How Resilient is Your Creative Business?


Episode Transcript

Would your business survive an unthinkable event? In this episode I’m going to share what I discovered in 2020 when the unthinkable happened to me and how my business not only survived, but actually came out stronger and in a better place than before.

We’re talking all about resilience today on the podcast and how you can make this a priority in yours in 2021.

So I’m going to start off by saying, this is kinda a debbie downer episode.

I know the beginning of the year we’re all about love and light and making goals and all that positive stuff.

But if you listened to the last episode you know that last year for me was hard and while I’m usually a really positive and optimistic person – it tempered me a bit. I haven’t quite decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing just yet.

This episode was written kinda early in the process of recovering from 2020 and starting to share my lessons, so it’s a bit on the heavier side. Episodes coming up in the future definitely don’t have this serious tone so bear with me on this one alright?

How Resilient is Your Business?

In 4 months I lost both my mother and my father. Both died suddenly, leaving me reeling from not only the effects of a global pandemic but a sense of deep profound loss I didn’t know how to properly express.

I honestly didn’t know what else the universe could throw at me.

So I did what any self-respecting introverted creative would do.

I hid.

I stopped marketing my business, I stopped accepting new clients. I stopped showing up anywhere but on my sister’s phone line and I completely retreated from the business I had built over the last 16 years.

I barely showed up for my existing clients. Performing the bare minimum of work through an addled brain fog that permeated every day for months.

And yet. My business survived.

I was fully expecting the worse – my business closing, my clients going elsewhere, my reputation to be ruined. And yet none of that happened. My business continued to chug along without me, despite my absence and despite my best efforts to ignore it.

All so I could focus on picking up the pieces and putting myself back together again.

The act of putting ourselves back together takes time and effort. At times it can feel like pushing a boulder up a hill and other times it feels as though we’re racing down that hill, the same boulder hot on our heels, threatening to run us over.

We’re all been feeling it to some degree or another as we navigate this new landscape for both our personal and professional lives.

In 2020 we all lost a lot. Our sense of safety, our ability to move freely without fear of contagion, our personal space (for the parents who are now home schooling), and our ability to trust the information we’re provided.

We’re all collectively going through many of the same experiences and while challenging – we’ve realized we’re made of stronger stuff than we initially thought.

We’ve had to answer some questions this year we never thought would be asked.

The ultimate question is: Will your business survive the unthinkable?

If you depend on your time and skills to produce income for yourself and your family, and revenue for your business – what happens when you’re physically, mentally or emotionally unable to show up for your business?

Will it fail?

I honestly didn’t know the answer to that until it happened to me.

The answer it turns out, was no. My business will not fail, it could survive.

But the reason why was not one I was expecting and I’d love to talk to you a little more about that today and share with you what I’ve learned over these past few months so hopefully if the unthinkable ever happens to you – and I personally believe that’s a matter not of IF but of WHEN – you and your business will be able to survive and possibly even thrive while you’re dealing with what needs to be dealt with.

Because without even knowing it I realized that over the past 6 years or so I had taken some very big steps to make my business resilient.

No matter how much time I took off, no matter how many meetings I missed and bad days I had – my business not only survived but was happily waiting for me to return to it.

How did that show up for me?

Well, when my mother died I took about 2 weeks completely off, I didn’t pick up the phone, I didn’t answer any emails, I didn’t show up for any meetings and I focused 100% on myself, my family and the storm of emotions brewing inside my chest.

There were the tasks that came along with the death of a loved one – funerals, services, celebrations of life, lawyers, estate matters and dealing with a house full of stuff that needed to be sorted and packed away.

But there were also the late nights, early mornings, and the brain fog that attacked me out of nowhere. I was not expecting the brain fog at all and that was the biggest hurdle I needed to deal with. Grief presents itself in different ways and while I wouldn’t have described myself as being an emotional wreck, my cognitive functions were absolutely impacted in ways I was not expecting.

But during all of this none of my clients complained. They respectfully left me to deal with my grief and the personal matters. Without prodding, or checking in. They fully expected me to come back when I was ready and knew that I wouldn’t put their business in jeopardy.

They trusted me enough to know that I wouldn’t let them down.

So I went through this initial phase of mourning and took the time off I needed.

When I returned and was ready to get back to work, to slowly start picking up the pieces, they were exactly where I left them. Which made the process a whole lot easier to deal with. I was able to get back to work, get back to a somewhat altered normal routine and life and continue on.

The weeks went by and the brain fog went away slowly until I felt 100% myself again. I started hoping for my business, I started making future plans and bringing in new clients again. I started to feel as though I was moving from survival mode and basic putting one foot in front of the other, to actually growing again.

And when, 4 months later, my dad died – the shock was familiar.

The steps were the same.

The brain fog was expected, planned for and mitigated earlier on so I could recover faster. I knew what to expect. I knew what I needed to do to take care of myself and my family and how to get back on track, how to feel like myself again.

My clients went through the same dance as before – all of them just as shocked as me that this was happening, could happen – to someone they knew.
In fact it was even stronger than before because they know that as soon as I was able to deal with the issues I needed to, I would be back and I would be just as dedicated to their business and their projects because we had gone through this before.

