These past few months have been stressful for everybody.
We are all paranoid that we might be getting sick every time we cough. We worry that our loved ones could get sick if they are not careful. We are anxious about what’s going to happen to the economy, with many of us having lost our jobs and our businesses. And worst of all, some of us have lost people or have loved ones in hospital right now.
It’s been weird to keep on working like nothing has changed. But that’s exactly what we’ve done.
It made me think about what we do and why we do it. And most importantly, it made me reflect on the direction in which we’ve been leading our team.
How The Pandemic Changed Our Work
When the news about COVID-19 became incessant, we had a chat where we decided we weren’t going to use the pandemic as an opportunity to build links.
Aside from moral reasons or personal preference, we knew that joining the coronavirus conversation wouldn’t fit with our vision of creating content that people will want to share months and years to come.
Instead, we adjusted our calendar and we pushed forward campaigns that we felt were a good fit for the new normal. We gave priority to:
Content that inspired curiosity and awe:
Content that would empower people to make positive changes:
Content that would make people feel proud in some way…
… or that would allow them to talk about something they cared about:
Content that would make their minds wander:
We also closed campaigns that were suited to negative headlines, as we felt that the world didn’t need more negativity in the air.
It was all hands on deck, and the first two weeks of March were tough.
The outreach team was struggling to keep the momentum going for open campaigns, with many journalists showing interest in the content and their editors pushing the publication date further and further into the future.
Soon enough the advice started pouring in, with other teams publicly discussing how they were adapting, tweaking and developing campaigns targeting the pandemic.
Once again, we were going against the norm.
We had multiple conversations about whether we should change our initial strategy. We doubted ourselves, but going against our vision didn’t feel right.
Eventually, we thought, editors would realise that people need a digital out from what’s going on IRL, an escape from this pandemic that is inescapable.
And as the weeks went by, we were proven right with more and more journalists asking for pitches that weren’t related to the coronavirus.
By the end of March, we were back to normal with the majority of campaigns being released and promoted without major issues.
How The Pandemic Affected Our Business
As a business, all these changes to our schedule meant that we would take a hit.
When we closed campaigns that we didn’t feel were a good fit for the times or that were struggling to get links, we offered our clients new projects to replace them.
We took money out of our cash reserves to produce new content and everyone had to work on extra projects on top of what was scheduled for the month.
As we were dipping into our reserves, we made decisions to keep as much cash in the business as we could. That’s why:
- We put the directors’ pension plan on hold.
- We halted plans to start booking the accommodation for our yearly team retreat.
- We reviewed our costs and cut any expenses that were nice-to-haves but not essential.
- We postponed a big project we were working on till the next financial year.
- We decided not to take our dividends and reinvest those profits back into the business.
Keeping cash in the business has been a priority but that didn’t stop us from giving money back to clients who weren’t a good fit or replacing campaigns that weren’t performing.
We know that working on the wrong projects can have a toll on the entire team, so those decisions had to be made regardless of our balance sheet.
Reframing Our Vision For The Future
If there’s something that the pandemic has made clear, is that whatever the challenge we’re facing, our vision will show us the way.
“We want to create content that people will want to share for months and years to come.”
This vision set us free to be who we are and do what we love. And now I can see how it has also shown us the way in times when we didn’t know what was next or where the north was.
The closer we got to this vision, the further away we felt from the rest of the industry. The more we embraced it, the less we followed the rules of the game – and the more we created our own rules.
It’s not been easy, particularly over the past two years.
As our small team grows, the worry about leading them in the wrong direction grows.
Impostor syndrome has been harsh on us lately. We’ve been struggling to stick to our guns and be confident in the decisions we make.
Danny shared some of the struggle on LinkedIn last year:
And I posted a Twitter thread a few months ago where I touched upon it as well:
I’m writing this post as a reminder of where this vision has taken us. That way, I’ve got a place to go next time I start doubting myself as a leader.
As the years go by, we accumulate both good and bad experiences. We almost lost the business once so it’s understandable for our mind to go back to that moment when we doubt our decisions.
We always say in passing that ‘it’s our past talking’ when we catch ourselves not wanting to make a decision out of fear.
Going through these past few months has been intense and nerve-wracking in ways that brought me back to those days.
The only difference is that this time round we knew where we were going, we had a North Star, our vision.
What Is Your Purpose?
We set NeoMam’s vision four years after starting the agency, at a time when we were trying to reignite a business that almost left all of us on the street. Next year we’re turning 10 and I can confidently say that we wouldn’t have survived (or thrived) without it.
Many business owners are struggling to figure out how to move forward from here. If this is you, now might be the best time to sit down with your vision for the future.
I know it must feel like you should be making calls, cutting costs, doing real work. You probably think that this is not the time to be thinking about the future, that it’s a time to take action.
And you’re right, going into survival mode is key. The calls, the cuts, the process adjustments, the build up of cash reserves will have to happen if you’re going to get through these next few months.
What I’m proposing is to also take this time of uncertainty as a catalyst for change, a stepping stone to help you ensure you’re making decisions for the good of the business in the long term.
Now is the time to either define who you are, where you’re going and how you’ll get there for the first time. Or to look at your vision again and make sure you’re still aligned with who your company set out to be.
Trust me when I tell you that the moment you know where you’re going, making all these decisions (that you definitely need to make) will get easier. Suddenly, you’ll see two paths in front of you instead of ten: the one that aligns with your vision and the ones that don’t.
Your vision is your company’s overriding belief that is larger than goals. It’s the main reason you get out of bed every day. And if you were to find yourself out of business, it would still be your purpose.
Here’s two readings that helped us wrap our heads around the concept before we sat down to define ours:
Build your vision, and then evaluate everything against it. Your clients, your work, your values, your team. Get clear on what fits and what doesn’t. Consider how you can get everything aligned, and what you may need to drop in the future.
The closer you can align yourself (and your business) with your vision, the more clarity you will gain as to where to go next.
In a time of uncertainty such as this, it seems that everything is outside of our control. The best way to get back in the driving seat is by putting time into deciding who you are as a company, what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there.
Here’s the deal, though:
Your vision might make you feel like you don’t belong as you are likely to start seeing things differently from your peers. You will still be scared at times. You will still doubt yourself when you see others going in the opposite direction. You will still lose sleep before making big decisions.
But there’s one thing I can promise: Your vision will be your north star through chaos and crisis, always taking you one step closer to the future you strive for, guiding you as you make decisions blind.