Few small business owners will forget the way the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything about how they operate. Shutdowns and social distancing forced nearly every type of business to make dramatic changes. Many closed permanently. But those who survived enter a new era of opportunities.
This webinar focuses on innovation in the wake of crisis, with host Chris Denson in conversation with two business leaders:
- Joleen Workman, vice president of customer care for Principal®, a global financial services company that works with more than 140,000 businesses.
- Natasha Miller, CEO of Entire Productions, an event and entertainment management company.
These are highlights from the full recording, originally streamed on June 24, 2021.
Chris Denson, host: What were your company’s initial steps in the pandemic?
Joleen Workman, Principal: Our enterprise incident management plan ensured Principal could take care of employees and continue to serve customers in a mostly remote environment. As a business, we learned the value of ensuring we could immediately communicate with all our employees.
From a client perspective, the important thing was communication: How do we think about communicating to employees and rallying around our customers? As a business, how can you leverage your expertise to reach out and help your customers-;maybe in a completely different way-;when they need you most?
We listened to our business clients, understood what was top of mind for them, and created an online hub, “Navigating business now,” to help them easily reference valuable information.
Natasha Miller, Entire Productions: The shutdown meant my multimillion-dollar small business took a swan dive to zero. I had to make hard decisions. I had a lot of anxiety and a full-blown panic attack.
I had to furlough and lay off staff-;a feeling of failure when you have to let your team down. But as a business owner you have to remember a turnaround is possible and that you’ll be able to invest in talent again when you get beyond the immediate crisis. It’s also a good reminder to build up a year’s worth of operating expenses as emergency business savings.
Denson: ‘Pivot’ might be an overused term these days, but how did you reimagine business?
Workman: Our business clients rallied with creativity and innovation, and Principal did the same. We provided more digital ways to interact, such as videoconferencing, more apps, on-demand virtual education (reaching 10 times as many people as we did pre-pandemic).
Greater agility was a silver lining to the crisis. It can be scary to push the envelope with urgent decisions that may not be perfect but move you step by step in the right direction. I think it makes you and your business better.
Miller: I started referring to it as my ‘pirouette.’ I’d been operating 777 paperless events annually with two employees in operations. We were already online.
Two young employees drove the growth of our virtual events. One of the women grew from production coordinator to communications specialist as we worked to stay top of mind with clients, book virtual events, and promote our marketing division. You need to have faith in your employees and let them help lead innovation. These young women are leaders in the industry now. They’re leaders in my company.
Denson: How did you help business clients navigate relief options?
Workman: We started by putting our customers at the center. We built the “Navigating business now” resource guide and provided a dashboard for business leaders to see if their employees were taking loans or hardship withdrawals from retirement savings. Every business can focus on giving their customers even better access to information and services at a critical time.
Miller: We helped inform the more than 3,000 vendors on our list which relief programs they might qualify for. It helps to remember your customers are people. In our case, the artists and entertainers we serve are incredibly intelligent, but navigating business relief may not be their core competency or what they have time for in the middle of a pandemic. We could help.
Denson: In your view, which long-term business solutions might endure?
Workman: Mobile use skyrocketed during the pandemic, so we offered more online and mobile tools, content, and support.
We’ve always had a holistic financial wellness solution, but we quickly pivoted to the relevant information that individuals wanted. A business doesn’t necessarily need to wait for a crisis to invest heavily in the future if they’re getting clear signals for which digital tools or other resources their customers increasingly need.
Denson: What’s one thing you never want to go back to, and one thing you can’t wait to get back to?
Miller: In the never-go-back category, I’d put spending $65,000 annually on office rent.
But I can’t wait to pick and choose which events to attend in person.
Workman: I never want to go back to dial-in meetings without video. Can’t wait to travel to meet clients in person.
- Visit “Navigating business now,” the Principal hub to help businesses thrive in the new environment. It includes resources for federal relief, employee care, and tips to help move every business forward.
Entire Productions and Inc./Fast Co. are not affiliates of any company of the Principal Financial Group®.
The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® and its employees are not rendering legal, accounting, investment or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professionals, and other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.
Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Co., a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.