There was previous evidence that I would recover, that I was emotionally stable, and that I would be able to pick up those pieces and put them back together. So they were just as supportive as they were before – even more so.

The most common thread throughout this whole experience has been people remarking about how strong I am. “You’re so strong” they say, “You’ve had to deal with so much and I can’t believe how strong you’ve been through all of this.”

But I don’t believe it has anything to do with strength to tell you the truth. I did not feel strong when it first happened – I felt like an absolute mess. I still don’t feel strong at all.
It’s something else.

After ruminating on it for a bit I’ve come up with a different answer, and like the title of this episode, it has nothing to do with strength.

I believe it has everything to do with resiliency. Both in my personal demeanour and also in how I set up my business to mirror that personal trait.

So I wanted to dig into that a bit more today – the concept of resiliency and what you can do in to make sure you business is as resilient as possible. So when the unthinkable happens, you’re not left with two tragedies in the end.

What exactly is a resilient business?

A resilient business ensures that no matter what you go through in your personal or professional life – nothing will dramatically affect your revenue, your clients or your livelihood.

Just like a resilient person, a resilient business has contingencies in place to ensure that no matter what happens, they have a way of easily recovering from difficult situations.

What we think resiliency is vs what it actually is

We think resiliency is about being strong enough to weather any storm – that we need strength and power to get through anything life throws at us. If we’re only strong enough or tough enough. If we hustle hard and refuse to accept failure, then we’ll be able to do anything, be anything, achieve anything.

But strength I’ve found, does not equal flexibility.

The textbook definition of resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

Nothing in that definition mentions anything about not having difficulties in the first place. It assumes that there will be difficulties, there will be problems, there will be issues that arise.

It has nothing to do with how strong something is – in fact you could have a very strong person or a strong business who might never recover from a challenging situation.

Look around you at the businesses that have closed, the people who have broken and the entities we thought were strong – there’s a good many of them that have fallen or are still struggling. All because they relied on strength when resilience was what mattered.

True resilience comes from flexibility. It comes from planning for the worst and being agile enough to change direction if needed, to slow down if needed. To stop entirely if that’s what’s called for.

We’ve seen examples of this with businesses and institutions pivoting quickly in the case of the pandemic. Entire companies have changed to an online method of operations, schools have gone completely online, services we once thought couldn’t be changed have had to be flexible in the way they operate or manage their day to day.

In your personal life, when faced with an unthinkable situation, this could mean having friends and family who are able to help. It could mean making sure you have enough margin in your days to ensure you’re not racing from one thing to the next. It means making self care a priority so you’re not drawing from an empty well.
And in business this means that you have systems in place or processes so if one person is unable to do a task, it can be done by others. Or being agile in the way you deliver your service or product so that it’s not entirely dependent on one platform or one method.

Flexibility and resilience.

Two ideal characteristics we should be working towards in our lives and in our businesses.

How I unwittingly built this into my business before I knew I needed it

When the unthinkable happened to me – and lo and behold my business did not in fact fail or have to close it’s doors, I started to wonder why.

I mean, don’t get me wrong – I was so unbelievably grateful and offered thanks to a great many number of deities. But I also wanted to know why. Why did my business continue chugging along fine, with great clients, revenue coming in and everything waiting for me when I returned – when other businesses most certainly did not share that same fate?

Was it because my business is so small? That I didn’t have thousands upon thousands of customers? Was it because I was lucky or because I had such great clients and customers to begin with?

And those things were most certainly part of it yes, but at the root of it I realized that I had unwittingly set my business up for resiliency without that being a specific end goal.

I had kinda done it by accident.

About 6 years ago, when I revamped my business and starting to take steps towards getting out of the hole I had dug for myself, I made it my mission to be more productive.

I knew that since it was just me here and that my projects, my clients and my success all hinged on me – I had to find ways that I could get more done in the same amount of time I had before – actually, since I had just had my second child – I had even less time than I did before

Taking care of a newborn definitely puts a cramp on the amount of time a person has.

So I knew I needed to streamline my processes and create systems that would help me – when I was tired from late nights or when I was trying to cram as much work as I could into nap time or the few hours I got once the kids went to sleep.

While I was chasing this idea of time management and being more productive I could have never known that these exact same systems and processes were to save me 6 years in the future – when the unthinkable happened and I had to step away completely.

But they did.

As I went through this period in 2020 of dealing with my parents deaths and having this crazy brain fog that just laid me low – those same systems and processes allowed me to do two things.

The first thing was that they allowed me to do the work that needed to be done without a lot of extra brain power. I literally had to just follow the actions on a step by step list and go through the motions. No extra brain power needed, no critical thinking, no creativity or special sauce required. Just going through the motions.

You have no idea how that saved me – and I’m sure it will save you too if you ever have to go through this yourself. It’s so much simpler that having to rely on your brain power for something it just can’t provide for you at the moment.

And the second way that it helped was that I was able to easily hand off the tasks that were a bit above my ability at the moment. I was able to outsource a bunch of stuff and know that it would get done to my specifications – because those specifications were already written out in a step by step manner and documented in a way that there was no room for error.

