Trimming the Fat .. 2021
One of the lessons learned in 2020 was that we need to look at our businesses with a microscope. Where are we profitable? Where are we not? What do we do that just spins our wheels and where are we actually seeing our agency move forward? Where do we Trim the Fat?
The Free Dictionary Language Forum describes Trimming the Fat as:
“…. you cut away, and get rid of, the fat – the wasteful, unnecessary parts of your organization. You keep just the most important, most profitable parts. You might have heard the metaphor of the business being ‘lean’.”
So with much thought, several meetings and deep soul searching, we started to see where the fat was. Starting with customers and on through to our Interpreters, staff and vendors. We also went one step further and looked at the ethics of who we dealt with. What/who were we supporting and who did we want to associate with daily?
This process was incredibly enlightening. And telling. Who caused us unnecessary time and stressors on a daily basis? Was where we put the majority of our time well placed? Did we/could we make a difference there? And what was the original reason the agency was started? Everything needed to circle back to that and if our time wasn’t spent directed there, we needed to ‘trim the fat’..
It is scary. It takes everyone being on board. However once those cuts were made this year, it was incredibly freeing. We were now able to better serve our customers. To be a better support to our Interpreters and each other. We also found the time to search out new customers, new Interpreters, offer additional services and go back to the reason we all came to work in the first place.
Which was: To raise the bar on what we offered our customers, consumers and Interpreters. To serve all with excellence and professionalism.
Being lean might even mean being smaller, but more empowered, healthier and definitely happier!
My Dad used to quip “Hunger is a great motivator” – and it truly was for me. One way to feed that physical hunger was faking it when needed. And it all started before I was even old enough to drive…
At 15 years old I had to leave school and I needed to have gainful employment. At that point in time you needed to be 16 in order to have working papers and/or be 18 in NY State to be eligible to work. However there were many places to apply for work that never asked for IDs, much less working papers. You only needed to fill out an application with your date of birth and social security number.
So at 15 I became (on applications), an 18 year old recent high school graduate and learned quickly how to ‘fake it’. I learned how to make myself look older by putting up my hair and being heavy handed with make up. I also learned that your self confidence and demeanor went a long way to being taken seriously. If you looked 18 and spoke as though you just graduated high school, it was believed you were.
This unfortunately followed me for much of my work life. My first job was as a waitress, my next was a receptionist. When the Bookkeeper at the office became ill and they needed someone to fill in, I took a crash course from the business’s CPA and took over her duties. She never came back, so I never returned to the reception desk – instead I remained covering her duties and then some. At 19 I was given the title of Office Manager. On paper I was now a company Manager with a background in accounting.
Learning on the job became a way of life. As a single mother and needing to survive, I quickly realized that there were multiple ways to gain ‘education’ in the workplace. I always had a second or third job selling things. I gleaned much selling Tupperware, Mary Kay, Avon …and the list goes on. Being successful with each of these was always predicated by having the persona that I had ‘made it’… when you act it, it’s believable.
And so my resume went on… I did eventually finish my education; high school, college and the school of hard knocks. Through street smarts. By spending thousands of hours reading everything I could get my hands on. By hanging out with successful people that I wanted to emulate. Watching. Learning – that’s how we move from ‘Faking it’ .. to ‘Making it‘ … and not having to ever feel that I was faking it again – – – until Covid.
Covid felt like being kicked back into those days of not knowing how to ‘do this’..but in 2020 I somehow learned. How to do business – how to do life through all of this unrest. And then 2021 was just around the corner. How did I ‘make it’ this year with so much unknown? What is looming ahead? Again I needed a game plan. Eventually I thought of all those decades of having to act like something I wanted to be and then finding a way to do it.
I finally knew how to approach this new year. Using that same strategy of ‘living it’ and expecting that I will ‘make it’ … I will throw myself into the norm – working on my business and personally working on myself. I will work out every day. I will wake every morning, dress in professional clothes and do my hair and makeup. I will venture out as much as safely possible and ‘fake’ normalcy until it returns. I know how to do this and eventually ‘make it’ back to where we all want to be. That ‘hunger’ for all the normalcy we need so much in life again – will be my motivator.
