Businesses need to, well, stay in business. In a downturn paired with a public health crisis, we know that customers are going to be more cautious about spending money. Changing restrictions on which businesses may remain open are also causing anxiety and confusion among consumers. This is the time when we all need to be at the top of our game.
The truth is that plenty of businesses have not only survived, but thrived during unpredictable economic times. Some of the leading brands we know today got their big break during a downturn. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them: GE, Disney, HP, Microsoft? Businesses have overcome economic challenges by working together and being creative.
In this recorded webinar, PANDEMIC: Survival Tips for Keeping Your Business in Business, CEO Patty Cisco, Business Development Director Grant Covault and Digital Content Specialist Jessica Lammers discuss how companies today can achieve the same success. We share survival tips, employee and customer engagement ideas and explore remote working options that both employees and employers love.
Some questions we answer include:
- What new solutions can we devise to overcome our current challenges?
- What ideas haven’t we tried yet?
- In what ways can our businesses be more efficient?
- How can business leaders collaborate for mutual benefit?
Discover simple, repeatable methods that you can employ NOW to keep your relationships with employees and customers open, transparent and healthy - and set a foundation for business growth.
Tough times are here. But know this: tough times don’t last forever.
What concerns you most about the state of business as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?
Patty Cisco (01:54)
Thanks Grant. Well, I'm sure I'm not like any other business owner right now whose top priority is really probably their health and the well-being of their staff and that's where my first priority is as well. I have 26 team members and it's not just my team members, but it's also their families as well. And what this impact is having on them, not just from their daily work life, but you know, many of them now are working and dealing with their children at home at the same time, or both spouses are now at home working with all of their children all at the same time. They have family members that they're caring for. So, that's my first concern.
I say my second is definitely supporting the changing needs of our clients. You know, I can't say enough about our team.
They've been nonstop since the beginning of this, dynamically; just doing what they needed to do to help support our clients. So I think all of our customers and our clients are probably that second top concern.
And I would say the third is - you know, it's been a whirlwind of these constant changes. So just balancing the minute by minute decisions that I need to make and trying to feel confident in those decisions. You know, I'm trying to make the best decisions that I can with the information that I have at hand, and sometimes I have no information at hand and I have to rely on my faith and my knowledge to make those decisions. I think, as much as that sounds not super exciting to deal with, they're intentional and what we need to focus on.
But I would say the final thing is just what is this really all going to impact in the end? You know, for us as an agency, we live and breathe everything online, technical, digital technology, that's just a natural organic part of our day. But for a good chunk of businesses, it's not. And so the change in what the buyers are going to be doing differently, how they're behaving - there's a reason why Amazon stocks are up, right? They're online and people can access things. So, I think the final thing for me is just really paying attention to the changing behavior of our customers and what impact that's gonna have, not only on my business but other businesses as well.
Having started your business during the recession in 2008 and 2009, what recommendations can you share with other business owners as whispers around a potential economic downturn surface?
Patty Cisco (05:02)
Well, you know, it's interesting. I have been reflecting on that as a result of everything that's going on. Against everyone's advice in the world, I started a business and an industry that was brand new; sorta didn't exist at a time when businesses weren't spending money. You know, that's what happens in a recession time. And yet, I've been very blessed to be fortunate and be successful in making those decisions along the way. But the lessons I learned, starting during that period of time in the business during this recession really apply now. And I think this is a time of opportunity. I know there's lots of - we're hearing the word crisis and you know, all these words which I think are acute and necessary, but I think it's also a time of opportunity.
And some of the lessons that I've learned and have served me well and I feel will continue to serve me well during this time, is that you have to learn to control what you can control. There's things I can control and there's things that I can't, and if I spend all my time worrying about all the things I can't control or do something about, I've wasted all my energy and efforts when I could've been making a difference. And so that's probably been one of my fundamental things, that's helped me along the way, especially when I went through the recession the last time. I would say the next thing is you know, really focus on how to be lean; how to operate a lean business, how to be efficient, how to constantly have the thumb on - hey, why am I doing it that way?
Do I need to do it that way? Is there a more efficient way to do that? Do I really need X or Y? I'm not getting complacent, if you will. And that happens, right? When things are going well as business owners, we tend to ride on that success. And sometimes that complacency sets in and we're not always on our game. I'd say the next is really the focus on innovation. That was a driving thing for me back then. When you start a business, it's survival of the fittest. So your passion is in doing everything you can do to make that business survive. And that's stuck with me because the world that we operate in, in a digital marketing agency, like you said, Grant - it changes daily for us.