You have no idea how much stress and load that removed from my shoulders during this difficult time.

I knew that things were getting done.

Not the high level things, but the basic things. The day to day things that wouldn’t necessarily wait for when I was 100% again.

It made my business a bit disaster-proof. And I am so thankful for Gabby of 6 years ago because even though her goal was much different, present Gabby was able to really benefit from her work.

So if there’s one thing that you take away from this episode here today – its this.

Create processes in your business.

It’s a simple thing -yes it takes time and effort to do initially.

But when you’re faced with needing to be efficient or needing to hand off tasks or even needing to just shut your brain off for a day and still go through the motions – those processes are going to save you.

And as I was going through this time, and using these processes it made me have quite the revelation about me and my business. And it wasn’t really ground breaking because honestly I had heard it time and time again both from my own mentors and from my learning but the biggest lesson I learned through this?

I am not my business

When I had days where getting out of bed was a struggle, it went on without me.

It made me realize that no matter how much I thought that this business depended 100% on my own direct work, skill and time – it really didn’t. And this was a hard pill to swallow at first because I was under the impression for years that I was completely irreplaceable. No one could do things like I did.

I thought I was a special snowflake and my clients came to me because of who I was and what I did that was different than what was already out there. And there is a kernel of truth there. Of course our differences are what set us apart. But when it comes down to it, when it really comes down to it – I am not my business.

I could hire three people tomorrow who would do just as good of work as I do – you’re probably one of them.
And rather than go down a deep dark hole about it – what makes me special? What sets me apart? What’s so special about me that a client would choose me over option #2?

It was actually kinda freeing.

I’ve talked about the idea of separating ourselves, our identity, from our business before and up until this point I had never really truly embodied it. I honestly had ascribed to it more as a thought experiment really.

It sounds really good on paper but I think it takes something like this – where we have to forcefully show ourselves the validity of that argument – to get the idea to sink in at a cellular level.

I was not my business.

It was its own entity that could easily be adjusted to run primarily without me. And while I had set it up initially to be all about me and my skills, my knowledge and my personality – as I grew it, it had to become less so. Otherwise it would always be tied down by the limitations I had as one human being.

And frankly, that was really freeing for me. I had to let go of this idea to really take a step back and see my business as it truly is – a marketing agency. Rather than holding on so tightly to the notion that I was the one woman show who could do it all. The superwoman show.

Being able to let go like this was what allowed me to take a step back and see my business in a different light and it showed me something pretty cool.

My business is just like me

After struggling with those questions I realized that while yes, on paper my business is not very different from thousands of others out there. Just like on paper I’m the same as thousand others out there.

But despite that realization both me and my business are truly and utterly unique.

Because it’s not the description that matters, it’s not the messaging that defines you. Just like you’re not your demographics, my business wasn’t all about how I would describe it to someone walking in off the street.

The differences come to light when compared to others. My business mirrors myself so thoroughly that if you were to put it side by side with an identical business, with an identical provider with all the same skills, there would be no question that we’re completely different.

Would other businesses have raving fans who stuck by them no mater what happened? No matter how that affected their own business? Just patiently waiting for their partner to return after dealing with the unthinkable?

Would other specialists value their own clients so much that they would go over and above afterwards to ensure that they were not only taken care of but delighted with the results?

And would other businesses make taking care of others such a high priority in their day to day that when it came down to others taking care of them – wold it have been such a no brainer moment for those other people? Would they have even had to be asked?

Because when it came down to it – I didn’t even have to ask my clients and partners for anything really. They went over and above for me in return for how I treated them over the years.

And that’s all because my business is a direct mirror of me – because I built it, so how could it not?

It has similar values, tastes, experiences – and that indeed makes it unique.

And because I’m resilient as can be in my personality, my business has also become resilient.

We have to think about the unthinkable

No one should have to go through what I did.

Losing both parents in such a short period of time is an unthinkable heartbreak that still hits me each and every day. I’m still picking up those pieces and will be for many years to come.

But even though it felt like my entire life was falling apart, that I would never recover and that there was a good chance my business would fail – nothing bad actually happened.

I woke up one day and the brain fog was gone.
I woke up one day and I laughed about it.
I woke up one day and my bank account was still in the positive.
I woke up one day and I had a list of things to do that I felt good about, that I could tackle easily and was looking forward to.

Those days have made picking up the pieces so much easier.

We shouldn’t have to plan for the worst. We shouldn’t have to think about scenarios where these things will happen. We shouldn’t have to disaster-proof something that was created as a means to lift us up, to provide for us and to bring fulfillment to us as creatives.

But having a resilient business means that no matter what comes up, you’re covered, that you’re safe.

And that peace of mind is priceless.

I’d like to leave you with this and I want you to honestly answer this question – how resilient do you think your business is right now? And if the answer is well, not really – then I want you take just one step towards making it more so. Could be writing your first process, could be making sure you have a solid financial plan. Anything really. Take baby steps towards it and one day you’ll realize you’ve created a strong safety net for you and your business.
And that’s something worth doing.

That’s it for me this week – take care and talk to you soon!

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