It is abundantly clear that those professionals whose businesses are best positioned for success at this time are the same individuals who invested a considerable amount of their professional time networking with industry colleagues prior to this crisis.
So, what do I mean when I say “networking?” Generally, this includes not only attending events inside and outside of the industry, but also participating in the educational classes at these events. It means they engaged in dialogues with people who are not only their peers, but – perhaps more importantly – they’ve sough out those professionals whom they perceive are “out of their league” with regard to success.
In fact, after some much thought and analysis, I see three groups of industry professionals come into line under this hypothesis.
These are the business owners who network extensively, both inside and outside of their industry. They tirelessly work know everyone who they can. Closer to home, they network with other business owners, accountants, attorneys, bankers, consultants, and anyone who can positively impact and advance their knowledge.
Nationally, they reach out to other successful business owners in our industry. They get to know their suppliers at the highest level. They work with the top industry consultants to help their businesses thrive. When this crisis hit, they got on the phone, they emailed, they texted. Who did they communicate with? The talked to one another. They reached out to their network of bankers, lawyers, and other business owners in different industries. They conversed with consultants. They connected with industry suppliers. They got out in front of the crisis and got to work to secure their companies and employees.
Today, most of them are doing just fine through this crisis. These folks got the Paycheck Protection Programs (PPP) funds early. They had a COVID response plan implemented to ensure employee safety. Some of these plans were even challenged by health departments and then approved with no changes. They reached out to and worked with customers to adapt to the current situation. Some had to revise service agreements to meet new customer needs. Some cut services because clients were shut down and were generating little to no revenue.
While some of the reactions seem like basic business know how, none of the industry professionals I spoke with claimed they knew what to do every step of the way. However, they all told me they used their resources and talked to their network of people to develop their plans and approach.
These are the business owners who networks within their comfort levels. This group is also in decent shape today, but had to work a lot harder over the last six to eight weeks to get there. I believe a good percentage of individuals are industry up and comers. They network, but with those peers who they feel a comfortable kinship with, and they prefer to no stray outside of their comfort zones. In doing so, they limited their reach, therefore the depth of knowledge available to them is shallower.
These individuals may very well find themselves a step behind in their responses. Some were awarded PPP funds, and some of them missed out on Round One – although they’re first in line for round two which was just approved.
They were able to get their teams operating safely in the field, and they pieced together a plan and improved it over time. In the end, these companies are now up and running and have plenty of lessons learned. I would imagine they’ll increase their networking due to this crisis and be more prepared for the next one, Most importantly, those contacts will make their business thrive in normal times, as well.
Members of this group often believe they know everything and maintain a short-sighted group of advisors and influencers made up of the vendors who supply them and professional services (accountant, attorney, coaches/consultants) who guide them.
Unfortunately, it appears these folks invest little of themselves into networking. They simply work and hire people to do tasks for them. I often find individuals in this group frustrated with their current situation. Many failed to secure PPP funds, and as a result were hamstrung to figure out how to get their crews operating effectively. They lacked the resources to know what they could and could not do service wise. In general, they believed the world was against them and their businesses were at risk.
We surveyed industry professions to gain insight on the impact Covid-19 and the predominately low-snowfall/low-event winter this industry experienced. We followed up with phone interviews to gain a more in-depth perspective on the data. In doing so, one facet that became abundantly clear to me was those who are navigating this crisis the best are the ones that are the most networked.
Therefore, I challenge those individuals still networking at their comfort level and those who are doing little networking at all to expand your horizons. Do this every day, not just when there is a crisis. Meet people in and outside of our industry and challenge yourself to include professions who may initially intimidate you. Ask questions and share what you don’t know. You never know when you may need to apply that knowledge, but it’s best to do this before crunch time when you need them the most.
Kevin Gilbride is Executive Director of the ASCA. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org