Hindsight is 20/20

Whoever coined the phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” back in the mid-20th Century, had no idea just how prophetic they were being.

As a business owner, I can think of at least 5 things I would have done differently had I known what 2020 would entail for our business, our employees, our customers, and the world in general! During the height of the lockdown and hysteria, one of my most trusted mentors told me, “Chris, these are the times that will define your business. Never forget the lessons you’re learning from this.” So, here are the lessons I’ve learned from 2020. I’d be curious to hear what you’ve learned about your business:

1) Location, location, location
Location used to be everything; proximity to your customers, essential for recruiting the best and brightest talent, a status symbol. That was pre-2020. We moved into a gorgeous new office in downtown Kirkland, with views of Lake Washington, one block away from THREE coffee shops, and fantastic dining. Two weeks later, COVID hit. I can’t tell you how painful it is to pay for a beautiful building in an idyllic location, and have it sit empty for 9 months. Location doesn’t matter, people matter. Find the best people, offer the best service, and you can be successful anywhere.

2) Honesty is the best policy
This has always been important in business and life. As a company and person, you are only as good as your word. When COVID hit, there was immediate panic from clients and employees. Panic about the health risk, about the financial health of the company, and about what the future holds. Instead of holding our cards close to the vest, we had a very candid conversation with the entire staff, “Yes, this is going to be hard, yes, we are all going to have to make sacrifices, but YES, we are going to make it through this and we will be stronger because of it.” As a company, we had to furlough some, we ALL took temporary pay cuts, but we ALL made it through as a team, and I can tell you, there is no other group of people I would want to go to war or through a pandemic with!

3) Know your books
So often as business owners, we’re hyper-focused on the front end of the business, that the back end can be a mess. That makes your life miserable when applying for something like the PPP loan under the Cares Act. Thank God for our unbelievable accounting staff, Jesslyn and Morgon! If it wasn’t for their diligence with our books, we could have missed out on a grant that made a real difference in our ability to take care of our employees.

4) Know your banker, and make sure your banker knows YOU
We bank with a big bank. That big bank was inundated with PPP applications, ours was among the droves. Our big bank wasn’t able to get our PPP loan done. After applying to two other banks with no luck, I was finally given the name of a VP at a tiny bank 100 miles away that was able to streamline applications. I called him, AND HE ACTUALLY ANSWERED THE PHONE! Later that day, we were able to get a loan done to ensure we could take care of our employees as well as our clients. The moral of the story for me is – make sure you’re always seen as a person and not an account number. And here’s the bonus lesson – there is no substitute for persistence!

5) Always do right by your customer
When March 2020 hit, the Pacific Northwest got obliterated by COVID. We went into a lockdown, businesses couldn’t see customers, it was a mess. We lost 35% of our revenues overnight. This forces you to make tough decisions. We had signed contracts from our clients and vendors. Some non-cancelable, some with 2-week or 30-day cancelation notices. Holding our clients to those terms would have put more money in the bank, but the impact to the relationship would have forever been tarnished. One thing I’m proud of, is at Happy Hour Media, we ALWAYS err on the side of doing what’s right for the client. It has paid invaluable dividends as we closed out the year and look forward to a healthy 2021.

So Dan, see, I did learn something! As we look FORWARD to 2021, we eagerly anticipate a return to normalcy. Nothing will warm my heart more than replacing Zoom calls with in-person meetings, and text messages with handshakes. Healthy optimism balanced with the slap of realism that 2020 brought seems like the perfect recipe to make 2021 a breakout year for Happy Hour Media and the clients we have the privilege of serving!