This year, business owner Karen Porter is “virtually starting from scratch”, and she’s not ashamed to admit it

communication

Underground Communication founder and head of community Karen Porter.

Even though my first fear was for the economy way back in March 2020 when this global pandemic began in Australia, I don’t think any of us had any idea the deep impact it would have when we first went into lockdown.

Sure, I suspect most business owners could see the economic pressure and potential looming recession as clear as day. But quick intervention and early success in gaining some semblance of control over the virus made it seem that, with a few minor adjustments, we’d come through the other side and get on with business and life having learnt some collective major lessons and start building a new and better future.

But, 10 months on and a rollercoaster of feelings later, prospects look somewhat different, and it’s abundantly clear that a new way of thinking is needed for the next phase.

For most of the last 10 months, my brain has felt like it’s on overload with the amount of planning, strategising, forecasting, reconsidering and refocusing that I’ve done, but I feel like I’ve come out with three major lessons.

Diversification

By now I think we’ve lost count of the number of times that businesses have ‘pivoted’ and we’re, quite frankly, a little over the concept.

But perhaps we can borrow from the term when we look at what we need to do to survive.

In the communications industry, traditionally, the retainer model has been the lifeblood of agencies, although in recent times there has already been a drive towards a new approach.

I was already in the process of considering how we could offer solutions that would create ongoing business relationships without having to rely on a model that is increasingly hard to sell.

COVID-19 has meant the fast-tracking of this process and, as a result, we’ll have a bigger reliance on our strategy and consulting services.

This has impacted the makeup of the business but, combined with the addition of a B Corp consulting arm, will help us survive and rebuild from a diverse set of services that are much more recession-proof.

Purpose

One of the processes we undertook last year was a facilitated workshop to get absolute clarity on our purpose.

Even as someone who has always been driven by values, and a deep sense of why I do what I do, as we rebuild, we can now articulate that purpose clearly, connect it to what we do, who we work with and how we drive outcomes for our clients.

In times of uncertainty, coming back to why you started out in the first place helps to recreate a solid foundation for you to begin again.

Imagine if you had all the knowledge and experience you have now when you first started out. If only you had an established brand, credibility, proof of service and a reputation for what you do?

As a start-over, you have all of this under your belt.

Times may be tough, but you’ve built up your business and encountered challenges along the way. You can do this again.

Self-care and support

My business is completely unrecognisable from what it looked like in 2020.

We’ve transitioned to a permanent work-from-home model out of necessity, but we’re embracing the benefits that come with it, and that will help us grow differently in the future, as well as navigating the inevitable accompanying challenges.

I’ve also been faced with making incredibly difficult choices in the last 10 months.

As a business owner, single parent and migrant with no family in Australia, I’m no stranger to the weight of every decision at home and at work resting on my shoulders. But this pandemic has taken that responsibility to a whole new level.

When you run a business, tough choices are par for the course but, like many entrepreneurs, I have struggled to deal with the additional burdens thrust upon me by the unpredictability of a global health crisis.

Luckily, I have access to an exceptional advisor and have a wonderful group of friends who offer continual support.

Business owners are not super-human, we are ordinary people who need to find incredible depths of resilience to keep going. And there should be no expectation that we have to do it alone.

The government has provided access to free counselling for business owners. If you’re struggling and haven’t tapped into that yet, please do. We need to put our own masks on first so we can help others. 

I’m not suggesting the concept of the start-over has been invented as a result of 2020. Many business owners have been in this unfortunate place before.

But I don’t think we’ve experienced this concept on such a scale as we’re likely to this year.

And, when contrasted with some organisations, especially in the tech-focused startup world, where ships seem to have come in, loaded up and set sail around the world, it’s easy to feel that you’re not just a failure of epic proportions, but the only one.

I was discussing this concept with my accountant recently, talking about the decisions we’ve made, and the feeling that some of them wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic, but perhaps should have. His feedback was that this was almost universally the perception of all his clients. 

So, if you’re in the position of virtually starting from scratch, I’m happy to be on this start-over journey with you, leaving shame behind and carrying the knowledge that there are new and better mistakes to be made from a solid foundation of skinned knees.

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