The views expressed in Guest Opinions represent only those of the author and are in no way endorsed by Richmond BizSense or any BizSense staff member.
The market crash in October 2008 was the best thing that ever happened to my company.
At the time, Zuula Consulting was four months old, and our first quarter had been a study in idyllic joy. A partnership with another company meant work came pouring in, our writing and editing business was at capacity. We were gainfully and successfully self-employed.
When the bottom fell out of the economy, however, our financial-services clients stopped sending us projects, which were the bulk of our revenue. With money drying up, our happy momentum came to a screeching halt. Our quick growth and path to a future that once seemed inevitable, fell apart — fast.
Unbeknownst to us, while we were reveling in new-business ownership, dirty little secrets were bubbling beneath the surface:
Where were the processes? The ongoing business development? The client diversification? The documented goals for the future?
These crucial elements of success were hardly to be found, and the hard truth of reality was thrown in our face:
- Just because you’re profitable, doesn’t mean you have a future.
- Just because you call yourself a company, doesn’t mean you are.
We needed to instantly build a new client base, but realized we had been so busy doing business, we forgot to strategically plan for our business. Facing the proverbial moment of truth, with our dream on the line, it was clear the only options were to go back to working for someone else or make Zuula Consulting the company we knew it could become.
Obviously, we chose the latter option, because even on the most frightening, challenging, bang-your-head-against-the-wall-and-fight-back-tears kind of days, nothing beats following your passion and creating the life and career you want.
Step-by-step we began the process of building a business. We created our corporate identity, goals for the future and processes, and we began networking. Much to our surprise, when we started reaching out to connect as a company, a new world opened before our eyes.
Right beneath our noses we found a thriving community of fellow business owners who wanted to help us succeed. From event invitations to mentoring to referrals, strangers swooped in to offer their help. But, happily, we are not the only ones who have been embraced by our city’s amazing entrepreneurial community.
Apparently, that’s just the kind of experience our Richmond region provides.
John Clair is managing partner of Leahy & Clair Financial Management, a Midlothian-based financial services firm. I recently asked him what his experience was when forming his company in the midst of a wrecked economy, and he agreed, “The most surprising thing has been the way people go out of their way to help you. It seems as if everyone is banding together to make something positive out of this crappy economy.”
Something positive out of a horrible recession? So I wasn’t the only one seeing this perspective.
Just two days ago, I witnessed this positive spin again. While at a networking event, something pretty remarkable happened: When meeting two recently displaced professionals, nine individuals took time to help them in their search for new positions. They took resumes, brainstormed job-search ideas and handed out personal contacts in various HR departments.
What made this show of support and willingness to offer help intriguing? Their stewardship wasn’t part of a philanthropic venture. Instead, they were reaching out to help others when the main reason for the event was to help themselves.
Because there is less money to go around these days, doing business in a more cutthroat environment where people are willing to do whatever it takes for their companies to survive seems expected. Of course there are entrepreneurs who have a loose relationship with integrity and loyalty, and couldn’t care less if you fail. But Richmond seems to have an especially close-knit, supportive small business community. They make real connections, keep in touch and offer supportive guidance to help you thrive.
Bill Keeler, a Business Coach with AdviCoach who helps small business owners build strategic growth, agrees.
“Richmond has the strongest small business community and connectivity of any market I have worked in.” Keeler cautions, however, that “many people are generous with their referrals, but don’t take their own advice, choosing the denial approach to economic upheaval instead of spending money on the future now.”
Being good at your craft and running a business are two entirely different skills, and unless you are able to look fear straight in the face and strategically plan for the growth you need, you could face a cold future. Fortunately for Zuula Consulting, the market crash made it clear nothing can be taken for granted, and without a clear vision for the future, you’ll never get there.
Or as Yogi Berra so perfectly explained, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up someplace else.”