We talked to Allison Bran of REX, an internationally award-winning marketing agency in Vancouver, and here is what she said about it.
How have you adapted personally and professionally during COVID?
Allison Bran: Family management was on top of mind because our old schedule no longer worked. Both my husband and I had to come up with a plan to adapt to the new-time requirements and sudden work-from-home adjustments.
Professionally, I connected with my network of entrepreneurs in diverse business groups to talk about how we were all adapting in different areas of our business. This gave me an opportunity to learn from them and find out how I can help. It gave me a reason to intentionally research solutions to help my business network, and through helping my group, I helped myself.
I then turned to my team– my work family. We started incorporating a “morning stand-up” that allowed us to connect first thing in the morning since we were all working remotely. It was a great way to instantly know how the team was doing mentally.
To sum it up, I had to ask myself, “who were my communities?” and “how can we take care of each other?” I had to figure out the pulse of the people in order to take the next steps.
Tell us about you, your career journey, and how you started REX.
Allison Bran: I didn’t actually set out to become an entrepreneur – I set out to support them.
My love affair with marketing, brand, and business started from a curiosity about what makes entrepreneurs tick. I discovered a talent for understanding their vision and expressing that.
REX was born in 2017 when I’d reached the limits of my capacity as a solo consultant. I needed a team to keep following my passion for building brands that make a difference in the world while pursuing my desire to grow our family from one to two kids. It took 3 years to figure out how to turn ‘my approach’ into ‘our approach’. Now, we are so much better together than I ever was on my own.
How does REX continue to innovate?
Allison Bran: Every successful innovation we’ve ever had was born from seeing a problem and curiously seeking a way to solve it.
We had a sold-out launch of an online course during COVID. It came from noticing a consistent problem for small businesses that had grown to their max potential with their DIY marketing; they were successful and big enough to need help with strategy but still too small to afford an agency, so we decided to teach marketing strategy for small businesses.
Everything good comes back to being genuinely curious, and I believe that every business that solves people’s problems will succeed.
How did COVID affect REX, and how did you as a leader cope?
Allison Bran: The bottom fell out of the bucket in the second quarter of 2020. COVID was hard on the mental health of the team. We lost clients and contracts. It was scary.
As a leader, my team was #1. I knew the answer to surviving COVID was in our ability to stick together and help other companies survive it and find their opportunity. I was willing to lose everything but the team.
We were very transparent about ‘COVID life’ and business challenges as a team and that kept our foundation strong. Q3 was still tough but we just kept showing up. Momentum built that led to massive growth in Q4 and our best quarter ever in the history of the agency.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what were the lessons learned?
Allison Bran: So many. I had to make difficult choices between family and work priorities, risky pivots, cutting costs without cutting the team, and just simply the choice to keep pushing when things looked bleak. I decided I needed to be vulnerable about the challenges as a leader but knew I still had to strike confidence in my team so that was a new challenge. Looking back now, what I would say is, honesty and vulnerability is never the problem as long as you don’t bring the drama with it. You can be vulnerable and bring the team a vision to follow.
How did you pivot during COVID?
Allison Bran: We continually adapted to the different requirements business owners had during the early days of COVID and the new ways they needed to be helped. We listened to our clients and ended up helping them with non-marketing communication projects: HR, culture, team engagement, crisis management, operational changes. We noticed they needed us to take a holistic approach and understand a new scope to the problem. Building brands from the inside out is really part of our makeup so this was a challenge we were ready for. We ultimately just had to solve clients’ business problems and stop thinking of ourselves as a “marketing & branding agency” in that silo.
Two tangible pivots we made early on were the launch of The Small Business Marketing Gap course and a ‘Done-With-You’ Marketing Mentorship program, to reduce our full-service fees. The course was a successful pivot, the Marketing Mentorship wasn’t, but we learned tons and became better problem solvers. That helped us to identify a gap on the full-service agency side of the business.
As a result, we’ve added a new department, new service, and almost doubled our team and business volume since November of 2020. It sounds like a great story when I reflect back in hindsight, and it is but every pivot has been a risk. Some pay off, some don’t. We just keep trying to solve problems for clients and here we are.
Any advice you’d give to business owners that are currently struggling during COVID?
Allison Bran: There are 3 entities that you need to take care of to make a business work:
- The business and its sustainability
- The team and what matters to them
- The audience and what matters to them
When a business is struggling, it means one or more of these zones isn’t getting what they need. COVID has changed the landscape for most people. Maybe what matters to your team or audience is different now? Be curious. Understanding the problem is the first step to solving it.
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