The first time we found ourselves on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America, we were surprised and humbled and proud. This time, we’re equally surprised but also exhausted and a bit dizzy.
Silver linings as business strategy
Back in 2020, the award was a bright light in a bizarre pandemic world that had shut down for an indeterminant amount of time. But reflecting on the 2019 revenue that landed us on the list, we had a very clear definition of our target clients, our service offerings, and our internal processes and procedures that made our growth so rewarding ‒ as if we were following our own playbook precisely. We were proud of the little team we’d grown from 2 to 20. By the time we received the reward in fall of 2020, it felt like a silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud of uncertainty.
But it did help us inform one critical business decision … we were not going to continue to pursue rapid business growth and expansion. We were going to catch our breath, plateau for a bit, and take care of our people. We were going to weather the storms of a global pandemic, social unrest, and political upheaval together, while investing deeply in our culture, encouraging team members to take sabbaticals or paid time off to care for their physical and mental health, explore conversations around race, gender, equity, and inclusion. And, we were prepared to slow our growth as our entire Event Coordination line of business ground to a halt.
Solutions born of necessity
But the market had different plans for us. Within the space of a week, our events were cancelled, and then suddenly new clients were asking if we could provide digital marketing services across their scale partner programs. In the early stages of the pandemic, our offices were closed. Nobody really knew what was happening, but we knew we were not essential workers and we needed to stay at home and collaborate over Microsoft Teams as much as possible.
So, my husband and I rolled out large sheets of paper across our kitchen counter, found a jar of colored pens, and “white boarded” a more robust digital marketing offering than we currently offered to our small business clients. And, within a matter of days, a new solution was born. It ramped quickly, grew exponentially, and required us to find skill sets we didn’t know we needed.
Storms reveal strengths
Enter pandemic hiring. Between November 2020 and January 2021, our team doubled in size. We hired people we’d never met except over a brief Teams call. We relied on our network of coworkers and colleagues to make the best recommendations and recruit exceptional team members to optimize our vetting processes. Suddenly, we found ourselves managing a team of 40 people and we didn’t know half of them. That may not sound alarming for a larger business, but we were small. And our entire business model was built on a reputation of quality services, deep client relationships, and consistent delivery. Hiring was the easy part. Training and inspiring new team members to uphold those core values and brand vision without being able to look them in the eye or sit beside them to show them our approach, or coach them over a cup of coffee was uncharted territory. It felt unsteady ‒ like trying to captain a ship through stormy waters.
Every time we would crest one wave, another came crashing toward us … another COVID variant, another shooting, another historically significant moment. Our team was struggling socially and emotionally. We were struggling to focus. But the business just kept growing. Our virtual coffee chats and happy hours with our small team turned into “get to know you” events with our expanded team. We partnered with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion expert to chat about difficult topics ranging from racial equality to mental health and white fragility. We sponsored Women in Cloud summits and invited our leadership team to engage in deep learning opportunities so they could in turn empower team members to share their voices. We fostered a community of trust, empathy, and acceptance. And we grew stronger as individuals, as teams, and as a company with each crashing wave.
Speed requires agility
Meanwhile, clients weren’t taking vacations. And the events that typically broke up the fiscal year had turned virtual ‒ literally just another Teams meeting. So, our rhythm of business had no pause. We just continued to work ‒ full speed ahead while waves crashed over the bow. A few months later, our total team member count passed 50. Fifty employees. Nowhere in the wildest stretches of my imagination did I picture 50 team members. We’ve worked hard to get to know everyone. We’ve restructured with a Managing Director and Line of Business Directors. Every Director has a team. Some projects are big enough to require Team Leads. We’re no longer a small mom-and-pop operation. We’ve not only grown, we’ve matured.
There have been overwhelming moments staring into the uncertain sea ahead with a COVID-induced brain fog that makes the simple functions of life ‒ let alone work ‒ difficult. We’ve adopted an “annual business plans make good aspirations” mentality rather than an “annual business plans make a good business roadmap” approach. We’ve adapted to become “go with the flow” leaders rather than “lead with clear direction” leaders. We’ve always erred on the side of “authenticity” vs. “authority.” But we cling to authenticity, transparency, and honesty more than ever. These are turbulent times and people are feeling it from all angles. We are doing our best to be sure everyone has a life jacket stowed conveniently within reach.
I know that isn’t a clear playbook or roadmap to success. But so far it seems to be working in one of the most challenging years for business growth in history. Despite an entire line of business disappearing abruptly, The Odigo Group continues to persevere. And I wish I could tell you we had some brilliant business strategy responsible for our success. In the end, sometimes the next best step in a sea of uncertainty is to take a deep breath and trust the life jackets will keep you afloat.
Sailing toward the horizon
As we look toward 2023, we have a clear vision of a bright horizon with so many opportunities that the only challenge is deciding which to sail toward first. Look for us again next year … we plan to continue sailing the globe toward sustained growth and service expansion.