This is our norm that we operate it, but it's not for most businesses. And so, I would say, constantly now, now is the time to really focus on innovation. As silly as that might sound when everybody's just trying to deal with their day-to-day function of what they got to do! But you know, now's the time to stop putting off the things that you should have been doing or wished you could have been doing and you just didn't have the time or take the time to do. Like, I'll give you an example. I do bench pilates, and of course, that was one of the businesses that were required to close. And this is a relatively young business and they've got equipment, you know, they have expenses, etc.
Now this owner could have sat there and went woe is me, how am I going to pay my bills? And instead, this owner said, wait a minute, how can I bring this into the house? You know, how can I take what I've been doing with my existing customers and continue to offer them that value? She reached out to me cause obviously I'm doing the pilates and I'm like, oh you go girl, cause like this is awesome. Like yeah, I'll be your dummy. Like try it all on me type of thing, you know. And gave her some tips and tricks. You know how to do that online, you know, that's cool. There's an energy in that. There's enthusiasm and there's momentum doing that. Now I had another business and they too had to temporarily pause their business and it just so happened that I had met with that business owner just recently, like two weeks ago and they were like, you know what?
What do you think about my retail section up here? I think we need to change your products, how they're being displayed around and this and that. We just can't seem to get around to it. Guess what? They have the time now to take a deep breath and really be intentional about setting those products up. Because when this is over, there's going to be a demand for everything. We're all going to be really, really tired. We’re cooped up in our houses with our spouses, loved ones, significant others, kids and everybody else and we're going out. And so, now's the time to really be independent. And my final thing is, now's the time to learn. Now's the time to brush up on skills. For example, I was talking with a manufacturing client the other day and they're like, you know, Patty, our sales reps are kind of sitting here. They don't know what to do and kind of fiddle their thumbs and what have you.
And they say, you know, you've been talking to us about how we really should learn how to do social selling. I think it's a good time to do that. I need them to stay busy. I need them making sure that they're staying engaged with our customers, checking in on them. They can't get through the phones. They can't go see them. So, we need to learn how to make them digital and be relational and connect with people. So, being, learning, being curious - now's the time to pitch in and take that extra time. Even if people are like, oh, I hate to read a book; oh, I don't have time to watch the webinar. I think that the better statement is you can't afford not to do those things right now because now you've been given a gift of time and opportunity to give yourself that competitive edge.
Yeah. For example, for our own team we do tons of online learning all the time, so that's nothing new. And we travel and go to conferences. That's all good stuff. But sometimes we pull back on that because we're busy. You know, I made the intentional decision to dedicate a whole day to a webinar that's really pivotal with top industry experts, and invest that in my team and I didn't have to do that. So it's not like I'm trying to fill the gap so to speak, but if I don't give that gift of opportunity to my team members to pause and take a deep breath to brush up on their skills to get excited about learning something new, then I haven't helped them be successful.
With people being so bombarded with so much communication right now, why do you feel it's so important to own the communication to your employees and your customers?
Patty Cisco (12:35)
People are fearful. They dwell on what they don't know and the what-ifs. It's just human nature to do that. And as a business leader, as a business owner, I owe it to my employees and to my customers and my clients to really be authentic with them, and to be open and to be honest and to be genuine about what I know and what I don't know and to be helpful to them. I think it's really pivotal and people can tell whether you're authentic and you're genuine and when you're being picky and pretentious.
You know, a good leader has those traits that they normally follow, that's their norm all the time. It's just that they might be heightened in times like this. For example, we typically don't do, you know, a Friday happy hour. But today we're doing a Friday happy hour thing to regroup and see where we're all at and celebrate - hey, we survived the week! - and celebrate the many awesome things that the team members said and then give them an update on what's going on, so we can minimize those fears. And I think that's a really important part of that communication. Being intentional about the frequency of the communication, and doing it in many ways; we’re fortunate that we have many ways that we communicate in our agency.
You know, for some businesses they're just trying to figure out how to work virtually right now. You know, how do I use this tool? Like, where do I push the button? You like to record? And so I think this is, leaders need to be really intentional about the communication and be frequent about it. And especially right now during this acute phase, it's not a bad idea to set a 30, 60, 90 day plan, because we all don't know how long this thing's gonna last, but if I at least can give them a sense of - here's what we're focused on, here's what we're aiming for - we're going to mitigate what comes along the way and help them stay focused and help them stay confident. And it gives them a sense of security and stability.
I think having that compassion… Monday morning, one of the first things that we did is we all jumped on a call and my first question to everybody was just tell me how you're doing. You know, how are you feeling? And you know, that's important because it's not just about the work that they need to get done, but I need to care about them as a person and they need to feel cared about as an individual as well because that affects the work they do; that affects their ability to be productive in the work that they do. So being compassionate, being flexible, being adaptable, is really critical right now. I think most of us as business owners and leaders, we invest a lot of time and energy in developing our talent.
