Managing Director/Co-Founder of Terrazel, Inc./The Stone Register, overseeing company operations globally as an owner and executive officer.
Like so many businesses in early 2020, my company faced some very difficult decisions when the threat of coronavirus became a reality. I remember late nights at the office in February, texting my wife. Typically, our texts were more along the lines of chitchat, driving conditions and where the leftovers would be waiting for me on any given evening. But at that point, she was beginning to issue increasingly stern warnings. I’d been following the news, too (perhaps not as closely as her), and for some reason, the virus still didn’t strike me as anything to be too worried about. Certainly, it was not a reason to close the office.
“You’re not actually serious,” I said. “This is going to blow over as quickly as it started.” I laughed; she didn’t.
My wife often complains that I don’t pay enough attention to the words she is saying. I could blame it on having to run a company, but that’s a pretty weak argument to make to someone who is a tireless, stay-at-home mom who manages cooking, cleaning, running the house and running our lives — in the best way possible. Plus, I had only owned a company for three years; apparently, I’d been not listening forever.
One week later, everything had completely changed. The man who never listened to his wife was now tuning in avidly, and none of it sounded good. By the time the president had declared the coronavirus a national emergency, the halls of my office building had more or less emptied out, its masked tenants occasionally passing like ships in the night.
Company operations continued in earnest, but we couldn’t help but wonder: Would pursuing new clients at this time be problematic? And what was going to happen with our many existing clients? It was indeed time to batten down the hatches.
The first thing we did was formulate a clear and logical plan to efficiently move physical operations to key remote locations, meaning our houses. Not exactly ideal, but we forged ahead with the same blind faith and confidence we had when we started the company. We also decided to suspend all new client efforts. It was heartbreaking to have to do this because our advertisement at that time was the most successful one we’d ever put out. Potential clients were responding in a big way, but we knew the coming weeks could spell disaster for a lot of professionals. We didn’t want to catch a falling knife, as the saying goes. So, for the first time ever, we halted client enrollment.
If you’re a company owner, then you know firsthand that it’s not an easy decision to intentionally put an embargo on new customers. It’s the opposite of every instinct an owner has. You’re probably wondering, how will I know if (and when) it’s time to do that? Well, nobody knows your company like you do, so it’s very much a judgment call. Our company’s output is extremely personalized and generally involves long-term, labor-intensive projects. So, in our case, it just didn’t make sense to start new deals. For all we knew, businesses would sign with us and then be forced to cancel the following week, and we’d have little to no recourse.
So, we then focused on our existing clients at the time. As marketers and advertisers, it is our job to not only react to a client’s situation but also to shape it. And it’s tricky. For example, some of these clients had been with us since day one and relied on us — still rely on us — to handle their complete marketing strategy: news releases, ads, audiovisual design, web services and more. But nobody knew what our clients were going to face in the days ahead.
If you’re a business that’s had to move your focus to your existing clients, guarantee your full attention to them no matter what. Try a hands-on, personal approach to marketing. Become friends, even build relationships akin to family in certain instances. Get to know their products, services and legacies just as well as they do. Provide a relationship built on trust and reliability, and to maintain that, focus 100% on their needs for the long haul.
The natural inclination is to keep growing upward, so our bold decision to grow inward was just crazy enough to work. Without an expanding client base, we were able to devote ourselves completely to those who were already on board. It turned out to be the best possible decision we could’ve made. In the coming weeks and months, as Covid-19 decimated normalcy and flattened businesses everywhere, we navigated the ebbs and flows as best we could. We even introduced some new Covid-19-related services and promotions to assist our clients. Our bond and trust in each other strengthened considerably.
Fortunately, we’ve opened back up our client enrollment as of this writing. I think I speak for business owners everywhere when I say we are cautiously optimistic about steering our respective ships into the uncharted waters ahead.
The pandemic has no doubt been devastating in more ways than people can count, but when we’re forced to change our focus and get creative, life can offer up some pretty amazing things. The way we handled the pandemic has been an extraordinary learning opportunity for us. We used to think that growing a successful business could only happen in one direction — up — but sometimes it’s just as important to dig deep as it is to climb high.
In case you’re wondering, this is also true of my personal life. By operating the company remotely, I was reminded of just how much I’d been missing by not being home. And these days I find that I’m listening to my wife a whole lot more.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?