"Small Business, Big Heart"
It’s often been said that there is nothing small about small business, except its relative scale. Both Rhonda Baker, President of Labels, Tags & Inserts (LTI) and Marge Murphy, President of Acadia LMS, bring this to life through their unfailing commitment to their employees, their clients and the ongoing innovation they bring to their business, especially now when it is most needed. Their respective journeys provide an enlightening look at the differences between onsite and virtual work during the pandemic, while also highlighting the compelling similarities in their outsized engagement of employees, support of clients, and innovation to position themselves for what lies ahead.
LTI has been printing and producing labels for 25 years. They have continued to work on-site in Burlington, North Carolina throughout the progression of the pandemic. Acadia LMS is a 20-year old lead generation company based in Dayton, OH. They made the decision to work 100% virtually. The owners of both of these small businesses quickly took steps to keep employees connected during these uncertain times.
Honoring the family owned roots of LTI, Rhonda genuinely values the employees who have helped grow the business into what it is today. Her company has always offered generous benefits such as 401k’s with matching, bonuses twice a year and company subsidized health care. Sensitive to the possible concerns of her onsite workforce, Rhonda made sure they knew their health was a priority by sharing what was being done to keep the facility clean according to the recommended health and safety standards. She also implemented a very creative approach to involving employees in managing onsite health and safety. By asking them to make a commitment to take care of themselves by following the approved guidelines, she reminded them they would only be as safe as any one of them was. Employees had to pledge not to expose themselves to potential infection by doing things like going out at night. Rhonda admits, “For the first few weeks everyone was scared, now everyone has pulled together and the team has actually become closer.” Rhonda also brings in lunch for employees every day and has a general meeting every two weeks where everyone can stay connected.
Acadia has always had flexible work policies, allowing some employees to work remotely even before it was fashionable. As a lead generation company, Marge shared that they have had to constantly evolve as the definition and practices for lead generation changed over time. As a result, the Acadia team developed skills to help clients work with a variety of cloud-based and digital technologies. This helped facilitate their own ability to work remotely and using technology to interface with colleagues and clients wasn’t a challenge in and of itself. Their team had a different challenge, as Marge explains. “We’ve always had that flexibility mindset when it comes to working virtually, and so we were very familiar with things like Zoom meetings. What has been more challenging is helping everyone adjust to working remotely all the time, especially those who had not done any remote work previously. I’ve spent time connecting one-on-one with our employees and helping them find balance. With some employees, the challenges did not present at first, but manifested over time. It was different for each employee.”
This public health crisis underscored the value proposition that both businesses deliver to their clients while pointing them to new opportunities built on their fundamentals. Rhonda notes, “LTI has always been focused on helping clients solve problems. We provide great products and we work to ensure there are no mistakes. We are constantly looking at what else we can do for clients, what else we can do to make our products better and what else will make us more productive.” That focus has enabled their business to grow over 300% in the last decade without a salesforce, and, retain virtually all of their clients. She continues, “I hope that not everything goes back to business as usual when this is over. I think people will be more conscious of safety. The move toward safety opens up opportunities for us to provide more products that support safety such as antimicrobial labels and packaging, for example.”
Marge from Acadia said, “We help businesses with complex sales cycles connect with current and potential customers who can use their products and services. We are not just creating sales leads. We gather information and create an understanding of what their customers want and need to help them meet customers where they are.” Two conditions became apparent during COVID according to Marge, “Our clients who are manufacturers, for example, were in various stages of adopting digital technologies as a way of connecting with current and potential customers. They all relied very heavily upon trade shows to meet potential buyers and demonstrate products. When face-to-face trade shows were canceled or postponed, we suddenly had to help our clients get more proficient using digital technology to connect virtually. Ironically, we started doing a series of monthly webinars late last November to teach the process around digital lead generation. Since the pandemic, we have been helping our clients create their own webinars and virtual product demonstrations. It has been a great partnership and the results have been very positive for our clients.”
Despite women-owned businesses being one of the fastest growing categories of small business, both women admit that there are often challenges. Rhonda points out, “As the owner of LTI, I am one of the few female owners of this type of business in the industry. I had to prove myself a long time ago.” There is also growing evidence that there are added challenges for women during the pandemic. Since the majority of women still bear a disproportionate share of care giving responsibilities within the home, working from home becomes more complex without the normal childcare or educational institutions open during the workday. Marge noted that women entrepreneurs are not immune from this challenge. “Among female business leaders, we are all trying to balance, working from home, teaching our kids, making meals and keeping life as normal as possible. There is a lot of stress around what are we going to do and how are we going to manage it. Since the pandemic, I started a meeting with other women business leaders. Every Friday we come together virtually for 30 minutes just to share what we’re going through, provide tips and help one another. The collaboration has been a great support to many, and a time to reset and reenergize.”
Led by Rhonda and Marge, LTI and Acadia provide great examples of how to step up in a big way to help employees and clients through challenging times, while identifying new ways to manage their business and serve others. Marge summed it up well, “While these have been challenging times for all, it has also been an “ah ha” for us. You have to be able to step back every once and a while and reevaluate what you do, how you do it and just think. That’s what we’ve done and it’s led to a really good outcome for us. We don’t know when this ends – but it’s been a good opportunity to show clients how we can make a difference for them.”