It was just a few years ago that all of the performing arts industry was looking into the great abyss. All types of articles were written every day about this organization or that organization shuttering their doors due to the economy. Quite frankly, our business was hit just as hard as the industry as well as every other small business during the Great Recession.
In hind sight, I look at this dire period as one of the greatest things that could have ever happened to our business!
Just like a lot of other businesses during the “good ole days”, I hate to admit, we got comfortable. Before the recession, we were selling advertising, picking up some new business here and there and holding our own and not really paying attention to the bottom line. We figured any hiccup could be covered up with more sales but not by working smarter, but by hiring more people. And by hiring more people we needed more equipment, so we bought more workstations, phones, etc. Then the floor fell out from under us!
At the time, this was probably one of the worst times of my life. We had two options—suck it up and hit it head on, or quite frankly, walk away. I can tell you, we are not quitters, so we decided to hit it head on. We brought in two professional financial firms, figured out a plan and implemented it. We had to make some very painful decisions that affected the livelihoods of our employees and our families, and it was hard.
But guess what? We survived, and this is why this was one of the greatest things that ever happened to our business. Today we watch every dollar we spend, and we have weekly cash flow meetings so that we can be proactive instead of reactive. We have the fewest number of employees we ever had but are getting more productivity out of each and every one of us. And, when sales are hitting their weekly goals, everyone at our company enjoys a 4 day work week but gets paid for 5! We also meet with our financial consultants quarterly. We’re still digging out, but we are so much stronger than we ever were.
And this is what brings me to the headline—Focus Your Attention And Energy On The Stuff That Matters! If you are a performing arts organization, it would behoove every one of you to re-watch (or watch for the first time) the video blog form Lowell Noteboom presented by The League Of American Orchestras below. During the Great Recession, we actually picked up more business than we ever had because these organizations started to finally realize that program books are not their focus and that there was much more important stuff to concentrate their efforts on. However, today I am starting to hear more and more a tinge of the “good ole days!” On my daily calls I am hearing more and more “we’re good with our program books, things are going great.” You can even see it in the headlines of newspapers and all the industry magazines “record breaking donations.” These are the organizations that are going to be scrambling when the next big one hits. But everyone who acts like it’s three years ago, and like the floor is falling out from under them, and focus their attention and energy on the stuff that matters will continue to be great! Summarizing Lowell,
- Get the right people on the bus, with everyone in the right seats.
- Foster a culture of discipline, with disciplined leaders, thought and action.
- Focus your energy and attention on the stuff that really matters.