10 Hard Lessons That I Learned Leading My Company Amidst The Pandemic

Ross Simmonds

This time last year, I faced one of the most difficult challenges of my life so far.

In less than 24 hours, I lost:

  • Three major clients
  • Every marketing conference I was scheduled to speak at
  • A $250k contract that was locked in after a handshake.

To say I felt stressed, anxious, and wondering how I would recover from this is an understatement.

A year later, I look back and smile that I (and my team) made it through stronger than ever.

Here are ten lessons I learned about how to manage stress and navigate chaos in one of the most difficult situations I’ve been in.

I hope these lessons guide you should you be going through your own difficult journey.

1. Share Your L’s With The Team

As a leader, you need to be in the trenches with your team.

When that money fell off the table, I didn’t hold back. I was transparent with my team and the situation we were faced with.

You might think this would be deflating for most but do you know what happened?

They rallied beside me!

Here are four things that can happen when you are transparent with your team:

  1. 1. The stars step up to the plate

Stars don’t believe it’s over until it’s over. Kobe Bryant wouldn’t stop playing if the Lakers were down 3 games in a best of 7 series and neither will your star players.

Being honest with your team allows these stars to switch into high gear and do their thing. They can be the ones to make highlight reel moves and get you back in the game.

  1. 2. Relationships get stronger

Humans are built to help each other. It’s in our DNA. Struggle is what bonds us and overcoming those struggles together build stronger relationships. It brings together those who share the same values and goals and often will offer insight into those who do not.

  1. 3. Trust becomes more than a ‘value’ in a slide deck

There is no better way to build trust than being open and honest. When we show each other the not so glamorous sides of our lives, our trust battery for each other grows.

As CEO, this can be hard as you might want your image to be squeaky clean. But life isn’t a highlight reel and presenting nothing but lollipops and sugarplums shouldn’t be the goal as a leader.
Be vulnerable and watch as trust becomes a lived value at your company.

  1. 4. Avoid awkward blindsides if things go south

Being honest covers your bases should your situation get worse and layoffs become necessary.

I don’t know about you but I’d rather avoid the awkward conversation of letting someone go when they thought everything was ok.

Be honest with your people. They will respect you tenfold should things go south.

2. Maintain A Long Term Mindset

You can never lose sight of the long-term.

When things were bad, our team was 24 hours away from launching a project that would have completely messed up our positioning in the market.

It wasn’t what we were about — but we pursued the idea aggressively as we lost sight of the long term.

Collectively, we took a breath and came to the conclusion that the project would be a short term win with a lot of long term pain.

We axed it. Someday i’ll share what this mystery project was going to be but let’s just say — my workload would have probably tripled over 3 months.

No matter how hard it may be during tough times, you HAVE to keep your strategy and long term vision at the forefront to avoid future mistakes.

Trust the process and trust in yourself.

3. Do Whatever It Takes To Win

Whether you are building a business from scratch or trying to save one, you are going to have to make sacrifices.

This isn’t the time to doubt yourself and let your foot off the gas.

When I was in the middle of figuring out my next move and how our team was going to make up for lost business, I was working weekends and late nights.

I was even dreaming about work.

Was it healthy? Nope.

But I knew that my short term sacrifice could avoid layoffs and build momentum for the next chapter of Foundation Marketing.

I’d do it the same way all over again. It needed to be done. Those late nights provided the ability to unlock breakthroughs that have ultimately given us the ability to work with dream clients around the world and exceed our own growth expectations.

4. Always Make Time For Tea Parties

Amidst the chaos, it’s important to remember to take time to spend time with those you love and do things that motivate you. Even amidst stressful negotiations, being ghosted by long time clients and seeing weeks go by on accounts payable — I still made time for tea parties:

You’ve gotta make time for things outside of work.

Or at least I do… I know everyone is different but earning that “Best Dad” mug is a real goal. And I strive to earn that more than any Top CEO or Marketer of the Year award from the industry.

That’s just not important to me.

Think about things and people you value outside your work. Is it a hobby, advocacy, a community? Nurture other parts of your life by finding time to rest and enjoy.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help

One of the most difficult things for many people (myself included) is having the humility to ask for help.

Even Batman needs Robin.

When difficult situations require your time and attention, you need a support system to keep things together around.

I don’t know what I would have done without my kids’ grandparents. They essentially moved in and helped take care of the kids while I focused on rebuilding what was lost. Always remember to be humble enough to ask for help and embrace it if you want to succeed.

6. Be Empathetic With Your Business Partners

The global pandemic was hard on everyone, especially at the beginning.

