Lessons on Leadership and Business Growth7 min read
The past two+ years have been filled with big changes and lots of unknowns. In addition to the pandemic’s tragic human toll, it impacted nearly every aspect of business:
- Supply chain disruption continues to create bottlenecks
- Inflation is no longer transitory and appears to be here to stay
- Stock market volatility has investors on edge
- The great resignation combined with long-term demographic trends have created unprecedented labor shortages in nearly every industry
- For employees who remain, businesses have had to adapt to remote and hybrid workplaces and find ways to keep employees happy and engaged, which continues to be a struggle
It sounds daunting because it is. When it comes to running a business, there are a lot of headwinds and things that are out of our control. But in the words of Albert Einstein…
“In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity.”
Lessons Learned from the Past
I certainly don’t claim to have a crystal ball, but our organization learned some important lessons from past adversities.
A little more than a dozen years ago, our marketing firm lacked focus, both in our clientele and how we served them. If a prospective client came to us and compared us to another agency, there was little to set us apart.
Around that same time, a digital transformation was taking place. Social media was quickly becoming mainstream, eCommerce was in its infancy, smartphones were becoming smarter, and search engines were dispensing information at lightning speed. The seller:buyer relationship was getting flipped, with the power swinging to the buyer’s side. At the same time, digitization of communication and commerce signaled that competition was no longer local or regional, but global.
And in the midst this powerful transformation, the s**t hit the fan: 2008 and the global financial crisis. Subprime mortgage loans led to the collapse of financial powerhouses like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and others like Merril Lynch, AIG, and Freddie Mac all came within inches of following suit.
Everyone was forced to make hard decisions, including our clientele who quickly reigned in their “discretionary” marketing dollars in an effort to save their businesses. Likewise, our staff and leadership were forced to make some hard decisions. We had to lay off one-quarter of our staff and another one-fourth chose to start their own business.
By some providence, we found a path forward with a new marketing methodology at the time called “inbound marketing.” HubSpot was the pioneer in this approach of attracting, engaging, and delighting prospects rather than throwing the kitchen sink at them and hoping something sticks.
We took a hard look at the liabilities that almost forced us to shut our doors and made a pivot toward an entirely new business model, becoming a HubSpot partner agency. Yes, we survived The Great Recession, and since then, our agency has thrived alongside our clients.
The lessons learned helped us face the many challenges since then, not least among them a global pandemic. When the 2020 pandemic hit, like everyone else, we were again faced with adversity. But this time, things were different. We were as ready as we could be from a business perspective and, despite all the uncertainty, Weidert Group didn’t miss a beat and grew 26% in 2020 alone. The lessons learned from a decade ago — along with the principles we applied in the years that followed — played a major role.
Here we share those 10 lessons in the hope that you can apply them to your business and that they help you achieve predictably great results, too.
1. Take care of the things that matter most
This isn’t necessarily just a principle in business; it’s a principle of life. And getting the order right is critical, no matter what.
- The team — Especially during a crisis, the mental and physical well being of your team is paramount
- Clients — Your clients are experiencing many of the same struggles you are, so do everything you can to guide them along the way
- The balance sheet — Manage it for long-term sustainability, which for many small businesses means treat free cash flow as the metric that matters most.
2. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Part of keeping a level head during a crisis is identifying the reality of how bad things could get, but not dwelling there.
- Be prepared — acknowledge the worst, but also use that knowledge to plan for a better way
- Be very intentional about finding good news to share and celebrate
3. Be brutally honest
While being an optimist is a positive trait, it’s important to keep a grasp on reality. Transparency is a critical aspect of running any business, both during the good and bad times. Be honest with yourself about:
- Your situation — What are the real threats to your business? It may help to get an outside perspective from a consultant
- What you need and don’t need — Even though you planned for items in your budget, it’s time to consider how critical those line items are in your current situation
- Your capabilities and strengths — Focus on the things you do well
- Your team — Is everyone in the right seat and contributing to your success, or are there some who are dragging others down?
Speaking of your team, it’s critical to morale to reset expectations and be upfront about your situation.
- Keeping information from your staff about how things really are going not only places them at risk, it also limits their ability to do something about it.
- Share steps you’re taking — Your team needs to know there’s a plan. Sharing it with them allows them to contribute their ideas as well
- Be a cheerleader — Encouragement and motivation are a huge part of seeing a team succeed. They need to be reminded, “We can do this!”
4. Act decisively
Nothing will frustrate your staff and clients more than indecision. In the words of the great Vince Lombardi… Most people fail, not because of lack of desire, but because of lack of commitment.
- When you know what needs to be done, start doing it. Now.
- Don’t continue doing things that don’t serve you well
- Create an issues list and start tackling it; hold each other accountable
- Ask yourself, “Will this help us get to our goals?” If not, don’t waste your time
5. Nurture your network
Leaders don’t need to go it alone. In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s easier than ever to tap into your network.
- Your people — Let your team know your needs and use their sphere of influence as a potential resource
- Clients — You’ve been helping them achieve growth and overcome obstacles. Returning the favor is a reasonable ask
- Vendors — To maintain your business, your vendors may be eager to help in other ways besides offering their standard services or products
- Competitors — Chances are, your competition is in the same boat. You may be surprised how eager they are to collaborate in order to get through a difficult time together
- Associations, schools, communities — Leverage connections you’ve made through community involvement and associations. If you’ve failed to engage with these types of organizations, now is the time to start
6. Specialize and focus
Now is the time to fully understand what you do best. Then, do that, and only that.
- Specialization can equal more relevance, giving you market power
- Focusing on your differentiator helps define your niche and set you apart from the competition
7. Pay close attention to your scoreboard.
Tracking your numbers should be a part of your everyday business strategy, but requires added scrutiny during a crisis. Paying attention to profitability per customer can help you understand more deeply which clients are potentially dragging down your profitability and do something about it. And make sure you’re taking extra care of those who are contributing the most to your success. Remember:
“What gets measured gets improved.”
8. Practice being flexible
What worked in the past may not work next time, stressing the importance of being willing to let go and evolve as situations around you change.
- The survival of your business may depend on your ability to change quickly
- Challenge your team to think differently
- Change gets easier with practice
9. Never stop looking for talent
Don’t pass up getting to know potential future employees just because you’re not hiring right now.
- Interview even when there’s no opening — Investing an hour’s time could open doors for both you and the interviewee
- Keep your eyes open — Continue to pursue talent and stay top-of-mind for when the time is right
10. Never stop pursuing growth
Growth is my favorite business subject. Did you know that some kinds of sharks must keep moving to survive, because that’s the only way they get enough water flowing through their gills? Most businesses need growth to survive, too, because growth fuels improvement in products and services, in technology, in talent, in the quality of customers, and in the roles you have with strategic vendors.
Being good at growth takes practice, and if you’re not practicing your growth strategies you’re falling behind. Even when you don’t have a lot of capacity to add more business, being good at attracting new business can help you improve your customer base, your product mix, and the quality of earnings.
A stronger path forward
The pandemic brought unheard of challenges to our personal and business lives, and it forced everyone on the planet to reckon with some hard realities and how we should carry on from here. From a business standpoint, these challenging times made it clear that taking care of what really matters and the willingness to adapt to change are paramount to remain successful.
For many of our clients, their inbound marketing strategy and partnership with Weidert Group played a significant role in their continued success, both before and during the pandemic. To learn more about leveraging inbound marketing and sales for your organization, join us at Experience Inbound, Wisconsin’s Premier Marketing & Sales Conference on June 6 or June 7, 2022. Click below to see the lineup of expert speakers and get tickets for your team.