Our COVID Journey 1 Year On.

If you’ve ever watched a movie with a stock market crash, you’ll recognise the scene when the bell rings for the market to close and all the stockbrokers look at each other in disbelief at what has just happened – well that scene resembled our office around 5pm on Friday March 13th 2020.

12 months on we can reflect on a year that we’ll all never forget.

By March 2020 our targets and goals were on track, our revenue for the year was up 73% vs the first two months of 2019. We had loyal clients, an impressive stable of world class speakers, a growing team, increased brand awareness and reputation – we were ready to take the business to the next level.

By Friday March 20th – 97% of our bookings had been cancelled or postponed. There was nothing that could have prepared us for this – in the 5 years preceding we only had 2 cancellations to deal with.

Between March 9th and March 20th the following occurred:

  1. Most clients cancelled their event(s) but paid deposits and they requested that the deposits were to be used at a later date.
  2. Some clients cancelled their event(s) but paid their deposits and they just wanted to walk away from their obligations.
  3. Others unfortunately cancelled their event(s) and had not yet paid deposits. They walked away from their obligations.
  4. For every booking we had to cancel flights, accommodation, and ground transfers.

After all this, we were delighted to work on the remaining 3% of bookings that went ahead – virtually.

As we couldn’t see what the next day would bring, we developed a short-term business mindset. We failed, and we also achieved more than we could have imagined.

As a knee jerk reaction, we created an extension of Inspire Speakers that focused on delivering specific programs virtually. This was called Virtual Leaders – a new website solely with virtual speaker offerings. We later learnt that this was going to be one of our failures. We did not put enough focus or energy into the website and therefore did not receive any traction. We did however learn that the demand was there, and we did not need to create a BRAND new website, we just had to shift our current offering.

While conferences and events came to a complete halt AV1 and Inspire collaborated over many Zoom meetings, discussing the need for the industry to trust that we can all do this – virtually. With an incredibly short turn around we produced one of the first, if not the first Virtual Speaker Showcase on May 1st. We were humbled with the number of viewers, where together we learned we must lead! Click here to learn more

That is why we decided to host a second Virtual Showcase, but this time different, better! On June 19th it was held at the MCA in Sydney featuring only international speakers. We beamed in live, Shark Tank USA’s Barbara Corcoran from New York, Futurist Brett King who was also based in the US, and international comedian Urzila Carlson from her home in Auckland. This was hosted by one of Australias best MC’s Andrew Klein. Click here to learn more

Following this we continued to try and lead the industry. We did this by contributing to the  Meetings and Events Association (MEA), where we helped them secure a stellar speaker line-up for their first virtual annual conference – Evolve. Together with a brilliant Master of Ceremonies and some amazing inspirational speakers we helped MEA showcase the possibilities available to the events community at a time when it needed it the most.

As we finished financial year 2020 we integrated a full time General Manager into the business – my partner, Ashley.

Admittedly, at this time, we were not following our normal business planning process, and that is why we drew a line in the sand and started to plan for the financial year ahead. We realised that we needed to re-instate our business planning process- but make it even better.

This planning became detrimental to our future business success.

Our new goals for FY 2021 were simple:

  1. Align all marketing initiatives to one company plan
  2. Host one live event
  3. Deliver three Give Back Campaigns to the industry
  4. Bookings equal to budgeted Financial Year 2019/20

Now that we were clear on our objectives the momentum we gained was encouraging and exhilarating. Our weekly meetings were full of ideas and energy, something we missed so much.

We started by centralizing all of our marketing initiatives in one place. This included consistency on social media, newsletters that were real and relevant, publishing an E-book with our lessons learnt on virtual events and of course our Give Back Campaigns to the industry. Once we created the plan that aligned with our FY 2021 goals, we got to work.

During the time of enforced lockdown, physical distancing and overall heightened anxiety in our community, the mental wellbeing of our staff, colleagues, friends and family had become a pressing concern. That is why we launched our 1st Give Back Campaign. For the entire month of October we had clients, speakers, friends and family post on social media 1 thing they struggled with and who they turned to. Our aim was to beat the stigma, discrimination, and its cycle of illness by being brave and vulnerable.

Our team had created some real momentum, it was addicting. So on December 9th we launched Inspire 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway. Again, our aim was to create some excitement and to give back. Individuals could opt in on social media or get in touch directly. Each day, for 12 days we would pull a name out of Santa’s hat giving away prizes such as champagne, doughnuts, massage vouchers, gift cards and more.

We weren’t done yet! As restrictions eased we wanted to pounce, we were aching to see all of our clients, speakers and friends again. Without looking back we hosted our first ever Christmas party – Inspire Merry Little Christmas Party. Hosted at Marrah with amazing food, lots of drinks, entertainment and most of our favourite people. Together we said goodbye to 2020 and welcomed 2021.

It was a perfect way to end a roller-coaster of a year. Ashley and I took some time to reflect on the year just gone and though it was not easy we were proud!

After having a much needed clarity break we returned to work where things slowly started to pick up. January was relatively quiet, but then came February. February was our best month since pre-COVID and it was good to be busy again. Now being a few weeks into March, we haven’t seen a drop and are happy to say that our future is looking bright!

Looking ahead, towards our FY 2021 goals we are on track – if not ahead. We are ahead of budget, we have delivered 4 Give Back Campaigns, and we have an amazing new exclusive inspirational speaker working with us, someone who bleeds the Inspire values.

We all could look at the past year in so many different lights, for some of us we could say it is the worst we have ever experienced. We look at it as a tough one, but one where we got to focus on us and our industry friends. Relationships are now stronger than ever, and our values made us stay true to why we do business – to Inspire.

About the author: Keith is the Director of Inspire Speakers. He started his business from his bedroom in 2014 and has grown to be one of Australia’s leading speaking agencies.

You can contact Keith anytime on 0450 077 997 or email keith@inspirespeakers.com.au