Puts new meaning into Happy New Year…
Three years ago I made this my mantra. It was in response to pushing myself further. Better physical health, emotional health, improved lifestyle. I was fiercely determined not to become complacent with each milestone – hence;
I did not come this far, to only come this far.
I feel it with the Covid vaccine, finally in our hands. We are all so worn down from pushing through. Not having an end date, not having any glimmer of hope. All of the news media is geared to pull you in so that you will hear their agenda, watch their advertisers, increase their ratings. Bad news is good news for them – it becomes mesmerizing, no matter how horrific. We rubbernecked to each platform of doom.
Eventually many of us just turned off popular media – – we just couldn’t take it anymore. Then news of the vaccine hit, and I turned the news back on. And all I saw – on my tv, computer and in my newspaper was – “The vaccine is here, but it’s still dire, the vaccine is here, but it’s still catastrophic”…I felt the excitement of the vaccine was being sucked away with – ‘It’s still bad news – so keep watching, keep reading’….
Later walking through my condo I saw that mantra that I had plastered everywhere three years ago now back in the forefront. On my screensavers, my phone wallpaper, physically on the wall in my workout room – but now it meant something different. Now it was relating to this last push through the pandemic.
It was a reminder that we cannot stop. Emotionally or physically doing the right things – we need to still stay safe of course and follow those guidelines. But even more importantly, we need to keep ourselves physically strong – because this IS going to end and we especially need to keep ourselves mentally and emotionally strong – because this IS going to end. And we want to be able to enjoy life and take it all in once we move into a more normal existence.
The segue was there. Plan to go further by envisioning the future. My son and his wife have started to plan a dream vacation for the end of 2021. Many of my close friends are planning their 2021 holiday parties. Others are planning mask burning parties…Whatever might keep you pushing forward to all the good that’s to come…
This is how we are ‘not stopping at how far we’ve come’ – We have stayed isolated, missed our friends and family, given up shopping, restaurants, gyms – our places of worship – in order to do the right thing and to stay healthy. Pushing through these next few months will be like running the last mile in a marathon – who runs that far only to give up a mile before the cheers, the medal around your neck? The hugs of those celebrating your victory?
I did not come this far, to only come this far. And neither did you. Happy end of 2020 – welcome 2021!
It feels like this year has been a year of nothing but waiting. The worst waiting has to do with Covid. Waiting for what’s next. Waiting for test results, waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for this God awful situation to be over.
Waiting for jobs to come back, for businesses to regain ground – for the economy to bounce back. To not wear a mask ever again. To tell our kids they can go back to school, to sports, to playing with their friends.
Waiting to tell our teenagers they can just be normal kids again. Go to school events, partake in their sports, hang out, party – be normal.
Waiting to hug our parents/grandparents/grandkids.. waiting to hug. Period.
The worst waiting I’ve ever done was battling cancer. Waiting for the results. Blood tests, scans, biopsies. And it continued years after the cure. My family would collectively hold it’s breath each time. The 3 month mark, 6 month, 1 year – …and it continued. Until one day. As I stopped living, focused on nothing until I had a test result, my father gently took me aside. And firmly put a stop to all of it.
“You cannot keep living your life one test result to the next, only breathing freely on the in between. Because life can bring you the best and the worst in any millisecond and this is no way to live..”
I look back at that remark, over twenty years ago and now see how much I missed. How much wasted time I invested while crouching in the corner, cradling my knees, holding my breath…
Don’t let the waiting..whatever it is you are waiting for – steal one more millisecond of life – of joy – of beauty..no matter how fleeting that may be. It may be all we have to hold onto for the moment.
All of this – will one day be our past.
My physician keeps all of her patients updated on health issues related to Covid19 via regular emails. This morning the top article was ‘Doomscrolling or Doomsurfing’ and how it impacts our emotional and physical being.
