"Things are tough all over" was the first line that came to mind when I started this month’s blog post, and then I immediately wondered where that little nugget came from? Do you know the pop-culture reference? I didn’t either, so I looked it up, and it’s Cheech & Chong! It’s the title of a movie, one I watched at a birthday party in about 1985 - wow, that was a deep nugget!
The 1982 episode of the classic series features the stoner comics partnered with an oil-rich Arab who owns the car wash they’re working at to make ends meet while their hoped-for music career takes off. Like other episodes in the series, this one features all kinds of hijinks by the likeable duo, full of twists and turns and near-death or near-jail experiences, and then a dramatically positive finish (I’ll not spoil it for you).
I want to say that’s a pretty good descriptor of how many of our stories may go with this covid panic! Things are tough all over right now, and it’s going to get tougher. Small businesses can’t operate without customers, and even as we are releasing from our stay-at-homes it’s clear that people are scared and traffic is low and many businesses are operating far below their break-even point. Many are at the breaking point, financially and emotionally - and even logically. Many still don’t know anyone who has been infected, for gosh sake! The PPP and EIDL programs have helped to bridge the gap for some businesses, and unemployment programs have done the same for a good portion of those disemployed by the response to this pandemic threat. But, this is at the cost of a quick 25% bump to our national debt and a massive increase in anticipated fiscal deficits going forward...with talk of more stimulus...as a nation and as individuals, we’re looking pretty fragile economically.
But we have spirit, and resources, and many innovations and opportunities that are being created or released by this crisis. Workforce communications have adapted significantly to address the challenges of work-from-home, grassroots networks of support have developed for small businesses, and people everywhere are finding new ways of doing things. As always, there are winners and losers when government makes decisions regarding commerce. RV sales and bike sales are way up, e-commerce too along with many of the associated digital services. Home improvement businesses and garden supply stores are as busy as they’ve ever been. If you’re a brick and mortar retailer, things are tough - not only is traffic way down due to restrictions and fear, but buying habits may have been permanently changed by forcing so many people to buy their stuff from Amazon or use other delivery businesses. If you’re a restaurant, reopening with 8 foot distancing sounds like folly - can’t pay the rent on 10 customers at a time! That giant sucking sound you hear?...it’s Amazon sucking the wealth out of the main streets and shopping malls of America...
Most businesses, so far anyway, fall more in the middle - their revenues have been hit, but not catastrophically, and they’ve adapted to the “new normal” in regards to staffing and customer safety. We’re one of them - we’ve been dinged but not heavily damaged, and we’re determined to come back stronger than ever. Antifragile, as it were - our LoCo Book Club selection last month.
For LoCo Think Tank, this crisis may have unlocked the answer to a challenge we’ve been facing for years. I’ll have to give you a bit of background for understanding. The crux of launching one of our small business owner chapters has always been the launch meeting. Effectively, my challenge in launching a new chapter has been to get 7 interested small business owners into a room together, along with their proposed facilitator, let them meet one another and see our process in action and hopefully poof! - a new chapter is born. The challenge is in getting so many interested people into the room at the same time - when I ask a prospective client if they wish to become a member, the standard response is “maybe - who else is in the group?” So, I’ve likened a chapter launch to a 7-way arranged marriage, enabled by a trusting relationship with yours truly.
I’m apparently better at this than many, or more persistent anyway, and we now have 8 small business owner chapters meeting monthly in Fort Collins. We had a chapter in Loveland, but it had grown too small before this crisis, and after the crisis unfolded and we lost more members, we had to shut it down and move members into viable groups. Since 2018, we’ve invested significant efforts to launch chapters in Cheyenne and Greeley and Denver and Boulder - with no fruits just yet. Truth is, I haven’t spent enough time in those new areas to develop trusting relationships. And, the one chapter in our sister city - Loveland - is a place where I’d developed enough trusting relationships to even maintain a chapter. But I can’t be everywhere, (and I don’t want to try!) so for some time now we’ve known that to reach our eventual growth goals we had to take a new approach.
Events were intended to be that new approach. We had enough cash flow now to cover the costs, and we had strength of reputation, and have been developing community partnerships. The first was to be April 30th at Colorado Lending Source in the Metro Denver area. We’d attract 40+ business leaders to an event with our developing marketing prowess, get acquainted briefly and introduce them to someone who would facilitate their chapter, have a short workshop and go through our LoCollaboration process, and poof! - we’d somehow figure out which 10 people would be both interested in being in a chapter, and who would improve the depth and perspective of the chapter by their inclusion.
So obviously, we didn’t get a chance to test out our new approach. We cancelled the event and did a webinar instead, (that had over 50 attendees!), and focused the last few weeks on taking our chapters virtual, building out a conference space, and bringing in new members to replace some of the casualties of the crisis. Honestly my growth hopes had been dashed a bit - if there are no events, how then can we grow?
And from this chaos and adaptation, comes innovation! LoCo Think Tank has a proven model and track record, growing marketing prowess so that we can find prospects, and we’re getting good at the billing and administrative chores - leaving the “light yoke” minder role for the facilitator. What if we left the relationship-building to the Loco Facilitator we’re building a chapter around, instead of hoping to magically arrange the 7-way marriage from afar?
I’m sneaky this month, in that I’m introducing a new product right here at the end of my blog. The LoCo Underground program is designed to connect vetted and approved LoCo Facilitators in pre-launch phase to interested business owners RIGHT NOW - so they can get some perspective and accountability and start working on their business foundations with engagement from a trusted business veteran. The facilitator will build the trusting relationships one at a time (which is the only way you can really do it) and curate a group with continuing mutual resonance as it emerges as a full-fledged LoCo chapter. As always, LoCo HQ will find and vet candidates, and we’ll make introductions and plant the seeds to new chapters wherever we find outstanding LoCo Facilitators who want to get started.
So, that’s the story of what I think will be our lemonade, or part of it anyway. We’ve strengthened also in our team communication, and virtual meeting capabilities, and we’ll even be testing a virtual-only chapter offering later this summer. But, my sense is that the LoCo Underground program is the long-sought solution to a difficult problem, one that we may never have uncovered without the perceived obstacle of not being able to hold events. I hope I’m right, because that lemonade will be so sweet and refreshing! Time + effort and we’ll know soon.
That’s the other thing about lemonade I should mention. Just because life gives you lemons, doesn’t mean you’ve got a fresh glass of ice-cold in front of you! You gotta wash and cut and squeeze those lemons, and add some water, and just enough sugar, give it a good stir and ice it down before you can enjoy the fruits. Stuff can happen to you in this world, and it will, but always remember you can make stuff happen too - and you must - if you want to enjoy the lemonade. Otherwise you’ll find yourself just sucking on lemons.