“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” -Albert Einstein
For many businesses in Anchorage, Alaska 2016 was a rough and “interesting” year. A lot of changes and uncertainty challenged a lot of us in ways that were uncomfortable. I believe it is safe to say that many of us have had to tighten our belts and take a hard look at why we were in business and what we needed to change to stay in business. Here are some lessons we learned in 2016 and what we are excited about in 2017.
Too Much Growth Too Fast is Dangerous
This is not a new concept and one we thought we were familiar with. But I’ll admit, when you are in the thick of it, and new opportunities keep presenting themselves, it is easy to get carried away. The excitement is heady, and us entrepreneurs tend to suck at saying no. We see opportunities in everything and always want to say yes, believing we will figure out a solution as we go. Figuring it out as we go is a hallmark of the entrepreneur, but it is also a weakness of ours. There is a limit, and we found ours and then had to deal with that reality, trust me it was painful.
So what do you do when you’ve overextended yourself? How do you pull things back and make all your deliverables? My answer isn’t the kind most would want to hear because it will depend on how far you’ve extended and what your deliverables are. But the consistent part is that you have to let go of what is dragging you down. You have to trim what fat you can so you can deliver on your core pieces. This is where making hard decisions comes in. We had to look at which departments were profitable and which we were carrying just because. As we really looked, we realized some were still around just because they always had been and others we were still hanging on to because we thought we had to keep them for reputation’s sake. Some we just didn’t know how to bow out of gracefully.
In the end, we let stuff go that had meant a lot to us in the past, but was not longer current. We said goodbye to a department even though the exit was less than graceful, but it had to be done. We struggled, but as a team, we stood by the decisions we made. Now I am thankful to say we see the benefits of the choices we made. They were the right departments to let go of.
Moving into 2017 we are a nimbler, more agile company who can adjust more adeptly to current trends and developments in marketing. Our team members are operating more in their strengths, which has increased our efficiency and quality of work. We are seeing success financially from our decisions and are excitedly watching those trends continue.
We LOVE to Help Companies
Part of the challenging journey of 2016, forced all of us at Beacon to look at little or a lot deeper at why we were at Beacon and why we were in marketing. The single most unifying purpose amongst us all is that we want to help people and to help the businesses we work with. We love what we do because it makes a difference we can see and measure. One staff member said:
“I love coming to work because I get to help people find the right business to work with and the business find the right customer.”
This reinforces our mission; that we want to be a beacon of light guiding businesses through the murky world of marketing. As we look into 2017, we will continue to use this statement as our beacon as we ask ourselves fundamental questions: Does this new trend help our clients? Is what was working three months ago still working? If not, why not? What can we do it improve? How can we help our clients succeed?
Telecommuting is Not the Same as Face-to-Face
In the fall of 2016, I moved with my family to Ohio and suddenly Beacon Media + Marketing was operating in two very different time zones. And I am not the only executive member who travels. At the date of this blog, we have executive team members in three time zones.
After spending almost five years running Beacon from Anchorage, it’s so much more challenging to try and run it from 2/3 of the way across the US. The move was mostly for personal reasons having to do with the health of various family members. I’m thankful for staff who are willing to put up with the challenges of me telecommuting to help make this possible. Honestly, I’m truly grateful that the technology exists at all that we could even consider this as a viable option.
Making telecommuting work for extended periods of time has been “interesting” to say the least with adjustments required on both sides of the US. There is a four-hour difference between Alaska and Ohio. So the Alaska staffs’ lunch meetings are my evening meetings. Weird things are challenging: Like when we are in brainstorming sessions, I can’t say “this is so much more effective that that” when we can’t share a screen. “This” doesn’t have any context to the people on the other end of the line. What worked so well when we were all in the same room doesn’t work anymore. So we have to remember to change our language to be more descriptive, especially when technology doesn’t cooperate and our video conferencing goes down.
Though telecommuting will forever have its challenges, we have all adapted well. It will never be as nice as being able to be on the ground with colleagues. Sharing an “air-five” in celebration can not replace a real high five, but it is the next best thing. In 2017, we are looking at strategically, and by that I mean slowly, expanding our presence in the mid-west and east coast.
Transparency is Painful and Invaluable
From the beginning, it has been Jennifer’s and my vision to have a company where transparency and honesty are values we live by and not just give lip service to. So this sounds good and great in theory and on paper, but it is challenging to live out day to day. Through the last five years and especially in 2016, we have discovered many layers and dimensions to committing to personal and company transparency.
Internally, we have had many frank and painful conversations between staff, between executive members and between the executive team and staff that I don’t believe would have happened at too many companies. Having walked through those conversations, I understand why most choose to avoid them. They force us to see things in ourselves that are not so pretty, and once we see them, they are a lot harder to ignore. Beacon is not an office where you show up, do a job, and leave. We show up, we work hard, we care for and about each other, we grow as people and as professionals, then we leave. I firmly believe we have stronger teams because of the commitment we make to honesty, but I will be the first to admit that it can be a painful road.
Transparency externally means we own our mistakes and work hard to make them right. We have made our share of mistakes, and it’s not fun to own them privately or publically. I keep reminding myself when I get down that no one, no business is perfect. Mistakes will be made, errors and accidents will happen. But I am proud to be part of a company that looks at mistakes in the context of the learning process. The world of inbound and digital marketing is one of trial and error. As Thomas Edison said:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I’m sure 2017 will hold more trials and more errors and more finding things that won’t work. However, I am encouraged because I believe it will also be full of successes that we have because we have been willing to take risks and try new things.
In 2017 and beyond we will continue to take calculated risks. We will continue to learn from our mistakes and our triumphs. We will honor ourselves and our staff as we work hard and want so much to help clients. We will continue to be thankful for our customers, our partners in marketing; that honor us with their trust. We will continue to excitedly explore the new frontiers of marketing.