Last year at this time, as 2019 was turning to 2020, our optimism level was high. We were mentally prepared to have our best year yet. After all, 2019 had been a year of business development. Naturally, we thought that 2020 would be the year when all those developed pieces would join together – to rocket 17hats into 2021.
What a vision we had.
The calm before the storm
Through February of 2020, in fact, we were on pace for our best quarter ever. But like all businesses around the world, we were shaken to our core when COVID-19 took hold, and slowly became our new normal.
As I reflect on that transition now, I remember the memes from last year about how 2020 was the longest year ever. It’s hard to believe we’re finally at the end of it now.
In early March, we swiftly went remote to ensure the safety of our staff. The next two weeks were filled with countless hours spent absorbing COVID-19 education and data. Like everyone else, we were trying to predict what the future would hold.
Seemingly every day, new information changed our predictions – leaving us hesitant and stealing our focus. Each quarter had been so meticulously planned, and now we didn’t even know what the next day would hold … it was such an odd feeling.
I remember a pivotal moment. Our CEO, Donovan Janus, remarked that “this isn’t a one-month or one-quarter disruption – this is a change in how we live our lives.” He predicted then that the global pandemic would affect how we all do business (and live, frankly) through the rest of 2020, and likely well into 2021.
I recall letting that sink in overnight. How will our members survive this? How will the wedding industry change? How will we work remotely? How will my children learn? The “How will … ” questions turned into what felt like a never-ending whirlwind of questions and anxiety.
A choice to make
I soon realized that I faced a decision. I could let COVID-19 overtake my day-to-day thoughts and emotions … or I could work hard to redefine our lives and business.
I stopped plunging down the rabbit hole of “How will …,” and told myself “We will …” – “we win get through this,” and “we will succeed.” I stubbornly clung to that mantra, even though we weren’t sure what success would look like yet!
As a team, our mindset transformed from “temporary change” to a “permanent change.” We recognized that this is our new normal, and that we needed to make real changes to accompany it.
Embracing the situation
We settled into our new workspace at home, rolled up our sleeves, and then got to work. Our roadmap for features quickly changed. We offered 7-Day Free Trials for new members. And did what we needed to do to ensure employment for our staff members throughout the pandemic. (We retained full staffing through all of this. Success!)
Meanwhile, we did all that we could to support our members during this difficult year. No question, it was hard to watch the numbers nosedive for those in service-driven businesses. Our hearts went out to our members who were affected.
Returning to our mission
At 17hats, we exist to see small businesses succeed. So it broke my heart to think about all the small business owners who were driven to the edge – and flirting with burnout – in the first half of 2020. But beyond making me sad, it fueled my resolve.
I remember thinking, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let this pandemic be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for our members.”
With that motivation behind me, I started The Business Makeover Challenge in April. My thinking was, let’s put this downtime to good use, helping members (and non-members) to reimagine and reinvigorate their small businesses. This free 30-day course was so inspirational and successful that we did a second free Business Makeover Challenge in May!
Now it can be told: We had planned to launch these Business Makeover Challenges later in 2020, so I started those both challenges in April without having all the content – or all the answers. While that made me nervous, both 30-Day Business Makeover Challenges were a huge success.
I can’t say enough good things about these Challenges. The participants embraced the process, and everyone’s business emerged the stronger for it. By the end, I was more inspired than ever, and all our “challengers” were excited to act on their learnings. It was just what we needed to get through the first few months!
The Great Change Of 2020
All the while, of course, we were transitioning our children to remote learning and learning how to all be in one household at the same time, ALL the time.
It helped that we looked at each change as an indefinite change. Avoiding the wishy-washiness of “temporary” kept me in a good headspace. After a while, we settled in, made our peace with the new normal, and grew comfortable with our new life.
I call it the Great Change of 2020. Because that’s what it was. Our lives changed. Not for the worse, not for the better. Just changed.
When reflecting on this change, I believe it has taught me so many things:
- Plans can be made, but they are only that. Plans. Life will always throw surprises your way.
- The ability to adapt is more important than the plan.
- Sometimes, you don’t need to have every detail nailed down to start the journey.
- Success doesn’t come from a perfect execution. Instead, it’s in how you handle yourself going over the hurdles.
- Perspective is one of the most important coping mechanisms you can have in life.
I am proud of our members and our company, because even in the darkest hours, we kept perspective and found a way to move forward. While there were very difficult losses and challenging times, I feel as though we continue to overcome and persevere.
For those who have lost their small business during this time, please don’t see it as a failure. For starters, this was a cataclysmic, once-in-a-lifetime event – tens of thousands of businesses were driven to the brink. And bear in mind, many business owners only see success with their second or third attempt. (Often applying the lessons that they learned the hard way.)
I hope that each of you reading this can reflect on your 2020 accomplishments – whatever they be – and see the good in the bad, and take learnings from the frustration. Let’s all resolve to approach 2021 with the perspective needed to make next year better. (The vaccines in the pipeline sure won’t hurt either.)
As 17hats dives into 2021, we are excited to pick up where we left off in 2019, and build on all learnings and achievements of 2020. I wish you all the very best in 2021 – may you find success, however you define it.
A solemn postscript
For those of you who lost a loved one to the pandemic, I speak for the whole 17hats team when I say that our hearts and thoughts are with you. I can’t begin to understand your pain or emotions. But I wish a road of healing and serenity for you in 2021.