Doomscrolling is exactly what you think it is – scrolling through upsetting and negative articles related to the virus. Reading everyone’s arm chair philosophies and opinions. Repeatedly viewing the sensationalized reports, worst case scenarios and graphics that pull us in as if we’re rubbernecking at a highway accident.
Obviously an unhealthy behavior. This also holds true for businesses. As a business owner it’s easy to get caught into this same pattern. Scanning the business pages to try and glean some economists prediction for how bad this is going to get. How long before we recover and how many months/years will businesses need to build back up to pre-Covid status.
Between Instagram/Facebook/Twitter- it’s been a nonstop manifest of small businesses closing. The heartbreaking reality of your neighbors shutting down and the everyday concern of how this roller coaster may affect your business. For those or us that came through the first wave intact, what happens if a second wave hits? So – enough!!! Doomsday thinking has no benefit to our businesses and certainly not to us personally.
So. We can’t control Covid, but we can control our mindset and actions. Many small businesses have done that by reinventing themselves. Others like ours has learned to adapt to the needs of our customers. Keeping the positivity and ingenuity in the forefront is what keeps you going.
First, count your blessings. For us it was a healthy workforce. We did not lose anyone to the virus and people are remaining healthy. Next, what is it you’re doing right and how is that moving you forward? We went after new customers. Which sounds counter intuitive in the times when shut downs were happening all around us. However it paid off big for us.
Lastly, take stock of what you can do and not what’s being done ‘to you’ ..(because of Covid). Change. And start with changing your thinking. My Mom used to say ‘Don’t mourn the living’ … meaning don’t put yourself in a doomsday mindset before something bad even takes place. We cannot change what’s happening around us, but we can change our outlook and actions. Here’s to our brighter tomorrow!
You’ve seen it on social media, you’re heard it in Zoom video meetings. Everyone in business wants to know what you’ve learned during a pandemic. Everyone also wants optimism, but I think as well we need to be honest. And sometimes it’s sharing the darkness (wounds) that begets the (wisdom) dawn.
So this isn’t a ‘feel good’ piece, but a realistic one. As a small business owner, this is what I’ve learned..
How to listen and hear the fear and share my fears.
I’ve learned what true vicarious trauma and PTSD is for Interpreters.
Swallow my pride and accept support wherever I can find it.
Open up about my personal life regardless of my comfort level, because at times like this, people need to see your humanness, not just your strength.
Become really uncomfortable at times about what your business needs to become and what it will look like ‘on the other side’
Fight for every hour of work you can acquire, every new customer and every staff/Interpreter.
You can stop paying yourself while you let your business heal, even if it’s just for a few weeks.
Pray. You better be willing to pray to whoever and whatever you want to..if it’s just the universe, pray. It’s cathartic, it’s powerful, it’s necessary. If you aren’t praying for your business, your people, your customers you need to.
And lastly, to be grateful. We have so much. Starting with health, homes, food, comforts. There is always something to be thankful for even in the midst of ‘head in the pillow’ crying and frustration.
What lessons have I learned? Dark ones, humbling ones and hope. When I thought it had disappeared.
My staff have said repeatedly how lucky we are that we have been working virtually the last few years and not having the ‘learning curve’ of so many other small businesses. I feel there were so few resources for us when we were planning to go virtual, I’d like to share a few tidbits of information that I hope help other small businesses as they make this transition…
Technology – we were already using Voice over internet phones, which meant only removing the physical phones from our office suite and staff taking them home. If you are new to VOiP phones they literally work like landlines, only each individual phone can be plugged into the internet virtually anywhere. When the phones ring, they ring simultaneously to all phones connected to your system – meaning staff may answer any calls, intercom each other, set up 3 way calls, etc. We have ours set up to send messages from our phones to our individual emails so that we can ‘play’ them from our emails if we are away from our physical phones.
Zoom – We were a big user of ichat when it was available. Once that platform was no longer available, we searched for a way to keep all of the staff connected. Zoom was the answer – it has a chat feature and a video feature – AND is very securely encrypted. That means you have the instant ability to ‘chat’ with each other during the day, leave up ‘away’ messages when you’re away from your desk and safely communicate throughout the day. We use zoom video for staff meetings and then record them for any staff that might be out that day. We have even had Zoom video ‘Happy Hours’ for the staff at the end of the week so that they can connect with each other on a personal level, bring in their kids, spouses, pets, etc and catch up on a personal level. So important right now.
