Don't You Dare Go Back To The Way Things Were!

Most of my flying (mostly in a Piper Lance) was from northern Indiana, where we lived in a small town for twelve years. One of the reasons we moved was because of the winters: not the cold as much as the solid low overcast which seemed to suffocate us every day, all winter.

In that environment, it was always a pleasure to hop in the plane, fire it up, climb through the cloud ceiling and pop out on top, set the auto-pilot, and sit back and enjoy the sun and light. It was a transition from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) to a light-hearted gratitude for the variety, the life, the lifting, the warmth, the sun. It didn't matter what was happening on the ground—even just a thousand feet could make all the difference.

I think about that phenomenon a lot. After two years of "languishing" (the title of a recent podcast we did), it seems like now might be the time for you to pop above the clouds for a bit and join a new world with warmth and possibility (I'll forgive you Australia and New Zealand and South American readers for having your seasons flipped; just save this for six months from now).

So if you're stuck in your metaphorical Midwest US winter, you might just need to shake some things up to get your mojo back. 2020 was a tad terrifying. 2021 was much better than expected. 2022 is going back to the way things were, and while there's some relief in all that, I think there are some significant dangers. The last thing your firm needs right now is to find the old rut in the road. There's no sense acting like you're on a train track when you can actually steer off the main trail and make your own adventure.

Maybe that means you:

  • Hire someone with big agency experience, as long as you keep your expectations in check. The most helpful thing they'll bring is this quiet confidence about what you can really charge for something without blinking. Or maybe it's just someone in a different model: someone fleeing elementary ed to be your new account person, or fleeing a legal practice to be your researcher, or fleeing the client side for a more entrepreneurial environment.
  • Add a new capability. You know, the one you've been jobbing out to contractors but been studying for quite some time. That one additional thing that your customers are wanting under the same roof. Who do you hire? How do you upsell current clients on it? How is it pieced together during new biz discussions? Solve the challenge.
  • Identify a really promising employee and take the initiative to build their career. Maybe encourage them to write or speak. Maybe hire a podcast booking agency so that someone else is always keeping your firm top of mind with the public.
  • Schedule a short sabbatical, and I really, really mean it. Even if it's just one month, those two months that lead up to it can help you think through your firm like you never have before. Who are the next level leaders, what processes need some clarification, and the most frightening realization at all: "I guess my firm doesn't really need me to do that, which frees me up to do what they really need from me."
  • Find two other principals you trust and swap financials between you. Take turns letting the other two give you feedback, ask questions, make suggestions, and so on. Unless you have a partner already, there aren't many people with whom you can have those conversations.
  • Tell everyone that there will be no big ol' Christmas bonus this year. (Wait too long and you'll never pull that off.) Instead, write fresh criteria and dole your gratitude out randomly during the year. There are some great arguments for this, but you can't wait and decide this later.
  • Raise your own pay to a level that keeps you interested and proud. Quit taking a pay cut just to avoid having a boss. You started this thing to have more money, more control over your work environment, and better work/life balance. Just like a top will stop spinning and fall over without occasional help, your own situation will decay and you'll forget why you started this. How you pay yourself may be one of those signals.
  • Sit down and start writing a book. Get a rough one-page outline and then write a chapter. I don't care if you write a book as much as I care that you start one and see what happens.
  • Slim way down...or get a lot bigger. Rethink what you enjoy and what the marketplace wants from you.
  • Reconstitute the executive leadership team. There's probably a person or two who shouldn't be on it, and it can actually make leadership less clear and more difficult.
  • Even if that's not in the cards, please don't take your existing meeting strategy into yet one more year. Fix the meetings and add years to your life, especially if it's a standing meeting. Standing meetings are like tartar build up on your teeth: some times you just need to suck down some nitrous oxide and let someone go to town and scrape it off.
  • Take a photo trip without a camera, soaking up the physical context and the details. The light, the shadows, the angles.
  • Give everyone a half-day off every week for a month. Make them rotate it and do something they don't normally do, for you or for themselves.

What I'm really hoping is that you don't let yourself slowly go back to the way things were before. That you don't long for the old boring days so much that you sit back in that same old worn out chair you used to sit on until you scooted forward on the edge of your seat two years ago and get engaged in saving your firm.

Don't get into a daily grind during an overcast winter—rise above it, stir things up. A lot of "normal" is good; too much "normal" is how you die. Chaos sucks and normal sucks. Find the middle ground of intentional reinvention.

If you need some outside perspective, here are three ways I could help you:

Lightning Benchmarking. This is brand new. It's a compressed, compact engagement that lets you know how you are doing. We construct the study based on some materials we'll ask for, and then I'll walk you through it on the phone. $2,000.

New Business Audit. Fix your positioning, apply some service offering design to that choice, and then tailor some lead gen activity to feed the funnel. $12,000.

Total Business Reset. All of the above three modules, plus a full (not compressed) benchmarking, roles / people / structure, and future proofing. $22,000 for most firms.

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