What Now? Moving Beyond the Pivot – Rich Brooks

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What Now? Moving Beyond the Pivot - Rich Brooks

It’s easy to fall back into a groove, but thinking things have “normalized” is the wrong approach. In this episode I share five things you can do to make sure you continue to evolve as your customers’ needs do.

That was the email I recently sent to my clients. My flyte new media clients.

It was the 2nd such email I sent them. I sent them one a while back when we first realized that things weren’t going to be business as usual for quite some time, if ever. 

At that point I was worried. I hadn’t faced anything like this in my entire life, much less as president of flyte. I was worried about my employees as well as my clients. I wanted every single client to succeed.

I knew that I couldn’t control that, but I wanted to offer what I could to keep them afloat for what I hoped would just be a couple of months. 

It had been about five months, and during that time we saw some clients close their doors—thankfully just temporarily—while others saw a surge of mail order (e-commerce) business.

During these five months we’ve gotten a better handle on the pandemic, and how to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients safe. (That despite the fact some people choose to ignore science and doctors.) 

We’ve learned we should all wear some sort of mask when we can’t socially distance, and maybe it’s a good idea even when we can. We’ve learned that we don’t have to wash our groceries. We’ve discovered that some of us can work from home, and businesses can adapt and evolve as necessary.

I’ve read stories about how restaurants will never recover from this. I also heard a story on NPR the other day about a restaurant that had to open up a second location because the lines for their curbside and takeout were so long.

Even though some of us have settled into a groove, new information keeps coming our way. This morning I read that in Hong Kong someone who previously had the virus had it again. There goes the immunity clause. 

I also have read that neck gators—my favorite mask—may be worse than wearing nothing at all. Then the next day I read that this was wrong. Then I saw a news story on one of those popular morning shows saying it was true.

I guess we still have a lot to learn.

Still, it feels like we understand more about what we can and can’t get away with these days. That may give you a sense of peace, IDK.

But my question still stands: what now?

Chances are, you already pivoted. You moved out of the office and back home. You’ve learned to Zoom. (Story about mom). You’ve suffered from Zoom fatigue. You’ve suffered from Zoom Happy Hour fatigue. (Why is it that drinking remotely isn’t nearly as much fun as drinking when you’re right in front of people?)

You’ve come up with new ways to work and new ways to serve your clients.

I thought I had. But whenever I think I’ve figured things out and come to some understanding that “this is the way things are” I lose track of what’s going on, and the world passes me by.

Let me rephrase that: whenever I gain a feeling of competence in an area that I expect to stay static, I get my ass kicked. I remember when I had “mastered” HTML and I was sure that with HTML 4, there would be no further advances in building websites. I then took my eye off the ball, and quickly fell behind other web developers.

When I believe we’ve optimized the way we create our Digital Marketing Action Plans for clients, or the way we report on traffic and conversions, that’s when things go wrong.

I share this, because after a few months of slow sales and poor numbers for flyte, things picked up. We landed a series of jobs in a row, had clients who had cut back on ad spends re-engage with us, and got super busy. Obviously, the pandemic isn’t over but perhaps the crisis had passed.

And then two of the jobs imploded over the weekend. Then two more. Although we may have salvaged some of the work…

One of the worst things you can do for your business is to be complacent.

Complacent may not be something you think you’re being right now, during the midst of a pandemic. But maybe you think that the worst of it has passed, you survived, and now you’re ready to move on to recovery.

Let’s just hope you’re not in the eye of the hurricane.

During “unprecedented” times like these, you may feel like you’ve made all the changes you need to. But the truth is, responding to COVID is likely not going to be a one time “pivot” and suddenly you’re heading in the right direction like being re-routed by Waze. 

It’s more like being on a roiling ocean, where change isn’t just inevitable, it’s constant. And that can feel exhausting, because it is.

But change is your ally. As long as you can weather change better than your competition can, you’re in good shape. 

If history has taught us anything—man, is that an overused phrase. Right up there with “if they can put a man on the moon.” But, history has shown us that during times of economic upheaval is when many successful companies start. While it’s true that what we’re going through may be terrible, it’s also full of opportunities. 

