COVID was my first recession as an entrepreneur, and I remember feeling like I was caught in a dust storm last March. I had no idea which end was up or what direction to go. I had no plan, and I was terrified. Now, I know exactly what I will do when the next one comes. I want to share with you my survival steps.
Step 1: Rally your community. I didn’t even understand the word community in the context of business until COVID hit. I thought of it as my neighborhood or my city, and now I see it as the people who are going through something similar. In my case, my business community rallied. I have about 20 CEOs and leaders who I fully trust and love. They are my peers and my friends. The first week of COVID we immediately started to communicate weekly. We started sharing what we were doing, how we were doing, what our worries were and what was troubling us. It is through this amazing group of people that I have felt inspired and energized on a weekly basis. We also shared tools for helping our employees, we cried on each other’s shoulders when it was time for layoffs, and we walked each other through the government aid that was available to the point where every one of us got the aid that we needed. We recommended books, seminars, and classes to consume. (I personally have expanded my library by at least 50% with books that have kept my brain moving and kept hope alive.)
Step 2: Play the Long Game. A recession should be defined as playing the long game. I found it was easier to expect that this recession was going to last a long time than it was to assume it was going to be over quickly. As soon as I embraced that, I started focusing on how I wanted to be remembered through this time because I knew my employees would remember this experience whether it be good or bad.
Step 3: CUT CUT CUT. This was our mantra for weeks. We eliminated everything that wasn’t necessary, and even though many of those decisions felt like they were being made in the dark, they helped us survive.
Step 4: Overcommunicate to your team. We went from one team meeting a week to four quick meetings. It was imperative at first, but after a few months we reduced it to three and now we’re still meeting twice a week. If you think you’re overcommunicating, you’re probably doing it just right.
Step 5: Always build relationships with employees, banks, vendors, and landlords who you want to survive for. I wanted to survive for more than just my business — I wanted to know that I could keep paying rent to my landlord who needed us to support its mortgage. I chose a bank that knew me personally, and because of that, when I needed it, it treated us with urgency, and I got my PPP loan 72 hours after applications opened. I didn’t lay off any employees and none of their families were deeply impacted. We worked together to figure out what we were going to do. I am so proud of our team and what we were able to do. I feel closer to them than I’ve ever felt even though I haven’t had a chance to hug them in over a year.
I’ve learned that I can hold two opposing feelings at once. I feel deeply sad for all the people we’ve lost, and I also feel deeply grateful for what this year has taught me. We want things to be easy but we can’t forget that struggle does make us stronger. I feel stronger as a leader because of the struggle.
And now I know exactly what to do next time our economy crashes, and I will face it with confidence not fear!
Kendra Prospero is the CEO and founder of Turning the Corner, a Boulder-based organization that does recruiting the way it should be done for job seekers and companies.