Midmarket List: Wendy O’Donovan Phillips of Big Buzz: “Excerpts from a Small Business Owner’s Annals”

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In the spring of 2020, I was on the frontlines of the battle fought by small businesses worldwide. I am the owner of a small business that serves small businesses. Here are a few excerpts from my writings over the last few months. I hope they will provide the knowledge that we are all in this together, a few insights on how to continue forging forward and the reassurance that we will indeed persevere.

 

January 15, 2020

In 2000, I started a freelance writing business. In 2007, I started a healthcare marketing agency with a single client (my dentist), one “employee” (my cat) in humble beginnings (my guest bedroom). By 2009, I had 10 clients and hired my first three real employees. The cat stayed on, too. I secured a corporate line of credit with a local bank to safeguard my business in case of a downturn. In 2011, I hired an unpaid intern who today is our General Manager. In 2014, we moved the business out of my home and into a commercial property that I bought with an SBA loan. The cat stayed at the house. In 2017, we diversified from serving mainly small specialty clinics to serving larger, more profitable industries like medical software and senior living. In 2018, we hit $1 million in revenues. In 2019, we did it again. This year, the cat turns 24 years old. Read more.

 

March 13, 2020

It is with great sorrow and humility that I share that the Big Buzz leadership team, after considering the data before us and gathered by our team, made yesterday the very difficult decision to lay off two employees and convert two others to contractors. We love our team more than words can say, and we already miss it as it was. At the same time, we knew for sure that as a small business we would not hit revenue goals as planned, and that our colleagues would likely have a better chance now in finding new employment and/or securing unemployment than they might in another couple of months. My heart is simply broken. I continue to pray for each of you and love you all.

 

March 16, 2020

As an adjusted team, today we turn our attention to how we can be of highest and best service to those small businesses similarly affected. We understand that very few small businesses have more than 2-3 months’ worth of expenses in cash on hand. We know that you, too, will have to face extremely difficult choices in the weeks and months to come. To that end, if you are a small business owner concerned about how to weather this storm, private message me and I’m happy to share the resources and tools we are using to find a way forward. We in humanity always have each other and faith that in the end, together, we will persevere.

 

March 23, 2020

In response to the new challenges facing our company and our clients, we have taken three steps to getting back on track:

  1. We re-evaluated our vision statement, which read, “To help people create marketing, careers and lives they never dreamed possible,” and seemed hyperbolic at best in this new climate. We adjusted it to read, “To help people create focused communications to overcome any obstacle,” which we honestly believe we can do for the folks in our industries.
  2. We are revisited our SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis with a particular focus on opportunities. Our clients have different needs now than they did even a month ago, and we are fully focused on uncovering those new needs with programmatic surveys, then identifying from that data opportunities we have for meeting those needs. This approach will both help us more readily hit our revenue and profit projections and will also help our clients do the same.
  3. We are focused on our Strategic Planning Model, a one-page document shared once weekly with the entire team and executives. It is our “game board” for getting to our revenue/profit projections. Given the turn in global events, we need to rethink what action is necessary for us to get to the goal. We are helping our clients and others in our industry do this, too.

As the Stockdale Paradox reminds us all, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” We will survive!

 

A person sitting in a chair using a computer Description automatically generatedMarch 30, 2020

The industries we serve are in crisis, and we have the tools to bring them real-time data on what their peers and customers are thinking and doing in the face of the crisis. So far, we have delivered webinars to about 5,500 attendees in our industry nationwide, gained about 1,600 marketing qualified leads and gained about 237 sales qualified leads, which is a record for this micro-small business – all thanks to genuinely showing up in the spirit of service and offering facts to help quell fears. It will be some time before those leads will have money to invest with us. Still, we can sleep at night knowing we were of true service to other small businesses that needed support in how to communicate with their team and clients during this crisis.

 

April 20, 2020

We applied for and were funded for the PPP program. With those monies, we hired back half our laid-off employees full-time and made the difficult decision not to hire back the other half due to so many unknowns in the future. It was one of the greatest days of my career to make those two calls. One welled up in tears, and the other cried out, “Oh, hell yes!” I feel grateful to be on this wild ride with this team. Beyond the PPP, we are clear that we will likely need to use our untapped corporate line of credit to continue operations this year. This is precisely what that emergency funding is for: an unforeseen crisis. We believe we will be able to fully recover in 2021. Every team member has a new laptop and is fully prepared to work from home as much as needed and at high production levels in the foreseeable future. We have even mastered culture-building activities from home, like playing Catan and cards together on online platforms. I was skeptical at first, but it’s really fun!

 

May 25, 2020

The difficult decisions just keep coming. After consulting with my commercial realtor, property manager and my team, today I announced we will be permanently working from home. I will be listing for lease the commercial property I purchased in 2014 to house my agency. Quite simply, data from internal surveys show that my team is more productive and just as happy working from home as they are in the office, and the entity is more likely to gain more income as a rental property these next few years than it will in equity growth.

 

May 28, 2020

Just shared this with my team on our “Uplift” Slack channel… “Okay, so this post is not uplifting per se, but it does perfectly sum up why I keep ending up in tears at truly inappropriate times (on the phone with my accountant and leadership team, on a Zoom meeting going over sales with Melinda and Molly) and why at certain points like yesterday I’ve just elected to throw my hands up and briefly walk away. My favorite line: ‘But right now, given the lack of leadership on every government level, it feels so few decisions that impact my people are mine.’ Guys, I’m not good at a lot of things but I am goddamned great at collecting the right information to lead us all in the best possible direction NO. MATTER. WHAT. I’m faltering now because I’m unable to get good information, and it is deeply, deeply, deeply unsettling to me. And yet please know that I and our leadership team will continue to navigate this shit show of information that we are fed and that changes on a daily basis to bring you our best solutions. So help me God, we are going to come out on the other side of this and say to each other, “We did that well. They failed us in some ways, and we did well nonetheless.” Because that’s who we are! I love you guys.

 

June 14, 2020

I spent the better part of the weekend moving my business to my home. I have experienced the whole spectrum of emotions: sadness to leave in-office memories behind, anger that the choice was not fully mine yet no one is to blame, relief that I have options (the realtor has already had a few showings), gratitude for all of the help through this transition from my coworkers, family and support network. There were so many times I just stood in the old office a bit glazed over, in utter disbelief that any of this has happened at all. Inevitably, some force would take over and put me back into motion. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next right thing…

 

June 15, 2020

Love the energy of my new executive home office. The pretty curtains are blowing in the breeze wafting through the open window, reminding me the important part is already done: inviting in the presence of a power greater than me. Big Guy, my cat, even came down for a visit mid-day. Wow, I’ve come full circle: I’m back at home working in a spare room with the same cat. Only now I have 13 years’ experience, an incredible team, an amazing group of clients, many more opportunities and far more faith than ever before. Onward!