I’m old enough to have seen a few downturns, and like my colleagues here at Celero, I’ve been saddened to see many small businesses struggle and even close due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In hard times like these, and in many previous recessions, your margin for error in running your business is small to non-existent. Mistakes that might have been a blip on the screen become magnified, so it’s more important than ever as a small business owner to have an adaptable, flexible plan and work the heck out of it.
A colleague exposed me to a business framework years ago, one that’s stayed with me ever since. When I’m at my best as a leader—and this framework has never done me wrong as an agency owner, a non-profit executive, or in my current role as CMO at Celero—I’m living by the four As.
Our first A is to clearly articulate our goals. Again, this isn’t some set it and forget it business plan. When we began 2020, we had a vision for changing the world by powering small businesses to exponential growth. By March, it was an all-hands-on-deck approach to simply helping them survive the spring and summer.
Whatever your vision, whether you’re moving on a long-term plan or adapting to present challenges, it’s so important to articulate your strategy to every stakeholder, whether that’s your customers, coworkers, or partners. Back in the marketing and advertising world, you could always predict failure of even what seemed the cleverest ideas. Why? Because someone in the room, that person whose voice immediately sobers everyone up, would say, “What’s the strategy?” Any time I heard that, I knew we were doomed. If you have to ask what the strategy is, whatever you’re doing is dead on arrival.
My second A is align. The older I get, the more I realize my own strengths, and sometimes more importantly, my own limitations. We all know where our talents lie, and the smartest people among us know where they don’t. But regardless of any individual’s strengths, we’ve seen the business world evolve from a survival of the fittest mentality to a team sport. It’s true: we’re better together, and it’s so important that once you’ve figured out your strategy and your goals, that you need to align everyone in your ecosystem to what you’re trying to achieve.
The easy metaphor here is the sport of rowing. No one’s ever guaranteed victory, but you can guarantee a loss if each member of your crew isn’t rowing in the same direction and at the same tempo. You can’t have some of your people getting ahead of the others, nor can you leave some behind. Everyone must march together and head to the same place.
My third A is accelerate. Each of these As feed off each other. When you articulate, it’s much easier to get alignment among your team. And when you have a clearly defined strategy that’s understood and embraced by all, you position yourself to reach your goals faster.
Think about it: how often do we end up wasting precious time that could be spent achieving other successes by forgetting our strategy or not getting everyone on board with how we’ll accomplish it? The fact is, when everyone understands the mission and wants to do their share and collaborate, our work is naturally more efficient and thus we move through each stage more quickly and reach our end point with time to spare.
Furthermore, there are other ways to accelerate toward meeting your goals. Throwing down the hammer is dependent on your ability to leverage the right tactics to achieve your mission. For some of you, that might mean procuring some new software, getting some fresh training, or developing a winning sales or advertising campaign. There’s not a one-size-fits-all winning formula, so success comes to those who know the right levers to pull for their businesses.
My final A is the foundation for everything we do. It’s something I especially love about our culture at Celero and how our people live it, and it works for businesses of all sizes. My fourth A is accountability.
When you’re accountable, you make everyone else more efficient. When teammates can trust each other to own and execute on their respective pieces of any plan, accountability, by nature, makes the team more efficient, more productive, and more fulfilled. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you can accomplish virtually any goal you see before you, and you have this feeling because you know your team will own and execute time after time. It’s great when you’re on the team, and a simply unbeatable feeling as a leader.
As a small business owner, you should know that this stuff works. The four As are nearly universal in application, whether you’re developing a new product or service, embarking on a marketing campaign, or working to implement new operational processes or technologies. The for As are effective whether you’re bringing together a cross-functional group of employees or collaborating with external partners.
Always articulate, align, and accelerate to achieve success—and above all else, be accountable. So many of the challenges you face in business will be difficult. They become much easier to scale and solve when you put yourself in position to succeed instead of becoming your own worst enemy.
Best wishes to all of you as you continue to battle market conditions related to COVID-19. We are truly in this together.