When your company faces a crushing blow you can do one of two things--pivot or die. Sq1 CEO Ernie Capobianco would know. Back in 2000 he was CFO of the Dallas-based traditional media ad agency which had 75 people handling national TV for Miller Brewing Company when the worst possible thing happened: Miller was sold and Sq1 lost the client, along with 80 percent of its bookings. The downward spiral continued until 2009 when the agency was down to 14 people, one small client and only about 12 percent of its billings from its peak.
Today it's a different story. Sq1 has 147 employees in three cities with 16 times the revenue it was bringing in when Capobianco bought the agency in 2009. Here are 10 things he says you need to do to turn your company around like he did.
1. Don't be afraid to let go of what you have.
Nobody likes change but if your business model is no longer serving you, throw it out. "We weren't afraid to let go of what we had because it wasn't working," he says. "I went two years without getting paid. If I continued to hold on, it was like a ship that was pulling me down."
2. Analyze the fastest growing companies in your space.
What are they doing differently than you? Sq1 determined the top ten agencies that were blowing up were all digitally-focused, data-driven shops. "They were a hybrid between advertising and analytics and once we understood that we dissected those companies to find a better way of doing it and saying it," he says.
3. Figure out how to be better than the fastest growing companies in your space.
Sq1 brought in a consultant who helped the company hone its story. The goal: To begin to operate in a blue ocean where there is little competition, versus a red ocean full of sharks.
4. Start promoting your new direction.
The company created a website telling its new story before it was even living it out. "We wanted to call bullshit on ourselves," he says. "We wanted to make sure that what we were saying wasn't being said by anybody else and that we could own that story."
5. Evaluate your assets.
Determine which of your assets can be redeployed to rebuild. "We had a couple of strong strategy people. We had some cash flow from existing clients [and] what worked we kept," he says.
6. Hit the eject button.
Like a plane low on fuel, you need to jettison all unnecessary weight. "Basically we fired all of our senior managers except for one," he says. "Today out of 157 people in our three offices we only have three people here of the original staff. The whole company had to be rebuilt and not everybody made the trip. In fact, most people didn't."
7. Rebuild your culture around your vision.
This means giving the axe to any nonbelievers who are resistant to change and likely to criticize management. "You can't have detractors in your company at all, especially when you're trying to rebuild," he says. "They have to be true believers of what you're trying to do and they have to embrace it and they have to become cheerleaders."
8. Celebrate success stories.
Sq1 did this by offering large companies small pilot marketing campaigns that would deliver measurable results. Once those goals were met Sq1 was well positioned to not only get more business from a particular company, it could also ask for quotes to use as part of a PR campaign to build brand awareness for the ad agency.
9. Sell your vision.
For example, your website should be aspirational and set your company apart. It should explain your vision to your current and potential clients and employees. "It's important that our website explains who we want to be, not just who we are but where we're heading with this company," he says.
10. Don't be afraid to fail.
The faster you figure out what's not working, the faster you can make changes to steer the course of your company in a new direction. Sq1 got out of its lease and moved to a smaller space, implemented a 15 percent salary cut and hired new people at below market wages with the promise of a brighter future. "The [employees] that embraced it really made a big difference," he says. "They're still here today and in most cases they're probably making two times what we would have hired them on a few years ago."