When I noticed our overdue accounts receivables list growing, my knee jerk reaction was to bang on doors, charge late fees and snap on our partners.

Never do that.

I remembered that like my own business, my partners were feeling the weight of the pandemic too.

Eventually, scopes expanded, relationships strengthened – all because I remained calm and empathetic to my partners’ situation.

During the tough times, have the awareness to think outside of your own worries and find a way to help others.

7. Avoid The Strugglelympics

No good comes from staying in your feelings.

Not to say you can’t take a moment and feel upset or frustrated but make sure it’s brief.

The key is to keep the foot on the gas and move forward a baby turtle on a mission to reach the ocean.

When times were tough, we kept creating content, launching new products and building the damn business.

Some got mad, which is just another word for insecure.

“Read the room”

“Don’t you get tired of showing up in feeds while people are struggling”

It was easy for many to fall in the trap of complaining and being negative because they were afraid of their own situation.

Ignore that.

All you can focus on is what you have control over.

Don’t worry about what others are saying and just keep on keeping on.

8. Experiment With New Ideas

Because what do you have to lose?

During this difficult time, our team started creating in-depth teardowns of SaaS companies killing the marketing game.

Although these assets require a TON of work, they ultimately changed our business and have resulted in massive wins.

If you are interested, here are a few examples you can check out. I promise you will learn a thing (or two) about marketing within these:

  1. How Masterclass thrives on SEO
  2. Stripe’s brilliant content strategy
  3. Shopify’s growth engine revealed
  4. Adobe’s unshakable brand moat
  5. Snowflake’s PPC to IPO strategy

To date, these essays have resulted in massive traffic and an influx of new, brilliant clients.

So if you needed a sign to try new ideas to reshape your business, this is it!

9. Be Kind To Yourself

I can’t stress this enough.

I’m my biggest critic and at times when things were difficult, that really got in the way.

I’m here to tell you that when things are tough, you have to switch your mindset.

You need to do whatever you need to, to tell yourself that it’s going to be ok.

That you’ve got this, because you’ve been through worse before.

You have to be your own biggest cheerleader.

For all of 2020, I kept a sticker on my laptop that read “You’ve got this”.

That little message kept me motivated and focused.

Believing in yourself will be your biggest strength in tough times.
10. Surround Yourself With Great People

Last, but not least, you have to surround yourself with great people.

Your network is your net worth and I don’t mean this just from a monetary standpoint.

I mean this from a support standpoint.

I had a brilliant team in my corner during this whole process; shoutout to the Foundationites!

I also had an incredible online and offline network that kept me inspired and on task. Group chats that motivate you and keep you focused vs keeping you triggered is key. Make sure you surround yourself with people who inspire you, challenge you and keep pushing you to your limits.

My network was invaluable during the tough times and I don’t know how I would have made it through without them. To any of you reading this, thank you!

Bonus Tip: Just Keep Smiling

If last year taught me anything it’s this:

None of us will get out of this wild thing called life alive so you might as well enjoy your time while you’re here.

It’s easy to lose sight of this when we get caught up in the difficulties of everyday life but in the end, armed with a rock solid mindset and a supportive group of people around you, I promise you can get through anything.

When things get tough, just keep smiling.

Let’s make a toast to the rest of this decade being the best of this decade.

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About Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to drive results using digital marketing and technology.

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8 months ago

These are powerful lessons. I especially love the “Dad of the Year” point. Keep shining and doing the amazing work you do.

8 months ago

During this pandemic, I have seen so many ups and downs in business. I like your post, and it was very inspiring for all of us. I think everyone should learn from these mistakes. I think at that stage your networking may help and, now for the future, I think we should build strong networking!

6 months ago

It is a wonder how you manage everything after this such a loss. I enjoyed reading this post, and I felt so motivated after this. Every business faces some ups and downs and this is a part of life. Also, I agree that we should keep your strategy and long-term vision at the forefront to avoid future mistakes.

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5 months ago

Hi Ross, The problem you faced at the time of Pandemic almost every business cope with the same situation. No one was prepared and even thought of it for such a worse time. At the beginning of the pandemic, my website traffic dropped significantly, due to which my affiliate sales were down, and I was losing everything. As you have written a plan for a longer time. I did the same, was honest with my partners and I got very good support from them. Now, the time has changed and I am again back on track strongly. All of your… Read more »

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Thanks for sharing such an amazing and informative blog. This is really inspiring for those who are trying to make their business successful.

James Nguma
2 months ago

Nice article. Love these points. Be kind to yourself, do whatever you have to do to win, and ask for help.

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