Each year, I take time to review the year in review, to analyze lessons learned, progress made, and obstacles faced and overcome. This year, like no other, all small businesses faced the challenges of running a business during a global pandemic where most of our consumers were now safely social distancing at home. As business owners, we learned how to pivot, how to work remotely, how to order just about anything online, and how to … Zoom.
As a small business owner who has focused my efforts on keeping my overhead conservative, my team skilled and small, and my process efficient and organized, the initial effects of the pandemic caused ripples but not devasting waves. Initially, we had a sufficient roster of ongoing projects that kept us busy in the early months, even busier as those project managers wanted their online presence up and running sooner rather than later. And in the months to follow, our workflow stayed consistent with ebbs and flows considering what was happening on the world scene.
Overall in 2020, small business owners like myself learned many valuable lessons on how to run their business amidst global crisis. Granted, if you’ve been in business for more than a few years, you’ve endured various struggles, obstacles, attacks or personal crises. But what makes 2020 different, is that we all were enduring it together, regardless of where you live or where you run your business. No matter who, what or where, we all felt the effects of Covid-19. Some industries were affected more so than others, especially those in the hospitality industry, but we all learned how to pivot in different ways to keep our staff and customers safe.
As entrepreneurs, we learned how to run our business remotely, many of us working from home exclusively for the first time in our lives, and learning how to adjust our lives, our homes, our home office space, even our lighting and cameras, so we can still accomplish what we needed to do yet still promote a professional brand to our clients. We also learned how to juggle home life, work life and managing remote learning for our children. We learned how to distract our children and pets during our zoom meetings. We learned how to effectively communicate online when we meet with new clients or existing clients, when we network with our community, when we participate in webinars, and when we connect with friends and family. We also learned the meaning of the phrase ‘zoom burnout’, and how to balance our zoom meeting schedules throughout the day/week to avoid it.
Small business owners unfortunately were impacted at high costs during the pandemic:
“More than 97,966 businesses have permanently shut down during the pandemic”according to Yelp.com’s Local Economic Impact Report.
Some estimate a 23-25% of small businesses have temporarily or permanently closed due to Covid-19, but the exact numbers have not yet been released at this point. Thankfully my business survived in 2020, yet running a business amidst crisis taught me a few things.
Lessons I have learned from 2020:
I. Less Travel = Huge Time Savings.
“The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a sudden, massive shift around the world to working from home. This shift to working from home lowers commuting time among Americans by more than 60 million hours per workday.”– VoxEU
First of all, pre-Covid, I was spending 2 to 3 days a week on the road, meeting with clients at my office or theirs all over Central Kentucky, bouncing from one to another networking events, conducting training sessions with clients at my office, running errands and lots of lots of times in my car coming to and fro from a consistently booked schedule. Then after March 12th, it all stopped and eventually all those meetings and networking events moved online. And quickly I realized how much time was saved. More time in the office, less time on the road, before and after each meeting, meant more billable hours and less gas and automobile costs. Those are pretty huge savings for a small business owner.
If I have a meeting on Zoom, I stop five minutes beforehand, turn on zoom, prep lighting and check my mirror – done and ready to meet. Then one-minute post-meeting, I’m working again. Soon I realized that I was making better use of my time, and getting more done each day, each week and each month with many more billable hours over non-billable hours.
II. Online Meetings = Effective Communication.
“98% of respondents also say that video strengthens relationships both outside and inside the company. 94% of businesses believe access to video conferencing improves their productivity.”– UCToday
While we all had a bit of stage fright in the beginning, we all eventually got comfortable see our own faces as we engage in live discussions online. While many of us are still camera shy, even those with their cameras off were still able to listen, observe and participate in the conversation, watch webinars and have their voice heard.
After each project, I always have a meeting with a client to go over their marketing objectives, train them on how to update their website and how to implement SEO strategies long-term. While these meetings are usually in-person, I was unsure how the online format would work, but with screen sharing, remote access control to the other meeting participants, I was not only able to show them, they could also practice while take remote control of my screens. Soon, I learned that not only were the online trainings successful, but they were also more effective because of less distractions and the client was much more receptive to learning in the comfort of their own home or office, without the hassle of traveling to my office downtown.
