Every Friday in Survive and Thrive, we talk to communicators who are not just surviving, but thriving. Between COVID-19, reopenings and then rolling back, kids home from school…maybe forever (?), working from home, and not touching another human being for months, most of us are surviving, at best.
But what about those who are surviving AND thriving?
Perhaps they added a new revenue source or followed a passion or are taking a sabbatical or discovered they actually love homeschooling or completely changed careers. Today we talk to Travis Claytor, the founder of TC Communications, about how he’s making the best of the worst crisis in a century.
We’re six months into this pandemic. If you’re counting (Gini Dietrich) that’s exactly 166 days into this crazy world where every person is trying to make sense of whatever their daily life currently looks like.
For me, the whirlwind has been a bit longer. My wife and I decided to pack up everything and move from sunny Florida to the Chicago area about a year ago.
(Note from Gini: it is NOT the Chicago area. It’s more like the middle of Illinois and Chicago is in the same state. But go on with your bad self, Travis.)
For those asking, “Why would you move from Florida to Chicago?,” it wasn’t for the weather or because we were running from alligators. It was an amazing job opportunity for my wife.
When we made this decision, I had just left a 15-year career in the corporate world and decided to start my own agency.
Now, I’m in a new town with no contacts and a business that’s five months old. Add to that we were about to hit a Chicago winter where nobody wants to go outside, let alone network to meet new people.
Then boom! After just six months of settling into this new life, and a year into starting my agency, the world and our industry turned upside down. All that time I spent establishing a foundation for what I wanted my business to be seemed to vanish with it.
I lost the few accounts I had and was ghosted by the handful of prospects I had in the pipeline. Truth be told, I can’t blame any of them for their decisions. This was the beginning of the madness and nobody knew what was coming.
We’ll just say it wasn’t an ideal scenario, but I knew I could make it work.
With my experience in crisis, issues, and reputation management, I tend to be a very pragmatic person when dealing with tough times. I’m also an eternal optimist. I mean, why else would you get up every single day and fight the good fight?
Just a New Challenge
In my mind, I had to accept this new situation for what it was—a new challenge and crisis to be overcome. I’ve consistently lived by the motto: there’s always a solution, we just have to find it.
Quite literally, I have spent my entire career overcoming challenges for the companies I’ve represented. Now this was my company’s challenge, and it was time for me to come up with a plan to overcome it.
Admittedly, I had it much easier than a lot of other professionals out there during this crisis.
For instance, I had worked from home for several months already, so I had adapted to that lifestyle. Although, I was not used to having my amazing wife as a coworker and officemate. The progression went something like this:
Weeks 1-4: This is so cool that we get to work together, talk about things, eat lunch together, take breaks, and catch up throughout the day.
Weeks 5-8: Wait, what times are your calls today? OK, that won’t work because I have video chats, so who is going to move their meeting?
Weeks 9-12: OK, I’ll work from the bedroom or the loft while you take these calls, but I need to be back at my desk around 1 p.m., will that work? No? OK, I’ll do my Zoom call outside.
Weeks 13-?: I’m so glad we have the second office set up. Stop by with a coffee when you have a chance. Love you, too!
So here I am smack in the middle of a crisis. Naturally the first thing I do is gather as much information about my current situation and level set against that.
What Do I Change?
I had the same first thought that I imagine most independent practitioners had—how do I change my business so I can survive?
But here’s the thing: I had a solid foundation. I had put in the work and set the stage for what I wanted this business to be, and I needed to trust that. Yes, of course I had to make adjustments, but I didn’t need to change my business.
Next, I knew I couldn’t focus on selling my services. Hard sells when people are unsure of their financial situations just isn’t going to work, even for a crisis and issues practitioner during a global crisis—SURPRISE!
So, I shifted my priorities to focus on long-term efforts and what really mattered for the success of my business.
I concentrated on publicly establishing a narrative for my company through creating the type of content for my channels that represented the value I could bring to my clients, as well as the brand I wanted to embrace. I’m a strategic communicator, and strategy is my thing, so that was my focus.
I really leaned into my Strategic Thoughts blog and started writing about what I was seeing brands and companies go through in real time, and how anyone (everyone?) could embrace and benefit from the strategic thought process.
This not only gave me a platform to help with prospecting – yes prospecting never ended – but it helped me stay on top of what was happening in our industry and what organizations were dealing with, and contextualizing the value I could bring.
What Can I Create?
Like a lot of people, I found a bit of extra time in my day, even between trying to make sense of the chaos, deal with daily life, spend time with my family and take care of our horse farm.
So pretty much every day started with the same question—what can I create today that will keep me focused and contribute to my business?
Sometimes it was as a simple blog, and other days the creativity ran out of control. And of course, as a communicator, the written content was easy. But like everyone who starts a blog, the natural progression is to video.
But I HATE being on video. I’ve media trained hundreds of people to be pros in front of a camera so I could stay behind-the-scenes. I had to get over that really quickly, and I did by creating a video series.
And then some days I took a harder, deeper look at how we implement the strategic communications process, which lead to breakthroughs, like the creation of the RADD communications process—I’m an 80s child so this one was fun!
I even had some fun, and with some inspiration from a friend, I recruited my two horses, two dogs, cat, pig, and goat to create an Animal Attendees service for virtual meetings. I didn’t really think I’d book one meeting, but 40+ sessions later, including many with international organizations, and it was a hit.
(Note from Gini: that friend was me. ME!! Why wouldn’t he say it was me? Rude.)
All in all, these efforts, and yes distractions, helped me focus on what really mattered to my business:
- Embracing the kind of strategy-focused company I want to create
- Level setting on the ideal client I want to work with
- Creating fun and compelling content
Most importantly, I was taking action and adapting my approach, not my business, so I could thrive in this new marketplace long term.
It’s About the Moments
In addition to adapting my focus, what has really gotten me through these 166 days are the individual moments. None of us can count on continuity or consistency with the environment we’ve been thrust in to, so we need to find the individual moments throughout the day, or hour if necessary, to use as motivation and inspiration.
Professional connections—it’s easy to overlook a colleague as a source of connection and meaning, but these people have likely spent a great deal of time with you, or at least talking to you. For me, having a couple of key professional connections has help fill a personal connection need as well.
Personal moments—my son is two years old and the perfect age to cause some chaos around the house. But being home and finding the small moments throughout the day to spend with him has truly helped me focus on what I need to do for my business.
He won’t remember the crazy time that we’re living through, but I know he’ll remember how much time we got to spend together. Plus, it helps when he brings me a chocolate chip cookie right after a meeting.
And while I joke about the office situation with my amazing wife, it truly is beneficial to have someone to bounce ideas off of, talk through work issues, and brainstorm solutions…all in person. A real human being!
IT’S CRAZY, BUT IT’S OURS
I’ve reached the point where my business is starting to pick up again. I’m nowhere near capacity, I have prospects in the pipeline and a few projects keeping me busy. All signs are pointing to a promising Q4.
Having been through some pretty crazy crises throughout my career, one thing I’ve learned is that things can always get crazier. And while this may be a crazy time, I realized it still belongs to me, as your time does to you.
I’ve seen a lot of people talking about re-prioritizing, just like I’ve done today. And yes, that is something we all need to do. But it’s also important to remember that this time is yours, even if it’s crazy, so you can do with it what you want, even if that’s nothing at all.
Ultimately, this entire experience has provided a sense of clarity that I otherwise would not have found, and now I’m ready to continue to the growth.