Patty Cisco (15:55)
It's our most important asset, the people that work for us. So now it's more important than ever that we be really intentional about keeping their skillset up, improving their skills, improving that communication, giving them various ways and freedom to be flexible and adaptable, so they can bring their very best to us. And in turn, we can bring our very best to our customers. And at the end, that's how us businesses, we build that brand advocacy. We build it through our employees who want to talk really positively about where they work and why that is, and about our customers who are like, wow, you were there for me. I remember that. And I value that in what you do.
Give us a few easy suggestions that you can share to enhance communication when working remote.
Jessica Lammers (16:59)
Sure. So I'm more on the employee or team member side of things. I'm just utilizing those virtual communication tools such as Slack or Google Hangouts. So if you have a Gmail account, Google Hangouts is a free tool. And it allows you to have video conferencing. You can see each other. Patty and I can see each other right now. And then there's also another program called Slack, which is a chat platform, but it also utilizes video conferencing. That one's more of a paid tool, but there is a free version that just has some limitations.
Another quick way would be to create a private Facebook group. So you can easily create this under your business page and then you can set it to private so that only your employees that you invite into that group can see the things that you're posting in there. What's great is obviously your employees are on Facebook already, so when you post something, it just kind of shows up on their news feeds so they'll see it right away. And then also emails, another great avenue of communication. Obviously all of us are on our email all the time anyway. So just sending out that email with any kind of communication is great as well. But I know Patty mentioned just staying in communication, but making sure that you're communicating with each other every other day.
Again, social media is a great way to communicate with your customers. Things are changing all the time; your business hours may change, your services may change. I'm just thinking about restaurants and how they can't have dine-in services, but they can offer, carry-out or drive through. Just giving that information out on social media is crucial.
And getting creative, like Patty said, with the bench pilates. Live video is a free tool that you can use on Facebook and even LinkedIn now where you can do some classes; you can even do a Facebook group with just your members of your gym and do a live video with them. And they're the only ones that have access to that video. It doesn't have to be perfect. It can often be taken right with their cell phone, easily updated. So yeah, absolutely on video. And great point Grant, because when you're in front of that class anyway, just using the gym example again, not everything's perfect; it's just kind of the same way only you're doing it through Facebook or LinkedIn or what have you. So yeah, video is a very crucial tool right now. Just keeping that face-to-face personalization of your business.
What suggestions do you have for an employer who is now letting their employees work remote?
Patty Cisco (22:12)
You know the biggest question that I typically have gotten asked by other business owners or business leaders is how do I trust my employees are getting anything done? How do I trust that they aren’t like watching soaps, or are outside, or whatever it is they think people are doing when they're working from home. Look at you all smile, you guys probably are doing that!
My answer is, you know, I have to trust them. If I don't trust them, I shouldn't hire them to begin with. So that's the first place that I started, is making sure that I have the right people and I trust them. But then I often also think it means that we have to have some guidelines in place. You know, for example, Jessica, this idea of what she thinks is acceptable is probably different from Grants, which is probably different from mine.
And so we have to have some common guidelines that we all agree to or that we all understand and respect in order to respect each other when we're in virtual meetings. So, one of the things that we did is I actually had to our team members who formed the remote team when we started this way back when and they came up with the guidelines because they're the ones that have to work with each other the majority of time remotely. So, they need to set the guidelines. So, for example, you don't want to have your dog barking because it's annoying, it's disrespectful when you're trying to be really intentional online. Things like make sure you're in a quiet room, make sure you have a dedicated workspace. Do you have enough bandwidth?
Right? People can say, just take your laptop home and work remotely, but it's not quite that easy. There are considerations that, as an employer, it's my job to set them up for success to work remotely and give them some guidelines that we all agree to. They know what my expectations are. And they also know what the expectations are of each other. And I've always found this kind of rule to be really helpful; inspect what you expect.
So, team members are really diligent about calling people out if they're not following a guideline, cause they're trying to try to be respectful of that. I know we just had a blog we just recently put out about working remotely with some tips, and the response was overwhelming, honestly. In fact, it's gotten, virally like it's out of this world, but it's the basic kind of common sense things that people don't think about working remotely that really helps set people up for success.
Grant Covault (25:05)
Yeah, absolutely. And one of the best things that I like to do is, you know, we encourage project managers to make sure things are marked on a calendar. You know, a lot of organizations, they have some type of shared calendar. And so really being diligent about blocking times that you're doing different things and showing those times that you're going to be open for different types of communication is extremely important.
An example today, you know I had an impromptu meeting with some project managers because we had a lot of stuff shifting and so we all just kinda went, okay, timeout. You know, we're all working remote. Let's just quickly gather for 15 minutes and kind of reset our planning and move forward. And within 15 minutes we could all look at calendars. Okay, yup. Everybody's good to go. We jumped on, we solved a couple of the issues that we were having and on we went. And so really being able to instantly know what everybody's doing and then be able to communicate that way is a crucial part of the success of being able to work remote.
