and stress, the customers are going to reach out to the brick and mortar business — the supplier they trust — whose voice they’ve been listening to on the local radio, YouTube, TV, Facebook, website, blog, etc. over the course of many months. Quality-seeking customers aren’t going to trust a roadie selling unsupported hot tubs off of a truck.
The government and banking institutions will never be the best option to rely on to rescue small businesses. Duh.
If you built your business from scratch, you already know this in principle and from actual experience (unlike politicians). There is no government institution in place that truly represents the interest of small business. We business owners have to follow the rules and play by the rules written by politicians who’ve never run or built anything. And yes, we pay the exorbitant taxes and fees required to stay in business and play the game. But what we learned more than ever in 2020 is we have to look out for ourselves.
No one pays our medical insurance — we do it and we pay 90% more than most consumers for our medical costs. Did you know that if we were divorced, the medical costs for my kids and myself would be FREE in California? That would save me 20k a year.
No one is here to bail us out if we have a business partner who doesn’t pay us — but we still choose to do the right thing and bail out a customer if something goes wrong.
The PPP loan to help small businesses stay afloat was great for retaining employees and helped countless people keep their jobs this year in SOME types of companies — and for that, we are thankful on behalf of many businesses. But we are also very sad for those business owners who lost their savings, their investments, their employment, and their dreams because the PPP terms were so impractical and restrictive that they couldn’t be applied to actual needs of businesses like rent, bills, insurance costs, marketing, building repairs or lost inventory (was your business located in Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, New York, or Portland?), lost wages, lost savings, suppliers increasing costs and more.
If you want to be built to last as a small business in America, you need to have a savings account that gets added to aggressively EVERY TIME you earn a dollar. Add 10 cents, add 20 cents if you can. Don’t rely on the government to bail you out. They will never be able to do it in a practical way and there will ALWAYS be a shady tradeoff. With PPP, we just don’t know what it is yet.
There is still a lot you CAN control even when the world goes to hell. Make a list and pursue those options.
After the initial whirlwind of the shutdown, the reassessment of what was happening with our clients, employees, and the economy in general, and a sense that our industry might be ok, we were lucky enough to be able to look forward and make some plans to help us continue to grow.
Yes — we were restricted.
No more conferences or business travel (where we meet the bulk of our clients) so we would just have to make our virtual interactions more valuable to our clients and employees. It takes more effort, energy, and time — but people were seeking personal touches. We made a point of listening intentionally and caring more.
Yes — we couldn’t “go out.”
Not to eat, to the playground, to a lot of places. So we started taking more walks, oiled up the bikes, bought a standing desk, unpiled the boxes from the treadmill, and took our physical activity where it was possible. The dogs were happy, too.
Yes — the Covid 15lbs was real.
It made us wish we had kept wearing our wranglers instead of our stretchy yoga pants when we became muppets sitting on the couch with our laptops every day. But there was a solution for that too — we FINALLY joined that gym we’d been procrastinating about. And we started eating more vegetables and finding more ways to boost our fiber intake. We took vitamins and paid attention to how much alcohol we actually drank — it’s WAY too easy to use as a coping mechanism. Painful as it was … we started getting up at 5 am to work out, drink our coffee, and read the paper. We wrote actual handwritten notes to people we care about, and started gluing physical photos into that hardbound album we bought 10 years ago. Like many, we took time to reflect with gratitude on how lucky we are to have our health, and our mental health improved. We started to appreciate the simple things in life once more, enjoyed spending more time with our kids, and remembered that the best things in life are free.
When you take control of the things you CAN control, even if they are small things, they make a big difference to your wellbeing, health, and happiness. Whatever your circumstances, whatever your financial situation or the state of your business — don’t stay stuck in one place, don’t stay a victim of the circumstances. Take action with what you can and make that list. Then let us know how we can help you with your plans. Encouragement is on the house.