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Three Takeaways from the first 30 days of COVID-19: Running an Independent Agency

By Indra Gardiner Bowers


There came a point when we couldn’t ask our team to come to work any longer. The news was getting ominous and, much as we love collaborating, the team was getting nervous. So, on Thursday, March 12th we called the team together and told them we would start working from home the next day.

We were fortunate as we had been planning on shifting to more WFH, so we had all the software and training in place to make it work:

  • Zoom accounts for internal and external video meetings
  • Slack for internal texting (person to person, team to team and running agency threads – some serious, some just for fun)
  • Basecamp for managing all projects and documents in one secure environment
  • Dropbox as our server in the cloud

We plunged right into our strange new world. So far, it’s working.

As we enter our fourth week in the isolation Twilight Zone, I wanted to share three tips for small agency or service business owners that have helped us keep our business on track during this stressful period.

  • Keep Your Team Connected: The quickest way to start having things fall apart with your team is losing connection with each other and leadership. From our first WFH day, we instituted mandatory 9 am and 4 pm Zoom meetings. On Monday mornings, we review project deliverables and status updates for every client. After that, each day, each team member provides a status update (in the morning of what they expect to do that day and, in the afternoon, what really happened). Our project management supervisor gives us challenges and themes for the 4 pm meeting that they help us laugh, feel connected and remember why we like each other so much. In some ways, we feel more connected than when we were all in the office together. A surprising outcome for sure.
  • Follow HR and Business News: It’s easy to want to check out. None of the news is good right now and as a business owner it can feel downright overwhelming. But it’s up to you to be informed and know a) what the government expects from you as it rolls out various employee-focused legislation and b) what the government is doing to help you.Most of my time these past few weeks (when not taking care of clients) has been spent following the money (SBA, EIDL, PPP, CARES, WTF) and various HR guidelines (FFCRA, OMG). Yes, it takes a lot of time, but there are so many people out there trying to be helpful through webinars and website updates covering these confusing issues (use those resources). The US Chamber of Commerce has a Small Business Guide that’s helpful. Our payroll provider, Coastal has a truly helpful page addressing issues facing owners. Let your team take care of clients so you can take care of them.I actively follow about a half dozen Slack, FB Groups and email threads with various business groups and I have found these communities to be truly helpful and important, as much for the information sharing as the camaraderie. Small business owners can’t navigate alone. It’s just too hard. If you don’t have networks either within your local community or your industry, please find them. Fast. I suggest you ask friends who are also agency or small business owners if they can make a referral.
  • Stay Connected to Key Relationships: I have been building a relationship with my banker for about 15 years (he’s even met my husband and my kid). When the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) started rolling out, I reached out immediately and he has been fantastic, calling me at 7 pm on a Friday night, texting me at 9 am on Saturday morning. These are not banker’s hours. But he wants to make sure I do this application right and that has everything to do with having a personal relationship. Same with our HR consultant, CPA and outsourced CFO. Everyone has been responsive and helped as best they can. If you have that kind of network, lean on it. If you don’t, be sure you build one when this is over (and yes, I fully believe that one day it will be over and even if things are never the same as they were, there will be some new, better sense of normal than what we are living through now).

I hope these tips help you now or in the future to better manage your agency or service business. And I hope you find ways to survive and thrive during this unprecedented time. Let’s hear from you, please share your insights in the comments.