Roughly a year ago, the COVID-19 virus began to sweep through Europe. While we have all learned to adapt to a more quiet way of life amid several nation-wide lockdowns, we’ve also had to get used to a new way of working. It is due entirely to our dedicated staff and our clients who continued to have faith in us during these very difficult times.
It has been a year of great learning for us. and we took the opportunity to sit together as founders and discuss the biggest challenges we faced in 2020 and share what we’ve learned.
Adaptability was crucial
Adaptability and flexibility made all the difference. COVID-19 forced businesses to innovate and those that were frozen because of their inflexibility ultimately failed in big ways. Having said that, it really was interesting to see how leaner and more agile businesses actually thrived during the last year. Brick and mortar companies opened virtually, changing their business models entirely. The acceleration of digital transformation was critical for organisations that hadn’t invested in digitisation prior to 2020, and the term ‘fail fast’ has never been so relevant. We guess this speaks to adaptability again but we were also forced to become more resilient. How quickly you bounced back from failed ideas was about as important as implementing new ideas in the first place.
How WeAreBrain changed
We were determined to keep our team intact. This meant going through our budget and cutting expenditure on anything that was a nice-to-have. Our main aim was to ensure that we were in a healthy financial position. This meant reducing spending on marketing and PR almost entirely while investing additional time nurturing our existing client relationships and making sure that we were adding as much value as possible. We also developed an aggressive sales strategy, looking for new work to supplement any work lost due to client business closures. Finally, we prioritised new business streams to allow us to grow the business during the downturn. The knock-on effect was that our team got to work on interesting projects and we were able to ensure there were no retrenchments or salary reductions.
People over profit
During uncertain times, it’s only natural for people to feel anxious about their futures and our intention was to try and allay our team members’ fears as much as possible. We feel that while we weren’t always successful, we made it our policy to communicate openly about the business decisions we were making. We also realised that the lockdowns had turned many people’s lives upside down. Kids weren’t able to go to school which meant parents were homeschooling. So we had to be more flexible with where and when our teams worked. When it was feasible for us to open the offices we did, but we left the decision up to each of our team members as to whether they continued to work from home.
The role empathy plays in business
Working from home took on a new meaning, and having to deal with all the craziness of everyone being home 24/7 humanised us. WeAreBrain and all the people who work with us are family. We’ve been through a great deal together. COVID-19 just strengthened our commitment to this family. We’ve got to know each other better, even though we were forced to socially distance. We found ourselves doing more to check in on each other. Ensuring everyone felt heard and seen. It’s been hard, there are no two ways about it, but caring for each other on a very personal level has never been more important to us.
Advice to current and future entrepreneurs
Crises happen. Not all of them are global like COVID-19, but they do happen. So, it’s important to plan for those proverbial rainy days. Of course, there is no way to future-proof your business entirely but if you ensure that you have the capital saved to get you through difficult periods, you’re already in a better position than 80% of businesses out there.
Invest in your talent. The people who work for you are the ones who pull you through the difficult times. Ensure they are well looked after and bring them into the fold when problems arise. They could potentially provide you with a new perspective.
Be willing to embrace the unknown and know that a little paranoia is a good thing. Being a business owner is inherently risky. When challenges arise, lean into the discomfort of the unknown. Human beings are programmed to survive so when you use your natural instincts you’ll probably find solutions that might surprise you.
The new normal after COVID-19
With offices and team members across Europe and in South Africa, we were fortunate enough to already know how to function remotely. That wasn’t a big adjustment for us, but we have missed the camaraderie of being in the office together. In the future, we expect to embrace remote and decentralised work even more. We’ve also been exposed to new business opportunities that have opened us to new avenues of growth which is quite exciting. Most importantly, there is no way for us to know the long-term effect this pandemic will have on people so we intend on keeping an eye on our team: ensuring they’re doing well and providing as much support as we can.
2020 was a weird year. The pandemic brought the best and the worst out of people. We saw a type of resilience and commitment to the WeAreBrain cause in ways we could never have imagined. We were humbled by how little control we actually have on our environment and how circumstances completely beyond us could up-end every part of our existence. We’re happy we survived as a business and as a family. We’re also deeply saddened by those who were not so lucky. We are grateful that we get to keep doing the things we love to do and we are hopeful that the world will recover soon.