Other technology such as DocuSign, online fax services, databases, online accounting software – all keep us able to effectively and seamlessly work virtually. Please contact me for any suggestions.
Now…getting through the Covid19 crisis. For all small business owners it is a real and present danger to our businesses. Just getting through the first few surreal days was like walking through mud – hard to focus, unable to see the future and just trying to calm everyone’s fears. Now that we’ve had a week or so to breathe…here are some things that have really helped us.
Lastly, we are small business owners. We already know how to do the impossible – build something from nothing. While we ‘figure this out’ – the same way we figured out how to build out business, remember – we will. We need to be talking to each other and supporting each other in any way we can – now is not the time to keep your ‘trade secrets’ close to the chest or to hold onto important information that can help others. It’s time to be in this together. My email is email@example.com – contact me and I’d love to be a resource for anyone struggling right now or looking for answers.
My family had a stereo that was bigger than most coffee tables. It was prominently under our picture window and the focus of a television-less living room. When I was only 7 years old, my sister, brother and I kneeled in front of that centerpiece and listened to the crackling speech of Dr. Martin Luther King..talk about his having a dream….
This was especially significant in my household. I grew up in the countryside of a small upstate New York town of approximately 20,000. As far as I knew, we were the only household that held anyone of color – other than the ‘farm hands’ down the road – who only lived there during planting or harvest season. I never thought of them ‘having a dream’ … until my parents used that teachable moment to implant into me what those dreams were..and not through the black men that worked the fields past our yard, but the babies that graced the tiny nursery – down the hall from where I quietly listened to Dr. King speak.
My parents were in their late 20s when they were told they could have no more children. Heartbroken over a stillbirth, my mother implored my father to have them become foster parents. To infants and only infants – and there were plenty, as this was pre Roe vs Wade and there were many newborns in need of temporary care – and a real need for babies of color. (What’s important to understand here is that my parents were the only foster parents in our county that would ‘accept’ babies of color).
Once my parents were vetted as fitting foster parents, my sister and I in were moved in together, to empty a bedroom that would become the nursery. They decorated and furnished the room, fully aware what infants would need. Also fully expecting sleepless nights and multiple feedings, colic and diaper rash.
What they did not expect was the bigotry and hatred that would become a part of our daily lives. My mother’s only thought was to fill their hearts with the newborns they could no longer have themselves.
At age seven I first heard my mother called a ‘n’ lover by a stranger as she pushed a baby carriage through a department store. By eight I had heard her called ‘foster Mammy’ so many times I thought it was a term of endearment by the neighbors .. and by nine a school bus driver forced my brother and I to sit at the back of the bus. “(If we wanted so bad to be ‘one of them’, we could sit where they should sit).”
All I knew is that these were my temporary baby brothers and sisters – that I helped feed and bathe, hold and play with. I felt the excitement every time the social worker laid a fresh new baby in my mother’s arms and shared the tears when months later they took them away to meet their newly adopted parents. I saw my parent’s hearts filled and broken dozens of times over the next few years, simultaneously creating a purpose and peace.
For my siblings and myself however, it created chaos. There were countless days of running off the school bus and into my parents arms..searching for the ‘why’ of the relentless harassment.
In their quiet way my parents taught us is that we were privileged to have each innocent angel share our home and that in our house we held our heads high and our hearts open. My parents taught us via the responsibility and the honor of becoming foster parents -and the lessons that came as side effects.
Looking back now as an adult I can see how this all began to chart a road into my adulthood. To becoming an Interpreter and then owning Empire Interpreting Service. My love of people, always seeing it from the perspective that everyone was, in the beginning, an innocence – placed in a mother’s arms. And the lesson taught of respecting other cultures/values and the ability to truly see that everyone deserves to ‘have a dream’… starting in the nursery.