I’m listening to a book right  now by Simon Sinek called the Infinite Game and it’s all about how business is an infinite game. There are people, including many business leaders, who are playing a limited game. They are only paying attention to quarters or years. They’re only paying attention to what they’re currently selling their customers. 

If I was playing a finite game, I might think that I sell websites. However, at some point in the future, businesses may not need websites. They may all get on some new platform and shed their website the way they’ve shedded their fax numbers and AOL email addresses.

But if I’m playing an infinite game, I may decide that I help my clients reach more of their ideal customers. Or that I help them with their digital transformations so they can grow and become more profitable. That will keep me busier for a lot longer, even if for now, that means that I am building them websites.

Now, I have a problem with business books in general, because they often cherry pick their success and failure stories to support a claim, and this book is no different. However, i agree with a lot of when Sinek has to say, especially around how you think about serving your customers. He argues that the Thomas Friedman approach to business, where we should put our stakeholders first, is actually a corruption of capitalism. That we should focus first on our customers, and by doing that, growth and profitability will follow. 

One of my business partners asked me recently how my clients were doing. I mentioned the email we had sent out back in April. 

Yes, but how are they doing now?

I had been in contact with many of them, and I had re-ignited relationships with a few due to my early outreach, but I honestly wasn’t sure how many of them are doing.

I don’t know if virtual plumbing calls saved their business. Or if curbside pickup was keeping them afloat. Or if they had pivoted once, took our advice that one time, and hadn’t continue to evolve as COVID gripped the world.

So, I reached out again, with the subject  Now What?, offering another 45 minutes of my time at no cost. Just to talk. Just to listen.

I’m not saying this to make you think I’m some amazing guy. I’m not. There is a selfish component to all this. I don’t want my business to fail. I don’t want my employees to be furloughed. And the best way I can survive is by talking to our clients. Finding out what they need, and continuing the pivot.

In fact, pivot isn’t even the right word. Pivot the noun is about a shaft or a pin upon which something turns. Pivot the verb is the action of pivoting. It implies there’s only one turn. In basketball, to pivot means keeping one foot at its point on the floor as you twist around. 

That’s not going to work in today’s world. You’re not going to get very far like that. In basketball, when you move that pivot foot it’s called traveling, and it’s a penalty. In life, and in business, you can’t get very far without traveling.

If you successfully made your pivot, and you expect that you’re now heading in the right direction, well, if you’re not wrong yet you will be. 

You need to be more of a rooomba, but with direction and purpose. Ready to alter your course as you hit immoveable objects. 

Or, if we’re sticking with sport metaphors, you just caught a kickoff in American football, and you know that you need to make it to the other end zone. However, there are plenty of hazards in the way. 11 at least. 11 is the number of players on the other team looking to tackle you. I say at least, because there’s still two sidelines where you might run out, your own teammates who might get in your way, even with the best of intentions, and even some of those 11 opposing players might get a second chance to take you out. 

But even that metaphor doesn’t work. 

The tricky thing is that your destination or your purpose may be regularly changing, because in business we exist to serve the needs of our customers and clients, and their needs may be regularly changing as well. At flyte, more of our clients need e-commerce, or more interaction on their websites as more of their customers want touch-free solutions. 

They need more help with Google ads and FB ads because more of their customers are shopping or researching online, or spending more time on social media. 

I’m guessing the same thing is going on in your industry. 

So, What Now? 

Well, here are a few things I believe you should be doing right now:

  • Call your clients and checking in. What’s working for them? What are they struggling with?
  • Call your lapsed clients and ex-clients and checking in. Same questions.
  • Pick up a few new reading resources. Ask friends and colleagues what they read, watch, or listen to, to keep ahead of the curve.
  • Pick up a new book at Amazon, Audible, or your local book store or library. Something slightly more evergreen than you might get in a newsletter. 
  • Determining what type of content your ideal customers need right now, and determine how to create it.

Obviously, you’ll need to coordinate this to your own business needs, but that should give you a start.

That’s all for this week, but stay tuned as we get back into expert guests talking about YouTube ads, content creation, e-commerce, and more in the coming weeks and months.