I know it’s been quite a year – full of ups, downs, wins, losses, and incredibly moving displays of the human condition. I wanted to share a few lessons learned in reflecting on this year, but first – a quick story.
On March 6, 2020, Visionary Rising’s future was in doubt. With the cancellation of SXSW by the City of Austin, followed by days and weeks of canceled festivals, live-events, and our clients – both large and small – opting to either cancel services or place on hold, our team was reeling. I watched in horror as headline after headline came in, canceled checks, and in some cases, news that the good faith deposits our company covered for partners leading up to festival season would not be honored. I made the difficult decision to shut down Visionary Rising for 6-weeks to figure out a way forward.
As COVID-19 revealed the socio-economic disparities across our most vulnerable and diverse communities, our team came together to formulate strategies that would alleviate some of this strain when businesses were ready to open up and prepared our clients for a world without in-person events.
While this was a difficult time, I realized that we (our team, clients, and partners) were some of the lucky ones throughout the next few weeks. Our family and friends were relatively safe and healthy, we had our necessities covered, and a team that I could count on to dig in and get things done when it mattered most.
“Anyone can make money when the money is easy – but THIS time is where legacies are built.”
At the end of the 6-week period, we set our website and launch for 6/1/2020 and were ready to take on the world. Then, overnight, George Floyd’s murder would stop us all in our tracks.
In a letter to our closest collaborators, clients, and partners, I wrote about how the mostly non-violent marches and conversations that emerged had committed me to the work more than ever. Being a Black-owned and staffed agency, while a war was fought on two fronts, showed us more than ever the importance of the work we do and how we tell the stories of our people.
Although this year has been filled with instability and uncertainty, it was also the catalyst for beautiful moments and lessons that I know we’ll carry forward in how this business operates. I want to share them below.
LESSONS 2020 TAUGHT ME
First, this year taught me about trust and transparency. As a leader, I often struggle with exactly what to tell our team and when to tell them, especially about the business elements that would impact our day to day. But, this year, when faced with the decision of whether to shut down or forge ahead, we connected more than ever on the decision since that decision didn’t just impact a single member of the team or me – it impacted all of us. We looked at the pros of moving ahead without a plan or slowing everything down and leaning into the things we knew to be true about our business: 1) we had a great team, 2) we had a strategically advanced team, and 3) there were a lot of opportunities for us.
In bringing my team together to make this decision, we were all brought into the success of building together.
Second, every opportunity isn’t your opportunity. You may have seen many live streams pop up in the weeks following festival shutdowns and live venue closures – it seemed like everyone had a platform, stream, or IG live they were doing. While our clients wanted to follow that trend, we cautioned against oversaturation and lack of strategy. We thought about what would happen 3, 6, 9 months from now when everyone was overwhelmed and fatigued. We committed to building content that would support the future's needs while still providing monetary opportunities for our audiences. Through our renewed focus on strategic planning and trend analysis, we were able to assist clients with monetizing platforms, creating new revenue streams, and creating content that would stand the test of time. I learned here that even though there are many opportunities, success is mostly defined by the opportunities you say “no” to say “yes” to other things.
Thirdly, being Black is a superpower. I already knew this, but this year reminded me in more ways than one how amazing it is to be a Black creative during this time. Black entrepreneurs are historically the least funded but most poised for business success. Because I had to bootstrap our company, I was used to running lean and getting things done on a shoestring budget. That helped us stretch budgets, increase efficiencies, invest in areas of opportunity for the business, point our clients into areas of focus, and utilize our superpower to connect with diverse audiences in new and amazing ways.
What has emerged in the weeks and months since March is a company poised for success, ready to take on tomorrow's challenges for our clients, and committed more than ever to build the future of work for the creator class.
While 2020 was a rough year, I am entering 2021 with a renewed hope for the future and what we can build together.