I have always described our business operations as ‘horizontal’ – I first quipped this phrase when asked how the hierarchy of the business functioned. Lost for words, as this was not how we functioned, a picture of us all being on the same plane or as a ‘horizontal’ staff formed in my mind.
“We are a horizontal business..there is no hierarchy” was my reply. What I meant was that we all can handle the day to day – we all answer the phones, book jobs, sign on new customers and handle support for both customers and Interpreters.
This does not mean that everyone knows how to handle the accounting, however there is more than one person that can handle the books, payroll and pay bills. This also means that the administrative duties I handle as business owner can be handled by other staff when needed.
Agree or disagree, having a business where there is a reciprocity of roles has had great benefits over the years. Most recently I needed to be out of the office for over two weeks. I never once worried that payroll would go out, contracts would be signed or bookings would continue during my absence. Did this add a great deal to the staff’s responsibilities while I gone? ..of course – but things went on…and during that time…
..there was no jostling for roles of power or authority because this isn’t how we function on a normal day-to-day. Everyone did their job plus picked up the slack in my absence. There were no egos to get in the way or resistance to support each other. For us – it works.
I was once told that the mark of a good leader is that in your absence, business goes on as usual. I believe the mark of a good leader is having the ability to put the correct people in place that are willing/able to carry on in your absence. Where there is the character of staff to allow this to happen and where staff have the autonomy to work without the business owner.
Today I am so grateful for each of my staff, their character, work ethic and integrity. Each are able to continue on without me in our ‘horizontal environment’..which makes me look like such a smart leader – when in fact it’s just a matter of having a smart and willing staff to work together.
Over my recent Sunday morning coffee/newspaper routine – I read an article entitled ‘How a Project Went Wrong’.. It was stunning and difficult to comprehend. Contractors had worked in a local high school removing asbestos without following safety protocol, contaminating the environment and sending poisonous toxins into the air. I thought of the children and teachers going through their day innocently breathing in and out….
But what was even worse? – this happened repeatedly.
Shocking violations from vendors that had previously been cited for creating dangerous environments, ignoring industry protocols. Yet these same businesses were awarded additional contracts – in the same school district – Horrified as I again thought of these children breathing in killer chemicals…I dug further to find out ‘why’.. and there it was – because they were the lowest bidder.
Sixteen years ago, when my business was just an idea of ‘how to do it better’ – I had encountered far too many bilingual individuals acting as Interpreters or Translators with no formal training or certification. Along with too many agencies I worked for that had no vetting process or support those of us in the field.
So my grandiose idea of transforming the experience for those utilizing interpreting services, along with visions of creating a more supportive and professional environment for the Interpreters themselves was born. My ‘win/win’ scenario was now my business plan.
But I also found quickly that my plan came with a cost. With so many contracts dependent on only that bottom line ‘lowest bidder’.. it became our responsibility to prove that having higher standards actually lower customer costs in the long run.
To our customers it means different outcomes depending on the environment:
In medical environments: Where Dr/Patient communication is so critical – It assures medical professionals that their Interpreters are familiar with medical terminology and understand the various medical environments. This allows for quicker diagnosis/treatments and less repeat visits. Resulting in a healthier patient and healthier Dr/patient relationship.
In business: There are a world of new markets available if language and cultural barriers are removed. Having accurate translations can open a flood gate of new opportunities, beginning with websites and social media and ending in business negotiations. Only having one chance to make a first impression to the world, that first impression has to be impeccable.
In education: Thousands of deaf and hard of hearing students utilize Interpreters from elementary school to post-secondary settings. Having a highly skilled Interpreter familiar with class content offers the best chance of success for students, alleviating repeating classes due to communication breakdowns. Not to mention happier and more successful students.
and the list could go on…but the point is
..when you have highly skilled, professional Interpreters and Translators that consider cultural and linguistic nuances, coupled with an agency experienced in making the correct matches, it is a win-win…even when the ‘bottom line’ cost may (initially) seem higher. Allowing you to create a healthy environment because you have the vision to look past the lowest bidder.