2020 was shaping up to be an outstanding year for my consulting practice.
Keep in mind, 2019 had been a banner year (my best yet) with a steady flow of profitable assignments. Even better, I was enjoying these assignments and getting shrewder about which gigs to pursue.
Then COVID hit and within the span of a week, I watched a dozen future assignments vanish. Following a brief pity party, I jumped back into action mode striving to answer one big question:
The lion’s share of consulting income I’ve earned has been in the events industry and we all know how hard COVID hit this crowd.
As event staff furloughs multiplied, my own financial footing was in jeopardy, so I explored a few options:
- Scale up marketing to land new gigs
I ruled this out immediately. Amid COVID, even early on when we were less certain how long this might last, launching marketing campaigns and boosting SEO seemed tone deaf and inappropriate.
- Slash expenses and wait for this storm to subside
Muddling through didn’t strike me as a great option either, plus patience has never been my strong suit.
- Go all in on a pandemic pivot
What if I were to pivot, retool and retrain to specialize in digital events?
Yes, I chose door #3, investing countless hours to study this fascinating digital events landscape that was unfolding before us. Going a step further, I chose to go 100% pro bono on support to organizations over the next 90 days. This would become my learning incubator to master this pivot.
I reached out to clients, plus several more non-profits, offering my services gratis as virtual host, designer and facilitator. This conversation/learning catalyst role was one I mastered for live (F2F) events, yet I needed to figure out how to transfer these skills to the digital realm. Fortunately, I’d been using Zoom for a couple of years, so it wouldn’t be new territory for me – still there was so much more to learn and precious little time to do so.
Several colleagues cautioned me on the perils of offering services for free. While I agree with them in theory, this was uncharted territory, so I chose to carry on with my 90-day plan.
While this story is far from over with more challenges to conquer, I’m pleased to report this experiment paid off nicely, far exceeding my expectations. 2020 won’t be my best year, but it won’t be my worst, either. Booyah!
TAKEAWAYS FROM MY PIVOT
- Technology is the opening ante in the virtual game.
Many folks obsess over virtual platform choices. Granted, the technology is important and each platform has its pros and cons, especially around UX design. But we’re navigating new territory and the tech front runners will continue to jockey for position. The bigger questions to firm up before exploring platforms: Why are you hosting these virtual meetings? What outcomes are you striving to achieve? How will you leverage digital to engage participants in meaningful ways? (meaningful as defined by participants AND sponsors); How will you measure success? Gather the team and get clear on these first – then go demo a few platforms.
- The richest learning comes from hands-on doing.
Tutorials and study guides will only take you so far. At some point, you need to dive into the deep end of the pool and start swimming. For this experiment, I was fully transparent – this would be a learning opportunity for all of us. Taking on these pro-bono assignments also allowed me to be braver in experimenting with new approaches and virtual elements – something every organization noticed and appreciated. One organization dubbed me “The Zoom Whisperer.”
- Video matters more today.
Whether it’s virtual meetings or crafting marketing messages, video is preferred by most and we need to embrace this. While I managed to McGyver my way through the early learning steps, there came a point where expert help was needed. I had to vet dozens of other “supposed” experts before discovering… Nina Froriep at Clock Wise Productions helped me power up my presence on video. Later, Devin Cathcart and his team at Cathcart Creative produced a series of reels to help me share my story in far more compelling ways. Bottom line: Both experts helped me “swim” faster.
- Every storm has at least one silver lining.
As I studied COVID challenges, breakthrough ideas started to emerge. One was a mash-up of two things I did previously: Focus Groups + Peer-to-Peer Learning. Business dynamics were changing so quickly, organizations needed to test assumptions to make sure the solutions they were building were still in lock-step alignment with what clients valued. As for clients, they were tackling tougher challenges, yet they craved richer peer-to-peer exchanges where they could explore new ideas. With a keen eye on design, I’m now checking off both boxes in one fell swoop and everyone’s delighted.
- Sampling helps clients envision new possibilities.
Now that we’re several months into this pandemic, enduring far too many poorly designed virtual meetings, video fatigue is the new concern. I get it, but few are experimenting and refining design elements to the degree I have over these past few months. So I’m borrowing a page from the Costco playbook – I’m now serving up samples of more dynamic virtual meetings to prospective clients, because once they “get a taste,” they want more.
Now it’s your turn – Are you considering a career pivot? Perhaps to an adjacent field where opportunities are plentiful? What challenges do you need help conquering? What tips would you recommend to fellow pivoters to land on a remarkable and profitable Encore career chapter? Please weigh in with your thoughts in the comments!