III. Working more ≠ higher productivity
“In 2020, the average workday lengthened by nearly an hour, according to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. And the majority of employees have postponed or cancelled a vacation in 2020.”– CNBC
While on occasion, I’ve been known to put in a 12 to 14 hour day to ‘catch up’ or finish a project on a deadline, it’s not the norm, nor should it be. In fact, if we continue to push at such a pace, we accelerate the risk of burnout, and reduce the quality of our work, make more mistakes and actually get less done.
“Resting, walking, taking naps, taking breaks, starting early, stopping your day at the right time and improving sleep hygiene evens out the highs and lows in creative work, provides a boost to creativity, and buffers against stress.”– Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
The last few months of 2020 and first month of 2021, I was working at a breakneck pace to catch up on projects and combat the effects of another big WordPress update. While I worked off adrenaline, lots of caffeine and an all-consuming desire to reach the end of the to-do list, it nearly led to a burnout and growing dissatisfaction with my work life. I missed living … exercising, eating with family, taking walk with my dog, reading a book, cooking, partaking in hobbies and extracurricular activities. Once I got caught up, which is very recently, I started to have more time for myself, focus on my physical health, and reconnect with family and friends. A moment away from the office helps me take stock of how fortunate I am to have a career that I love, that I have a great deal of control as an entrepreneur and that my work positively affects my clients and their businesses. And when I have a moment to breathe and rest and contemplate, I am more creative, develop better solutions to my clients’ needs and communicate those strategies more effectively.
While it’s much easier to keep working when your office is in your home, it’s imperative to stick to a set work schedule and leave that to-do list for tomorrow. As I have said before, having a separate room or space in the home that can be put way or shut the door on, is the best way to set a barrier when working remotely.
IV. Marketing = Sustainability.
“A person who stops marketing to save money is like the person who stops a clock to save time.”– Henry Ford
Another lesson of the pandemic of 2020, as well as all the other crises that came before in my 21 years of business is NEVER STOP MARKETING. Keep Marketing your brand regardless of busy times, slow times, a global pandemic or other crisis. And while I’ve had a few days here and there that I’ve been radio silent on social media, on the whole, I post an average of five times a week on my social channels, blog once per month, push out an email marketing campaign every other month, attend at least 3-4 networking events per month, reach out to new leads or existing clients throughout the week, and utilize mailings or other traditional marketing channels regularly. Marketing takes time to produce but also time to have an effect. Your marketing material (whether print or digital) can reach an audience that may not be ready to convert but will be ready in the next 3 to 6 months. So you never know how or when that marketing will pay off so its vital you have a consistent schedule of creating content and promoting that content.
Organic SEO can take months to translate into higher rankings on the search engine results pages, so start now and don’t stop because consistency is the key. The more you post new content, the better your traffic stats will be but don’t post so much that the quality of your content decrease. It’s better to post high quality, well written and engaging content over words that fill a page with lots of keywords but little meaning to your target audience.
V. Being Grateful = Increased Happiness
“Showing our gratitude not only helps others feel more positively, it also makes us think more positively. Regular gratitude journaling has been shown to result in 5% to 15% increases in optimism (Amin, 2014), meaning that the more we think about what we are grateful for, the more we find to be grateful for!”– PositivePsychology.com
I think 2020 provided all of us time to pause and stop running and to truly ponder what’s important. We not only wasted a lot of time but we used that time running around to run away from our problems, our worries, our anxieties and the changes we needed to make. In 2020, we had less distractions and time to reassess all the things we had to be grateful for – our families, our friends, our homes, our pets, our jobs (for those who still had them), and our businesses. And we had time to show that gratitude.
Despite the ups and downs of 2020, Startup Production was able to survive and some ways thrive:
- worked with 53 small to medium-sized businesses,
- published 16 new websites, while maintaining & updating 50+ others, and currently am working on five other websites that are soon to be up,
- created and customized nearly a dozen new logos;
- wrote dozens of blog posts and published thousands of posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Google My Business for my ongoing marketing clients.
- sent out dozens of email marketing campaigns for clients,
- provided ongoing internet marketing services for 18 companies with marketing proposals, analytics, training and on-going content management.
- presented over 50 sessions of internet marketing trainings to clients and their staff.
No one knows what 2021 will bring, but I’m wishing all small business owners a path to recovery, to successful pivoting and opportunities for growth, personal and professional, in the coming year.
*If you need digital marketing, content marketing, SEO strategies, website design and development for your new or existing company, call Nicole for an honest, open and friendly discussion of how to accomplish your goals.