By Jill Briggs
The attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 was a watershed day for me. Back then I had been unhappy in my job for a long time.
I took that event as an impetus to review, look at my values and think about my purpose in this life.
Out of this self-reflection, I set up my micro-company, Affectus. Since 2001, we have been working hard and energetically consulting in the leadership and development space.
Being rurally based
I am based in Norong, Victoria, 45km west of Albury-Wodonga and 300km north of Melbourne. Our tiny town has no post office and a phone exchange office that probably doesn’t even work anymore! I live in the middle of nowhere on a farm, surrounded by paddocks, trees and grass. I don’t feel any negatives about being rurally located. I can do what I want to do from here – and quite successfully.
I have two employees, one based in Hobart and one who lives 60km south of Norong, near Wangaratta. We have the benefit of a rural lifestyle, but can be anywhere in the country in just a day. We have clients from Darwin to Hobart, working with us to develop their leadership skills.
Our clients have been mainly in the primary industries, but we have some also in the corporate space. We work with government agencies right through to small businesses, teaching skills and inspiring courage where people may fear to tread.
Feeling the effects of COVID-19
Early in 2020, we looked at our calendars and they were full until January 2021. 99% of this work evaporated due to travel restrictions. I could see then that the effects of the virus were going to be bad, not just health-wise, but economically too. The last face-to-face work we did was in South Australia on 6 March 2020 with the fishing and wine industry. We were all left wondering what the future would look like and we didn’t quite know. We still don’t quite know.
However, we got together as a team to think about things at an emotional and financial level: both now and down the track. We spoke about how long the business could survive. We have an emergency reserve, but we were conscious we didn’t want to burn all the fuel to survive so we did some projections about the viability of the business.
We then put the money aspect to one side. We asked, ‘How are we going to feel good about ourselves and our business values at the end of this?’ I had seen someone on social media ask: ‘How will you talk to your children about what you did in COVID-19? Will you feel good about it?’
We were forward looking and knew that people were going to need help, and so we made ‘helping them’ our mantra. We sensed that if the driver for us now was financial – focused on profits – we would have lost a clear sense of who we are and the value we give to people.
In response to this, we set up a free space on our website with short videos, interviews, papers and all kinds of resources. We also set up a fortnightly drinks session on Zoom where past clients and alumni could see and talk to each other in a very organic way. I set this up as a formal thing, but what people have really needed is that light-hearted social connection – we talk and laugh.
And months later, people are still attending. People still need it. People have connected with me to say how valuable that Thursday night social chat is for them. Or saying how important the resources are for them to access in their own time. The response has been great.
It’s been great for our mental health. It’s kept us occupied and fully engaged with our stakeholders. We are not making any money right now, but feel good about ourselves by doing something good for our stakeholders.
I’ll admit I was anxious about COVID-19. My colleagues and family can attest to me being a bit hyper and stressed during the first two weeks of lockdown. I had to have a chat with myself and say, ‘Stick to what you said you were going to do and just get on with it!’
Values make the business
The thing that helped us feel anchored is understanding what our values are. This enabled us to clearly refocus on our core purpose, while we flexed into a new space. Then we can flex out of this when the post-COVID-19 world reveals itself.
The key to maintaining resilience was being very conscious of the people around me.
My anxiety and stress didn’t extend beyond those first two weeks because of the amazing women next to me, my two colleagues. We met more frequently and were the support network for each other to keep our business going.
As tough as this pandemic is and continues to be, there are positives and we need to recognise these. The other day, a ‘bing!’ went off on my calendar telling me I was meant to be at the Albury airport. I was so glad not to be sitting there waiting for the fog to lift so we could take off to Sydney. There are surprising benefits to all this and it’s important to recognise those good things.