2020 was awful. Pandemic. Election stress. Economic dips. Racial divides. Unwanted shifts. Loss of loved ones. Loneliness. Uncertainty.
No one will debate that 2020 was a disaster.
However, for The Upside, 2020 was a pivotal year. In fact (hold onto your hats here), we quadrupled the prior year’s revenue.
Allow me to explain how, during the worst economic environment in twelve years, we managed to grow, thrive and establish The Upside as the leader in its space.
- The Upside was always focused on a very specific niche of consultants and industry experts. And in 2020, that focus paid off big time as others scrambled to offer products and services to a broad, mass audience.
If I had a nickel for every time I received an email or ad about a “women’s entrepreneurship” community or course, I’d be a billionaire by now.
But people are too smart to buy into a one-size-fits all offering. And especially when everyone is holding onto their wallets, they’re going to spend money on services that are tailored just for them, not on generalist offerings.
- Our 2020 Accelerator launch was in the works 6 months before the pandemic hit. Which meant when everyone started working from home, leaving (or being forced to leave) their corporate jobs, and career soul-searching, our program for early-stage consultants was ready to go. Literally, just in time. That’s just pure luck.
- Our operations and business model were well-suited to survive a pandemic. Because we were always a virtual, digital community from day one, when the pandemic hit, we didn’t have to change one bit of our operations.
As traditionally in-person communities and event companies scrambled and ate up time figuring out what their new digital models would look like, The Upside was able to capture a piece of their pie.
- Digital companies gained more value in 2020. Prior to 2020, I often felt I had to defend my decision to grow The Upside as a digital-only company, with no in-person events. Sometimes, I even felt judged for it.
But after the pandemic hit and every business had to go virtual, The Upside’s market value skyrocketed and our membership openings became oversubscribed with a wait list of folks wanting to get in.
Suddenly, everyone saw the value in a digital-only community, especially one that was designed that way from the beginning vs. as a reaction to the pandemic.
- The Upside was designed by women (me) but inclusive to all. It’s obvious that The Upside leans feminine. However, we were never a women-only company because I always felt that men could benefit from the differentiated style of networking and programming that is so unique to The Upside. Plus, the tools, resources and conversations we have in The Upside are applicable and valuable to both men and women.
So in 2020, we welcomed our first male member in The Upside and three male participants in the The Upside Accelerator. And as we increase our reach in 2021, I expect we will continue to receive more applications from men who see the ROI in what we do.
- We never sought out venture funding. This allowed The Upside to continue to grow at a steady, sustainable pace, without ever having to answer to anyone. In 2020, this served us especially well as high-volume, low-cost communities struggled to maintain their numbers, losing members to companies like The Upside that were more expensive, but also more curated, intimate, and high-ROI investments.
- We funneled newfound revenue into building out our A-team. You’re only as good as the people you hire. But prior to 2020, we didn’t have the revenue to support a full staff. As an owner, I was juggling too many balls, with very little room to breathe or explore new opportunities.
With the increase in revenue, we were able to build out our dream team, leaving me with time to explore and implement new and exciting ideas for The Upside. I finally had the freedom of working on the business more than working in the business.
- Despite the chaos of it all, work-from-home life suited many. When everyone was forced/granted the ability to work from home, many corporate professionals couldn’t imagine the thought of ever going back to the office 5 days a week.
The flexibility of working from a home office, even just a few days a week, was finally a reality. And many professionals decided they could never go back to the commuting 9-5 life they had before Covid.
How to create a permanent WFH flexible career? Consulting, of course. Where to find resources to make that a reality? The Upside, of course. And we were there and ready to catch the fallout of this huge cultural shift.
In the end, I attribute the success of this year to three core strategies that I believe apply to just about every business:
- Doubling down on our niche and avoiding distractions
- Focusing on slow, sustainable, high-quality growth from inception
- Committing to being great, not big
As you build your own business, I hope these 2020 lessons inspire you to keep your eye on the prize and build an organization that’s aligned with your values and mission, and not just on making tons of money.
I believe that if you stay resilient, maintain your mission and keep your focus crystal clear, the money will come.