We conducted an interview with Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls
How has Covid affected your business?
I started a global branding and marketing firm 19 years ago in Cambridge, MA. I am very concerned about the spread of this virus and the short and long term impact it will have on the economy. We have had a few delayed projects but no client has been lost yet but projects have slowed, everyone is still on board knock wood. For professional service firms like mine we will recover even if our revenues slow from the crisis. The biggest change for me, my team and my clients from the virus so far is the shutdown of all networking events, travel and conferences. Spring is typically a very busy time with many events, trade shows, business meetings on the road, etc. and for the past few months everyone is staying put and meeting virtually instead. I have had more Zoom and Skype calls in the past 15 days than the prior 6 months! Pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc. is a smart and productive way companies can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period. So first and foremost I have learned to help small businesses to be flexible and open minded so we can keep working together during the crisis and create more flexible capacity going forward over the next year as the economy reopens. If small groups on the team want to talk through specific issues (managing anxiety, kids, parents, etc.) virtual coffee meetings online have been helpful too. A few colleagues have even met online after work for virtual happy hour/beer/cocktails as well when they had more time to chat. When it comes to etiquette, with small groups on calls I have found that keeping the screen in ”gallery mode“ is best to make the conversation feel more intimate and personal. Also if people have kids or pets I ask them to mute it unless they are speaking, it helps with background noise. If your room is messy you can use a stock or personal photo as background instead. It is starting to feel like the new normal by leveraging technology to build and maintain my relationships. We have learned that finding routines and things we can control helps I think.
How have you dealt with slowdowns in the past?
Going back to the Great Recession in 2008-9, I had always done a lot of public speaking at conferences and networking events which has always been a great source of lead generation for my business. I had also served on several boards over the years so I know often times a year or more in advance about travel plans to attend these activities. Just as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were imploding and the stock market started to free fall I had 3 big projects (+/- 6 figures) just about to launch all get postponed within a few days. For a small business like mine that is significant. Since my dance card was suddenly open, I looked at my calendar and saw that I needed to be in NYC, Chicago, Bay Area & Boston over the next few months for speeches and board meetings so I decided to add on a Listening Tour in each city too! Politicians do it all the time and it is great for business too. I made a list the movers & shakers, people I admired and prospects, asked a few smart open ended questions then sat back and took notice. With things so slow they were more than happy to get together and tell me what was on their mind. If you listen to what they share with you there will be plenty of opportunities to help them. I did it when business slowed then and picked up several new clients but you can do it any time. It is a great way to connect and a lot of fun too. Start listening with no strings attached, you’ll be amazed what you find. It does not cost anything with social distancing now it is all video & conference calls and virtual coffee meetings anyway and you will get an earful. I had no idea what to expect and got a lot of new work as a result. I did my listening tour the old fashioned way by sending out e-mails & picking up the phone then brought a pad & pen, asked a few open ended questions then shut up and started taking notes. We got through it with a slowdown but ultimately came through stronger as a result. Our growth rate slowed and we shifted from doing mostly monthly retainer based work to a project based approach but in the end our clients spent roughly the same with us over the year it just required us to sell in multiple projects as each one ended vs just sending out a monthly invoice automatically. The listening tour added some new project offerings for us to include which was great.
What are you doing differently this time?
I do not think the government bailout will fix this crisis so an idea I am sharing with my community is to look at all the groups we are a part of (industry, trade, neighborhood, alumni, women, hobby, religious, non profit, etc.) and suggest we start our own stimulus packages by agreeing to support/buy from each other directly and refer business proactively to each other too. Cross promote the products and services in newsletters, follow/like/retweet on social media and vice versa. Whether you need to buy food, a book or a gift, office supplies/equipment, update your website, or create a video there is probably someone in your network who is more than happy to get the business right now. You can always buy gift certificates from them too which is thoughtful and very much appreciated in times like these. I bought a few from my favorite local restaurants in fact to use when they reopen. The corner store would probably even carry out your bag to your car if you called them and said you needed some cereal, milk, candy and lottery tickets if you asked. Help your neighbors and network thrive and we will all get through this together stronger.
How do you feel about the future?
I predict the most trusted leaders and brands will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world. Employees, customers and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times. The current crisis has provided a stage for our political and business leaders to rise to the occasion. We have learned that it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more for a while. Online meetings, webinars, social media, etc. are a smart and productive way companies like ours can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period. Once we lay this groundwork it all will be in place to continue moving forward as the economy reopens and some businesses come back quicker than others. Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another. With Zoom, social media, cell phones, etc. we see that technology does not have to be isolating it can be used to build our real world communities and relationships too!