How this Ukrainian founder is leading during the crisis

Quoleady turned 2 years old this July. It’s a SaaS content marketing agency that I launched in 2020. I guess it was a bold idea to start a business right when COVID-19 was at its peak. Little did I know of the trials and tribulations that the future had in store for us.

In just 2 years of activity, we had to face the severity of the pandemic and, later, the horrors of the war in Ukraine. We went through both, and I will share what helped us stay afloat, sane, and get our boat into safe waters.

5 steps to building an agency during a crisis

1. Form a winning team

Yes, you can be the jack of all trades when you start out. However, as the business grows, he won’t be physically able to spin all those plates by himself. Losing control of some of the business areas is inevitable. Trusting your team is critical to a successful business.

This is what our conversation with the COO literally looked like on the morning of February 24 at 7 am, as bombs continued to fall here and there:

Me: Hey, are you okay?
DO: Yes, you? I’m going to send emails to all our clients saying that we continue with our business as usual, that there is nothing to worry about.
Me: Awesome, I’ll write the message to the team and send the February payroll.

If you have people on your team who have your back, who are ready to step in and help, who don’t panic in the worst possible situations, you’ve struck gold.

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2. Hug and adjust

The more flexible you are, the easier it will be to run your own business. If you need the security of a stable environment, think twice before opening a business. Running an agency is like a roller coaster ride where one challenge constantly replaces another. One day you lack customers, the next day you lack workers.

You deal with broken ankles, power outages, family issues, burnout, and other misfortunes befalling your team that prevent them from delivering work on time. Clients go bankrupt, cut budgets, become disgruntled and pause work. You can’t stop that from happening. That is just what is hidden under the hood of an agency.

Every morning when you open Slack, it’s like, “Let’s see what goes wrong today.” Your life can get pretty tough pretty quickly if you don’t learn to accept and adapt to the obstacles your business throws at you. On the plus side, if you love a challenge, running an agency is a job that never gets boring.

3. Invest time in your team

Does your team need guidance and further explanation about the process, their role and responsibilities? I had an hour-long conversation with one of our managers that completely changed his approach to work from “we’re probably going to take a break from our work” to “we’re going to start full-time in August.”

Your team does the work, but at the end of the day, the responsibility is all yours.

It is the name of your company that is at stake. Make sure you train your team, set standards, introduce centralized guidelines, and communicate with them regularly to ensure the quality level of work being delivered. I’m an introvert and sometimes I have to force myself to make that extra Zoom call, but trust me, the results are worth it.

4. Disconnect every day

I used to be “on” 24/7. Whether it was a weekend or a workday evening, my mind was gathering social media posts for LinkedIn or writing guidelines for copywriters. I couldn’t stop thinking about work. A year later I realized that I have to close work every night to stay sane. In addition, I also have to switch to “off” mode every weekend.

Now, if I don’t have a speaking event to prepare for, my weekends are 100% work-free. It’s great to also give up your phone for at least a day. I’ve tried it once and it feels amazing, I’ve never felt more refreshed than after that weekend.

It does take some willpower though, if you can do it every weekend, you’re literally a superhero. Remember to take good care of yourself and your mental health, as you’re running a marathon here, not a sprint.

Team Quoleady Rooftop
Quoleady’s team.

5. Niche down

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t scale an agency that doesn’t have a focus. When you say ‘Yes’ to each customer’s request and end up setting up analytics, writing landing page copy, creating links, and running social media ads, then you’re spreading yourself thin and your experience isn’t improving.

The more services you try to provide at the same time, the more your agency’s work will resemble a hamster wheel. Focus is the obvious answer here. Find a couple of things that you and your team are really good at and become the best supplier in the market. For example, our focus is SaaS blogging: we write blog content and build backlinks. We don’t do newsletters, landing pages or social media, even if our clients really request it.

Make sure you have a “plan B” in case a service becomes obsolete. We used to work on HARO releases for our clients, but we had to shut it down because its ROI plummeted and we couldn’t deliver value to our clients with it anymore. Luckily, we had more cards up our sleeves. At the end of the day, losing a serve was quite unfortunate but not critical.

Read more: What is transformational leadership? The theory explained with examples

Build one step at a time

Great people are at the core of every business. Make sure your team feels valued: communicate with them, help them, educate them, support them, guide them, treat them like family, especially when going through difficult times like the war we are facing now.

Whether you’re going through a pandemic, a war, or having a normal day at work, running a business means putting out fires every day. Life is already full of problems that are difficult to solve. When you run a business, you multiply those problems by the number of your employees. Stress is unavoidable. The sooner you learn to deal with it, accept it, and adapt to it, the better your chances of success.

Last but not least, don’t take every opportunity that comes your way. As tempting as it is, narrowing your focus and becoming a niche agency is a much better long-term strategy, especially if you plan to scale your business.

Running an agency is not a walk in the park. It requires a lot of your energy, responsibility, work and dedication. There have been so many times in the last 2 years when I was about to give up and quit. But each time I stand up and move on, one step at a time. You know, when you work hard, nothing can stop you, neither COVID nor war.

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