It’s safe to say that a lot has happened in the past few weeks.
By now, you will have read plenty of dry emails and messages from big businesses and household names about their new practices as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
As founder and CEO of Ultimate Creative Communications, I wanted to share with you our experiences of how we’ve adapted and are currently operating as an agency. I also wanted to share some of my personal insights as a business owner and entrepreneur of over 25 years, on what’s likely to be needed to survive and even prosper in this new age of business. And with this in mind, that’s where I’ll start.
Having run my own businesses for more than two decades, I’ve seen first-hand the challenges and solutions needed to keep the wheels turning during confusing and complex times. For Ultimate, our goal is to look after our employees and always keep adding value to our clients, wherever we can. But looking at the experiences I’ve gained from running Ultimate and other businesses in varying sectors, there are some key learnings I’ve made over the years.
Over the coming weeks I’m going to be publishing a series of guides (maybe even videos if I can pluck up the courage). I’m hoping they’ll be genuinely useful tutorials to help get businesses through a crisis, from the perspective of a pretty ordinary entrepreneur who’s found success over the years; but did it the hard way. Here are just a few of the topics I’ll be covering:
How to spot the opportunities that ‘always’ come from adversity
Thinking long-term amid the coronavirus pandemic and beyond, is perhaps a scary thought right now. The most experienced leadership teams out there will understand they have an opportunity to make tactical moves and changes to their business models that could set them up for the next decade. There’s an incredible opportunity for growth, with inaction being one of only a few risks. Knowing how to spot the right opportunities is partly intuition and experience, but also a skill that can be refined.
The real meaning of positivity and self-belief
Look for the positives. Don’t think ‘What’s the worst that can happen’. Think ‘What’s the best that can happen’. There are always opportunities to be taken advantage of. You’ve just got to find them. I’m not talking about having a complete illogical belief in the most absurd ideas. I’m saying, if you think negatively about a problem, the opportunities never present themselves. But they are there. And the key is to think creatively and differently. Be brave. You also have to be positive about yourself, your business, and your job. If you don’t believe in yourself no one else will. Life is tough. Especially right now. You need to have confidence in who you are and what you’re doing. It’s highly possible that you’re not 100% confident about what your business is doing right now, and that’s understandable. But now is the perfect time to take a step back and really assess if there are ways to make yourself or your business better. It’s a changing world out there and it’s highly likely you need to make some adaptations and improvements. But look at how you can improve in a positive way. What I mean is, don’t look at the things you’re bad at and try to fix them. Focus on the things you’re good at and try to make them things you’re great at.
Leadership and the power of others
Communication and leadership is the most important thing in a crisis, from an executive management level. At Ultimate, we’ve got leadership skills in spades and I’m blessed to work with such a strong and talented senior management team. But as Chris Martin said, you’ve got to “be a comma, not a full stop”, and let great people achieve great things. Leadership is about allowing the talent hidden within your organisation rise to the top. It’s also hugely important to support and appreciate the people who help you outside of work. These people are as instrumental to your success as your business contacts. I’m not talking about friends: I mean the people who help you in your daily life and you probably take a bit for granted.
People and putting trust in strangers
It’s highly likely that your business could be going through a devastatingly difficult time at present, which makes this one of the most powerful pieces of advice I can give, whilst perhaps also being one of the hardest to comprehend why. When your business is going through the toughest of times, you have to put your trust in the new people that you’re going to meet. These people may be complete strangers at first, but in my experience, the people who can best help you come from the most unexpected introductions. You’ve just got to trust them. You may have no other choice. This all may sound a bit deep and ‘mystic meg’ like, but in my experience many of the people you expected to be right by your side during the hard times won’t be, bar just a few very close relationships. I’ll expand further on this in a later piece, but if you trust in the power of good people, you’ll make important contacts that will influence the next chapter of your business career. Be brave. They may even become lifelong friends.
These are my views and my experiences. Not everyone will agree with me, of course, but it’s what I think! Keep an eye out for what I hope will be a series of genuinely useful tutorials, to help businesses and individuals get through this period of national crisis.
How Ultimate has been responding to Covid-19
Along with many of our friends and partners across the industry, we’ve found our way in this incredibly sudden shift in the working environment relatively smoothly. We are fortunate to be able to continue to operate our business from our homes, and have been busy adjusting, adapting and navigating the change, mainly in the areas of team culture and employee support and engagement.
From the perspective of our wider teams, our focus as a business is set on employee health, wellbeing and productivity. We’ve always been a firm believer in the motto ‘If you look after your employees, they will look after your clients’, and without doubt this has proven to be right, with every single member of our team providing a service to clients that is second to none and way beyond the call of duty.
We’ve been focussed on our company vision and values, with our long-standing culture-mission of more than 15 years (Enjoy Life. Do great work) becoming even more relevant now than ever before. The current challenges have strengthened further our overall business goal to be ‘the best, not the biggest’, and we’re feeling incredibly driven and motivated to push the boundaries of what’s possible and deliver the very best work to our amazingly supportive clients.
The importance of health and mental wellbeing cannot be underestimated in these uncertain times. It’s even more difficult than ever to know if the pressures and stresses of the crisis are bearing their weight on individuals isolated at home. We’ve been using the Yoomi platform for many years, which is an app that tracks employee engagement, performance and wellbeing all in one place. I thoroughly recommend checking it out. It’s been invaluable in helping us keep emotionally connected to our teams, understanding how they’re feeling, and in turn, helping managers to understand more and employees to perform better.
We’ve also continued our partnership with TeamGB performance psychologist Stuart Holliday, who provides our teams with one-to-one support via telephone or Zoom. Employees can talk with Stu about work, family, relationships, or whatever, but ultimately this space is about them and totally confidential. Similarly, our company fitness PT, Emma Venables has been providing our teams with weekly virtual fitness programmes and one-to-one consultations. Both of these partners are retained on a monthly basis and are an important part of our ongoing strategy.
Like many businesses, we’ve been communicating and collaborating with our national and international clients using digital platforms such as Zoom and G-Suite, with video conferencing, screen-sharing and feedback platforms being very much the norm to us. But the pressures of working from home have further driven us to adopt new technologies that enhance our work and output. And of course, working from home has meant some changes to the normal nine to five schedules too, with interruptions from pets, little ones and helping with homework now all par for the course. But being flexible is key and means we make it happen, however we can.
Turning now, to our amazing clients. Despite the new challenges, they continue to place their trust in our agency to bring their businesses to life. In this unique situation, they’re allowing us to create the strong and engaging marketing campaigns that continue to be vital to their business success. Our teams collaborate closely with our clients to keep creating fresh, timely and relevant content, and together we’re even finding opportunities to learn and grow skills in these times of adversity.
Creative agencies thrive off the hum and buzz of a close-knit office. Collaborating and sharing ideas is truly what makes our sector special. Bringing this atmosphere into the virtual world is not without its challenges; whether it’s a TV advert, a print piece, or an online campaign, a last-minute design tweak here or a change of wording there, it’s what transforms the good into the great. But together with the support of our clients, we’re managing to do just that.
Today, the impact of the coronavirus has reached every person, every family, every business and every nation around the world. First and foremost, here at Ultimate, our thoughts are with the people whose lives have been changed forever by the virus. This set of circumstances is unprecedented for every one of us, and we truly are all in this together.
Now, like no other time before, we find ourselves facing this challenge together as a nation, and I feel we need to ensure we all get through it together, and help each other, and leave no one behind, however big or small they may be.
With my best wishes and love for a safe and prosperous month ahead,
Matt Townsend, CEO