Patty Cisco (26:13)
I just had this happen just yesterday. We have a client that's a construction company and they have people out in the field, right? And trailers and stuff. And so they're used to: you get in a trailer and do your construction project talk daily and check in and stuff. Well, you can't do that when you have to be six feet apart from each other and really stay apart. But these businesses need to keep working and we need them to keep working. But you know, now they have to rethink how they're working. And so I suggested to him, have you tried Google Hangouts? He's like, what's that? And I'm like, okay, let's get on.
Let me show you how this works. And within two hours I was working with their IT people and our IT people and I said, let's get you set up. Like, hey here, let me help you for a couple of hours. We could just show you what you need to do. There you go. You know, let’s get her done.
Because when you go to set up these tools, they're asking you questions, but you really don't know what that means. Like set the stuff up. And you know, that's a perfect example of the business that we probably need. None of us would have thought a business like that was going to work remote, but now they're going to have a tool where they can keep their business moving, they can keep the communication strong and do it on their mobile; they don't have to have all this sophistication. Again, for me just watching what's going on in the world, a lot of these people are going to like working remote after they start doing that and then I think the employers may have a little hard time roll in and back in. So I think it's gonna change the dynamics of how we work.
Grant Covault (27:59)
Absolutely. And I think one more key aspect of that too is - as you're slowly getting used to the whole remote thing - is have those set times where maybe it's first thing in the morning or last thing at the end of the day where everybody comes together as a group and they express what did they do during the day, and what's the plans for the next day? Has something changed? I think having that central standard meeting where everybody can bring their different ideas to the table, because who knows within the span of an eight hour day what could be going on. And so each person might be working on a different thing. Having those set standard times where you might be able to meet is a great way to stay efficient with everything that you're doing.
What are some suggestions from your perspective that you would want to share that are some tips and tricks to working remote?
Jessica Lammers (29:43):
Sure. We've been working remote since I've been working here. So it took some getting used to, but it's super convenient. You just have to be aware of things that can be distracting. So when you're at home, you have house chores staring you in the face, or like right now with the whole Coronavirus, our kids and our spouses are home, our pets are here.
I think the number one thing is, like Patty already mentioned, finding a distraction-free workplace. So a place that has a door that you can shut. Absolutely no TV because you know, even though you think you can watch a show and work at the same time, it does not work that way.
Just having that space - there's no distractions. You can focus on meetings. You can close your door. So like your dog's barking or if your kids are playing, you shut that noise out.
The second big thing is taking breaks. So this is something I had to get myself into. I would catch myself, as an implementer, sitting here for hours at a time, really focused on a project. But you have to remember that you need to get up and get moving at some point. So I normally have a timer on my phone about every hour and a half, two hours, to remind me to get up, take a quick 10-minute walk around the block. You can actually think of new ideas while you're walking and it's just a nice brain break basically.
Sometimes I'll take five minutes and throw a load of laundry in or throw another load into the dryer. Just taking that five minutes and walking away for a second and refreshing your brain. As I mentioned, kids being home is an issue, so depending on their ages, finding an activity for them to do; just remind them, for this next hour you're going to do this. And then if they're young enough, they still take naps. Like mine. I have a two-year-old. As soon as she lays down for a nap, I hit the ground running and I try to knock out as much as I can in that hour and a half to two hours. So you just kind of have to pace yourself, as far as with kids and spouses are concerned.
And then lastly what we keep pounding on here is communication. Even if I don't have meetings, I try to think of someone I haven't talked to in a while and say, hey, do you have five minutes that we can just check in with one another? Especially during these times. It's very, very stressful. It's very overwhelming. And I know when some of my coworkers come to me and just say, hey, can we just talk for five minutes and just vent and unload. It makes us feel a hundred times better.
Patty Cisco (32:20)
Yeah, I would say it's also easy to feel isolated. Like to piggyback off of what Jess is saying. So for some of us - like me - it doesn't bother me to work at home. I'm super productive, but for other people like my husband, it would drive him - and like, you know, he needs that. He needs that informal communication, that water cooler conversation.
So I think that last comment is really, really important because it's easy to get isolated, it's easy to get depressed. And it's easy if you do tend to have anxiety issues, it's easy for those to escalate the longer you're by yourself. So, be sensitive to it and just address it. Like, hey, that's how we rock it out. If it’s going on, we figure out how to address it; we don't avoid it.
Grant Covault (33:13)
Absolutely. And you know, one thing about that too is maybe scheduled a virtual conference you know, chat over coffee. That's something that a lot of businesses who are using remote work can do. And so that gets you that kind of interaction. In the meantime, you can have those water cooler conversations that Patty's alluding to as well.