It’s tempting to say “phew, 2020 is done” (or something similar with stronger language). At times, I’ve wanted to wish away the time, to see the back of this year, and for the Covid hangover to go.
For us though, on reflection, 2020 has been a good year. Which is something I never envisaged saying in mid-April.
It’s not easy to say that in light of what others have gone through (and still are). Acknowledging that it has been good comes with guilt. Guilt that we could keep our teams, that we survived lockdown, and that we’ve come out of lockdown stronger than we went in.
Reflecting back on the year, coming out of lockdown stronger is largely attributed to our personal headspace as business owners. Now that’s not to say “the power of positive thought got us through Covid” – I’m an accountant and that’s far too hippie for my liking. More, that we could have talked ourselves into a tailspin post lockdown and we deliberately chose a different path.
So, here’s the story of our year….
2020…the original plan
Rolling back to January, we sat down for our annual planning day. On the list we acknowledged the things which didn’t go right in 2019, worked out how to solve those issues, as well as prioritising on the projects for 2020.
These included opening an office in Tauranga (Riann’s off there in January 2021), systemising some of what we do so we can offer more consistent advice (we drop the ball at times) and developing a community of business owners (we all reinvent the wheel and can do more by learning from each other).
Things felt good, we had a positive plan to improve what we do throughout the year and started to get runs on the board.
2020…things (obviously change).
I had a family trip booked to Australia for Easter. I joked with my wife that Covid would save me from spending time with my in-laws (who I love if you’re reading this). You know how the rest of the story goes.
Like every other business, we pack up shop and head home. Smack in the middle of our busy season, we switch from helping businesses plan for the next 12 months, to helping people when they feel like their business is on life support.
Our team response was amazing. Switching from busy season to instead answering calls from every customer at the same time, while also learning how to work from home and deal with the mental elements we all had to face.
Personally, I’ve never dealt with the sheer volume of phone calls, the number of people hurting, and the level of uncertainty. Alongside this business-as-usual continued – leading our team, managing three kids, and waiting in line for the groceries (thankfully I panic bought gin pre-lockdown….).
2020…. our headspace
It was hard not to internalise what other customers were facing. With the calls during lockdown and seeing the hard decisions our customers needed to face, I started looking over my shoulder. If those guys are laying people off, maybe I should too? If they’re panicking, maybe I should as well?
Then you start to look at things through a darker lens. Maybe I should let someone go if lockdown is extended? Maybe we can’t help customers out so quickly? Maybe we can’t do work without charging? Maybe we shouldn’t do more social media videos explaining tax options for people?
It’s hard (to quote my parents) to keep your chin up.
Over the top, we all have personal lives happening. For me, that meant losing two grandparents within a few weeks. Now I’m not looking for sympathy here – this is simply to share part of a story this year. This loss, tied with the pressure of lockdown, left me at a personal level a bit of a wreck (to say the least).
My headspace drops. Work becomes harder. Things slow down.
Now, my story is frankly a lot easier than many others, and what they have gone through this year. I’m not in tourism, I’m not in Queenstown, and I’ve got an amazingly supportive family, team and business partner. It’s simply to acknowledge what was an interesting journey for every business this year.
You walk out of that journey, and either acknowledge it for what it is and keep moving. Or you choose to dwell on it.
For me, that realisation came from hours in overpriced counselling, and hundreds of pages written in cheap journals. Through those cheap journals, I realised that if I didn’t keep moving then I’d spiral.
For work, it meant we needed to continue with our business plan (in a tweaked form). Which, since lockdown, is exactly what our customers who are successfully navigating Covid are doing. It’s about a deliberate choice to accept and acknowledge Covid, while stepping into 2021 aggressively.
So Convex walks out of lockdown, and I walk out of the personal “stuff” happening in life. I’m called out by a team member asking where we’re heading. I get stumped by the question and sit down and reset.
Turns out, the reset was simply tweaking the original business plan. We roll out the website rebuild we were doing anyway. We reset our digital marketing plan (que what felt like us putting on endless webinars). We craft a plan for Tauranga. We get two (nearly three!) team members qualified as Chartered Accountants and one on the Convex Legal side admitted as a lawyer. We roll out a new bonus scheme, we came up with better ways to deliver more consistent advice, we rebuilt every process from ground up, we increase turnover year-on-year despite losing an entire months’ revenue.
Then we have opportunities come along like Grant Robertson (now Deputy Prime Minister) speaking to us on small business issues. We have Tu Umaga-Marshall and Piri Weepu speaking to us about mental health, leading teams and dealing with adversity. Next year we’ve lined up Helmut Modlik, CEO of Ngāti Toa to share what we can learn culturally from Māori business and finding clarity of purpose (keep an eye out – if there’s one thing you attend in 2021 then this should be it). We’ve got podcasts coming, community events and more.
We certainly haven’t got things right all the time. We still need to improve the quality of our customer experience. We need to follow through more and have closer relationships with our customers. We need to reply to emails and get jobs done faster. We’ll keep working on better (not bigger) – we’re never finished on that front.
As business owners, we (well, I at least) tend to focus on the negative. The thing which doesn’t go right. The unhappy customer. The bad financial result (especially in lockdown). The unhappy team member. It’s important that we own this stuff. However, it’s more important that we keep an eye on the positive, and on our plan for the future.
So, if I had to single out one thing I’ve learnt about in 2020, it’s headspace. It’s how we as business owners grapple with our own heads so we can lead our teams and our businesses. It’s how we front up day-after-day under the pressure of keeping the lights on, managing cashflow, staff pressure, customer expectations, as well as the huge expectations we put on ourselves.
The one contributor to my headspace more than any other is our team at work. They have permission to call out my bad-side and bring out my good. It’s the team that make me look good to our customers and keep everything running smoothly in the office when I’m out and about.
Their contribution comes from the culture we’ve created. It’s the drinks trolley (which always seems empty…), the lack of judgement for eating lunch at 10am, the competitiveness on the fitness board, the Monday morning teas, the Zoom drinks during lockdown, and the packages which turn up at work from people’s mums. It’s the vibe in the office which gets us nominated for the Wellington Gold and NZ Xero Awards. It’s the team which come together to build our culture and keep us moving.
Without the team creating our culture, Riann and I couldn’t keep leading our team.
So, for me 2020 was the year where I realised that my personal headspace is make or break. It’s going to get me to keep making work better, or it pushes me to the back foot where we become a passenger to Covid.
To that end, without the support of the team in the office thank you. You make me look good every day. Also, thank you to the customers we’ve worked with over the last 12 months. You’ve shared your journey with us and we learn from them every day – so thank you.
2021 will be just as big as 2020. Watch this space.
Over and out.
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