A little over two months ago, my business partner Amish and I ended up on what seems like the first Zoom call of the subsequent 4875 that have happened since. What seemed abnormal then is the new normal now. That which felt hard now seems easy. It’s funny how time does that to you.
Through all of this, there has been a managed chaos that we have been through. The one comfort has been simply in knowing that every business owner is going through the same things, facing similar challenges, and finding one solution after another in a really imperfect storm. It helped me reevaluate my priorities – and I learned a few valuable takeaways along the way.
Takeaway #1: Think critically about what your real priorities are.
My first takeaway after everything that has happened is just how important it is to critically think through your priorities. And I mean being truly critical – seeking genuine input and unfiltered feedback. I stopped into our office to pick up a few things last week and looked at our ‘really important strategic projects’ board. As I stood there staring blankly at the wall, I realized some of these projects were not important at all. We thought they were important just a few short months ago, but time and perspective have made me more critical and focused, and it changed the way I look at what matters. Having a critical filter for your priorities will help you stay focused on the really important stuff.
Takeaway #2: Planning is crucial, even if your plan isn’t perfect.
My second takeaway is that, regardless of the situation, you must have a plan. As imperfect as it might be thanks to conditions beyond your control, having a plan is the answer 99% of the time. We organized our plan into two Excel sheets. One called What Just Happened, the other called Smooth Sailing Ahead. This was a way for us to continuously prioritize, plan, respond, and communicate with each other remotely as best as we could. As imperfect as our Excel spreadsheet was, it gave me tremendous comfort, guidance and, above all else, a true north. We may not have known what was around the corner, but we sure as heck knew our priorities, and that helped us plan to survive.
Takeaway #3: If your plan isn’t flexible, it won’t help you.
The final takeaway for me was that this notion of having a plan and sticking to it wasn’t realistic. This sounds like it contradicts my second takeaway on the importance of having a plan, but a plan is only as valuable as it is flexible. Having a plan is something that we’ve always tried to be disciplined with as business owners. You don’t want to get caught in the weeds and divert your attention and energy to places that might not be the best use. But, while having a plan is absolutely crucial, it needs to be incredibly flexible. If your plan isn’t flexible, you end up in the same weeds you were trying to avoid. The world changes around us, and as business owners, we need to be comfortable with change and incorporate those changes into our plans. Adding that needed flexibility helped me spend the majority of my time being proactive, which is crucial to where we are right now.
A flexible plan will get you through the absolute worst the world can throw at you and give you a sense of structure in the chaos. It has also renewed my commitment to the direction we have with all of our clients. A solid marketing plan that identifies, supports and acts on marketing initiatives that will truly move their business forward, but a plan that is also flexible, adaptable, and responsive to changes in their business.
Despite everything, there are many positives we can take from this.
This pandemic has blessed a lot of us with the gift of time. The time we would normally spend commuting and on other parts of our daily routine have been eliminated. I have taken full advantage of the time afforded to me. Like many, projects around the house that had been put off for years are finally getting done. I have had much more time to connect and truly focus on conversations with other business owners. A lot of those conversations were around planning for the unexpected, what can we be doing as the economy is reopening, and what lessons we can learn to help us move forward.
Having this time to reflect, listen, learn, and focus has solidified the connection between what I’ve heard from other business owners and what I’ve learned.
Critically think about your priorities and get valuable input, then think through them again.
Have a plan, as imperfect as it might seem. It will be the thing you rely on most.
Be flexible and be okay with change; it will help you become more proactive and less reactive.
Business owners starting to see positive signs of reopening might be wondering what they can do to create awareness and invest in marketing responsibly. Start with the three tips above. Think about what you want to achieve, prioritize it, develop a plan, and be comfortable knowing that it may change and that you are flexible enough to respond.
These past few months have made us a better business community as our capacity for empathy has dramatically increased. There have been amazing initiatives, and we have all truly been in this together, which has made Calgary feel a bit more like that small town my wife and I moved to 16 years ago.
Let’s keep going in that direction and take to heart what we have learned over the past few months. Let it be a guide for all of us going forward.