I am not going to mince words here: 2020 was a sh*tty year for me personally and professionally. I am sure that comes as no surprise to many who experienced the same thing. However, this year taught me some invaluable lessons. Lessons in grace, lessons in patience, lessons in fear, and lessons in resilience. But most importantly, I learned how integrally important it is to have the right business partner.
The History – Pre-2020
Liz Mason and I have been working together since 2016 but met long before that as CPAs in the same public accounting firm. While we had a bit of a bumpy start, we came to respect each other immensely. Since that time, the two of us started multiple businesses and consistently grew 200% year over year. Growth comes with growing pains, but it always makes things easier when the trend is positive. Entering into a business partnership is not so different than a marriage. You need to trust that person with your money, you need to trust that person enough to be vulnerable about your weaknesses, and you need to trust that person will celebrate your wins just as much as their own. More than anything, you need to trust that person wants you to be the best version of yourself, even though the process to get there might often result in conflict. Liz and I laid a solid foundation during these good times, and I had no idea until this year how incredibly important that was.
2020 started with a bang, but not the good kind. Toward the end of 2019, we made some decisions that led to an unavoidable internal dispute. I will not go into detail, but it was ugly, messy, and expensive. Then, before the dispute was even close to resolved, COVID hit. We closed our office, delayed new hires, and re-tooled our approach to embrace a 100% virtual environment. Then, as a result of conference cancellations, Liz and I both lost very prominent domestic and international speaking engagements. Then, a client who owed our firm a substantial amount declared bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Liz and I were dealing with our own personal struggles. We both had children and husbands who were wildly unprepared for a post-COVID world. Both of us, who used to travel 2-3 weeks a month, were stuck at home indefinitely. Suddenly, simply trying to maintain our company culture, growth, and personal sanity became a significant challenge.
It is very tempting to go into a hole, to want to shut the blinds and hide. But as a business owner, you don’t have that option. It is a delicate balance to keep employees informed but not rile anxieties; to stay strong but remain human and approachable. This is where our individual strengths really began to shine.
Despite all the fallout from COVID, Liz trusted me to start up yet another business on the precarious side of raising capital. I trusted Liz’s leadership and strategic vision to carry us through rough waters. Liz trusted me to manage our cash flow so we could keep humming along. I trusted Liz to continue to make valuable new hires, even during times when cash was tight and the future uncertain.
However, the most valuable part for me was the emotional support. When I was worried about the business or employee issues, I could not just go to friends and family to discuss it. My friends and family were dealing with their own issues, and I did not want to create further stress for them. During some of the times I felt the most alone during 2020, I turned to Liz. Liz turned to me. However, we would not have accomplished this if we had not first built that incredibly solid foundation on love and understanding.
Lessons Learned from my Business Soulmate
The biggest lessons I learned in 2020 were the following:
- If you think in a mindset of scarcity, you will always live in a world of scarcity.
There is a really overused expression that goes, “What if I fall? Oh, my dear, but what if you fly”? Like the voice of Oz, this is the “voice of Liz” that rang through my head throughout 2020. She reminded me that mindset and outlook have just as much success as hard work and competence. I sincerely believe that you create the world you live in because the universe responds to the energy you put out. If you decide that fear and uncertainty will dominate your reality, they will.
If instead, you accept uncertainty and expect prosperity, I challenge you to see how much the world changes for you. Do you have a partner who encourages you to embrace the unknown? Do you have a partner who shows you even your biggest dreams can be bigger?
- Trust in those who have earned it, then lean on them when you need it.
There was a good portion of 2020, where I was not sharing my grief or struggles with anyone. I was personally going through a hard time with my husband, adjusting to COVID and being at home, and remote learning for my step-daughter. I knew my employees needed my strength and reassurance, but I struggled with the emotional weight of running multiple businesses. I also felt an immense amount of personal pressure to make the newest venture successful during COVID. I was emotionally ragged, to say the least. Then, I turned to Liz. She knew exactly what I was going through on multiple levels. Her support and similar vulnerability during this time truly made all the difference for me.
However, what is more important here is that I could lean on my business partner. We never criticized each other’s perceived shortcomings. Rather we reminded each other of our incredible talents and value. We reassured each other that together we could tackle anything. We reminded each other that there were tough times before, there will be tough times again, and negativity is never the answer. The strange thing is, the more I pulled myself out of my dark hole, the more opportunities I recognized all around me.
If you are reading this and thinking, “I could not ever be that vulnerable with my business partner,” why is that? Is it because they are fundamentally untrustworthy? Are you worried about rejection or lack of understanding? If the question to either is, “yes,” have you reflected on why are you in business with this person or whether the relationship could change?
- Value yourself and what you bring to the table. When in doubt, ask your partner to remind you.
It is very tempting during difficult times to make concessions for clients who are also struggling. We all want to provide good client service, and we sincerely care for our clients. But particularly as the outsourced accounting/CPA firm, we have far more insight into our client’s financial position than most vendors. This puts us in a difficult position at times. Our clients know we know where they are financially. Because of this, we are frequently the first stop on the road to “lowering costs” or “extending payment terms” because “we understand.” However, Liz repeatedly reminded me to focus on the value we bring our clients. Without us, they would not have the insight into even knowing where they can cut costs. Without us, they would not know how to adjust financially to get out of the cost-cutting cycle.
When I was considering trading my personal value for client happiness, Liz reminded me that all this does is transfer the responsibility and strain of that business owner to us. We intentionally plan very far in advance to avoid any such issues. We consistently advise and assist our clients in doing the same. We should not be lowering our value simply because times are tough at another business for reasons entirely outside of our control.
So I ask you – does your partner build you up or constantly drain your energy? Does your partner just agree with you or help you to work through your own hang-ups?
As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, albeit one that will likely look very different than previous years, I am so thankful to have Liz as my business soulmate. I do not think I would be heading into the end of the year with (*gasp*) a sincerely positive outlook without her. Times like this almost demand a re-evaluation. Who in your life supports you rather than brings you down? Who reminds you of your value when you have forgotten what it is? Who shows you the opportunity when all you see is scarcity? These are the people to foster in your life. Choose carefully. They may have much more impact on your future than you realize.
So – thank you, Liz Mason, for all of your support this year, and cheers to a much brighter 2021!