How I Saved and Scaled My Business After the Last Financial Crisis

Apr 14, 2023

In 2008, when the last global financial crisis hit, I had recently founded a consulting firm servicing Fortune 500 legal departments.

As a first-time entrepreneur, it was naturally a time full of uncertainty and instability, but then made much worse as the true scale of that crisis began to unfold.

Over the next few years, I struggled under the weight of constant stress and worry, and at times suffered from gripping anxiety and depression.

Ultimately, I hit the wall in late-2012 after years of barely coping through copious amounts of caffeine, and antidepressants and numbing myself at night with alcohol.

But now I see how my hitting bottom laid the foundation for a complete turnaround in the business in ways that led to our growing into a thriving multimillion-dollar enterprise.

Here, I want to share some perspective on how I survived and thrived in the aftermath of 2008 and share the lessons I learned during that time.

As the current Covid-19 pandemic turns into a global economic and business crisis of a similar scale to the one 12 years ago, I hope my perspective proves relevant and useful to seasoned and first-time entrepreneurs alike.

The crisis of 2008, as many will remember, was an incredibly challenging period. It was full of rapid change and contraction, which naturally led to a lot of confusion and fear among both individuals and organizations.

It was also challenging, as most financial crises are, because of increased competition for fewer opportunities.

However, what I learned was that there are also hidden opportunities for entrepreneurs in troubled times like these: opportunities to grow, develop, strengthen your team, and acquire new customers in ways that you would not have been able to prior to the crisis.

So here are my top 3 opportunities for entrepreneurs, CEOs, and senior leaders to capitalize on right now.


1. Gain Clarity and Creativity


First and foremost, this is your opportunity to get very clear about the central core of your business. By this, I mean:

  • What problem do you solve for your customers?
  • How do you solve it for them uniquely?
  • Who are the specific customers you can most help?

However, it’s not just enough to get clear on the problems you solve; you also need to know how you solve them uniquely. How do you solve these problems in a way that no one else can?

This last question really is key because, as we saw before, in the aftermath of crises like 2008, you see the 3 Cs: Confusion, Constriction, and Change. This causes companies and customers alike to reconsider what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and who they’re working with as they seek to cut back on non-essential expenditures.

Therefore, it is critically important to get very clear about two key things:

  1. How you uniquely solve the problem for your customers,
  2. How do you articulate that value proposition to both existing and prospective customers (in other words, how do you show that your business is essential for your customers).

A silver lining to all of the uncertainty and change is that it can be an opportunity to get creative about many areas of your business and your clients’ challenges, and think outside the box like never before.


2. Get Connected and Contribute More 


The second clear opportunity is to develop and deepen connections both with your customers and within your own team.

After the last crisis, I committed to connecting with customers more frequently and on a deeper and more personal level. It proved to be much more effective than just focusing on selling, as many organizations naturally do out of fear in times of crisis.

By reconnecting, I mean being available and showing up for them, remaining connected, and really empathizing with their situations, whatever role they are in, whether they’re a C-level executive or a rank-and-file employee at your customer's company. Bear in mind, this is much simpler now than it was in 2008 thanks to advances in communication technology.

This approach meant that in all the uncertainty and change following 2008, I was able to re-establish my relationship with our customers from a place of trust and understanding, rather than fear and suspicion. I was also able to re-establish our value to them and show them how we could help solve their problems in new and unique ways.

Building connections within your own organization similarly requires both very courageous leadership and openhearted, transparent conversations among your team. This is a great opportunity for honesty, and for sharing both the challenges and opportunities that you face. It is also crucial in order to create and realize the third opportunity, as we’re about to see.


3. Increase Resilience


The third opportunity is to focus on getting stronger and more resilient, both as an organization and—especially for founders and senior executives—as individuals.

Resilience for an organization means looking at how best to leverage everybody's unique skill sets but doing so without burning the team out.

The reality is that the impact of the crisis may require a reduction in staffing levels, meaning that there will be fewer people to do more things. Therefore, it's critically important to bring out the best in everyone and ensure they are recovering sufficiently to offset the increased work and stress that comes with it.

Doing so will likely require the honest and open conversations that we spoke about in point 2, in order to work out who’s best to handle which particular projects or tasks.

This is also a great opportunity to really listen to members of your team that work closely with the clients and to give them the chance to identify new ways to serve customers in creative and innovative ways that perhaps you hadn’t considered before.

Remember, this is a time of change and upheaval anyway and so it could be the best time to try novel approaches. This also means that clients may now be more receptive to creative ideas that they previously might not have been.

It’s also critically important to encourage and support your team to focus on their own stamina and well-being.

I mentioned that it is especially key for founders and executives to do this, not because they face more stress than other employees necessarily, but because they can lead from the front to encourage everyone to explore ways to better manage stress, elevate energy and accelerate recovery from what realistically will be a real grind during the crisis.

Some options that I discovered really helped our team was offering a dedicated yoga class just for our team, as well as planning regular off-site team-building adventures (for us in Colorado this included whitewater rafting in the summer and skiing or snowshoeing in the winter).

This could be something as simple as encouraging everyone on the team to practice some sort of mindful meditation or regular exercise. Sleep is crucial too, and ensuring that you and your team are able to get sufficient sleep - both at night and even with brief naps during the day - is critical to being able to reset and renew on a daily basis.

By encouraging and supporting your team’s recovery through this, you will likely see not only improvements to their ability to cope but also in their output, productivity, and satisfaction.

The change and uncertainty of crisis require more of all of us, yet some simple changes and practices can make all the difference in being able to withstand those strains and not just survive but thrive.


It’s Your Turn


These are challenging times and are only likely to get more challenging in the coming months and years. However, as I learned from my own experience during the last global financial crisis, they can also be times of great opportunity for your business. After my own experience of hitting bottom, I was able to grow my business into a thriving multimillion-dollar enterprise and I did it through the three things we saw here:

  • Gaining clarity and creativity
  • Getting connected and contributing more
  • Increasing resilience

And you can do it too!

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