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Making Tough Business Decisions in the Wake of COVID-19

March 12, 2020

By Jason Dodge

As business owners, we are hit with challenges that must be dealt with on the daily. The severity of those challenges and how we navigate them help shape us as leaders. None of us are able to abstain from making these difficult decisions. It’s very much a part of our jobs and like it or not, it’s what we signed on for.

By now, no doubt you have read countless pieces of information on the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Understanding it appears, from the outside, to be regionally focused, we must not be so naive as to think that we are immune to the Coronavirus or that it can’t spread elsewhere (as it’s already proven to do).

Recently I had to make a series of difficult decisions. Decisions that not only impacted the business fiscally, but our team members and their families. The decision came down to whether or not we sent our entire team to southern California for a major industry event.

The Value of Conferences & Events

You see, at BlackTruck education is at our core. It’s baked into our ethos and is stated as such: “Seek knowledge and continue to learn.”

Search marketing is a very reactive profession. The best outlined strategies are at the mercy of Google. We plot a course, put the wheels in motion and have to navigate the turbulence that is Google Algorithm updates and shifting user intent online. That’s where education comes into play.

I learned early on in my tenure here at BlackTruck that learning amongst others is invaluable. Attending major industry conferences and events is a great way to unplug, learn from peers and network with leaders of other organizations. By drinking from the firehouse in this fashion, you expand and deepen your knowledge well beyond what you can by reading blog posts or watching YouTube videos.

For all those reasons and many more, I’ve consciously invested in sending our team to conferences and educational seminars over the past 10 years, and the ROI pays big dividends. Everyone, including me, comes back with fresh ideas, new ways of approaching problems, and an updated industry outlook.

Monitoring the Situation

As the business leader, I was monitoring the status of COVID-19 constantly and had been in close contact with the event promoter. As of this writing, the event is still scheduled. Understanding that the conference was still a go, I started to walk through the recommendations and outlook on COVID-19.

At some point you have to give yourself a reality check and realize this is going to get worse before it gets better. This is not a situation that’s simply going to blow over quickly and we all can hop back into the normal routine. Monitoring sources such as the CDC, our own local/state output on Coronavirus (COVID-19), and discussions with many others, I knew the risks we were facing.

By The Numbers

Attending a major conference across the country with our entire team is an investment. To be open, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a $10,000 commitment. By the time you factor in access to a major conference, airfare for the team, accommodations and all the other miscellaneous items that come up, it’s a substantial amount for any business to commit to.

While I recognize that the major airlines are doing everything to offer up travel vouchers and reduce any degree of penalty that one might receive when cancelling flights, this isn’t a big help on the financial side.

That being said, as a business leader, you must understand that your organization is much larger than you. When you have a team, you need to make every commitment toward open communication about what’s going on and how it impacts them. Understanding fully what I was asking our team to do – travel across the country and attend a large event surrounded by many unknowns in the midst of a global health pandemic – it was time for a major discussion.

Open Communication & Empathy

The approach was simple. In our most recent weekly huddle, the status of COVID-19 and the major conference we were planning to attend was tops on the agenda. There was no use in sugarcoating it, so I tore the band-aid right off and requested an open discussion around the upcoming event and offered the opportunity to address everyone’s concerns.

I provided people the option to discuss it publicly in addition to reaching out to me privately should they have additional concerns. It’s important to give people both options, as not everyone is going to be comfortable sharing their stance amongst their peers. Fortunately, that was not the case with our team, but in the end, there were major concerns with traveling to and attending the conference.

Not just hearing, but actively listening to everyone’s concerns and opinions on both sides was great education as a business owner. I am humbled every day that I get to work alongside some of the best professionals in the industry. While I am biased toward our team, I think highly of each and every person at BlackTruck and am genuinely concerned for their health and well-being.

Hard Decision

When faced with all the facts and team feedback, it was time to make the hard decision. As a leader, it’s important to understand that attending such an event is a benefit and attendance shouldn’t be mandatory by any team member. You cannot force people to get on a plane and fly across the country – it’s not a good thing to do and it’s not what BlackTruck does.

With that in mind, I ultimately made the decision, a decision I believe to be the right one, to pull completely out of the event. The questions I asked and the question you have to ask is: “Does any of this matter, fiscally speaking, if you don’t have a team that’s in good health, fully present, and focused on growing?” The answer for me was a hard no.

In addition, what happened if I, as the owner, was quarantined somewhere remote for two-plus weeks? I have every bit of confidence that our business would run as normal, but then the “what-ifs” run through my head. While what is preliminarily known about COVID-19 might appear to be mild, it’s the unknowns and what-ifs that we should be concerned with.

As business owners, we owe it to our employees and community members to help slow down any potential spread. If my team and I can help by following best practices for virus control and hygiene, then we are doing our part.

No doubt the impact of the Coronavirus will be felt by your business to some degree and I hope it is not a detriment. Do your part to ensure the wellness of your team and remember: this is much larger than you or I as individuals. The hardship this can place on you, your employees, and those around all of you by extension cannot be measured.

Jason Dodge is the Founder of BlackTruck Media + Marketing. He can be reached at jason@blacktruckmedia.com

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