Using the COVID pause to find new business opportunities
Hi, I’m Lindsey Braciale. I’m the founder and CEO of Advocations, a company I started 11 years ago in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today we’re a scrappy team of six that works to help companies hire and retain talent with disabilities. We also work with people with disabilities that are chronically underemployed and helping them match the opportunities that make their disability either an asset or irrelevant to the job.
When COVID first hit, I was like a lot of business owners, you know, you brace for the worst and hope for the best. A hundred percent of our revenue comes from when people get jobs and when people stay employed. We had a lot of people out of work and companies that weren’t hiring anyone, let alone people with disabilities. All of our revenue streams dried up overnight because we get paid when we place somebody in a job and when they keep their job. Cash flow is critical. Cash is king for a business owner, and when I realized that it was really hard to forecast where our cash flow would be I needed to realize that we weren’t in the same business and how to see things through a different lens to find ways for us to generate revenue that may have felt out of scope in the past.
As an entrepreneur, I just got a little entrepreneurial. So I did some consulting. It was a way for us to keep cashflow coming into my business while being able to leverage the skills that I’ve built over the years. Prior to COVID, we were so busy working that the COVID pause, as I call it, allowed us the time and the breathing room to reassess what we were doing. And that was critical in our strategy during those months where there was a lot of unknowns and no companies were hiring. How to keep everybody not only busy, but productive and knowing that, when things returned, that we would be able to be in a better position to serve more people
And what we decided to do is really focus on, you know, the job seekers and to double down on their skills to help them grow and allow them to be in a better position when companies start hiring again, that we would be able to take advantage of those opportunities.
Prior to COVID, we had to wait around for people with disabilities to find us. It was really hard to directly connect with this community, and we needed to do a lot more proactive outreach. And we worked with the Social Security Administration to allow us to start directly targeting disability beneficiaries and allow them to understand, the resources that we have available and how we can help them, get a job, keep their medical benefits, which is always a big concern and then be able just to maximize their, their income potential. And at the end of the day, give us the opportunity to serve more people.
Through the pause, because we weren’t so busy just getting the work done, we were able to use that time to rebuild processes, enhance our phone system, uh, which seems very minor, but at the end of the day, is the only way a lot of our clients were interfacing with us during this time. Now if you call Advocations, if we know who you are, you get directly routed and we connect you to who you would like to speak to rather than allowing people to get stuck in a phone tree.
It’s allowed us to be a lot more efficient in the way we communicate, but also provide a better customer experience.
The best advice I could give to other small businesses is to use this COVID pause to give yourself a little grace. To realize that we’re not in control of the timeline, but you are in control of the things that will make you stronger in the end and to focus on those things. This is the opportunity to disrupt things. So really focusing on the things that you can do now, will better prepare you for when things return more to normal.