Sarah LaFleur feared that her New York City-based women's e-commerce clothing brand, M.M.LaFleur, might go out of business during the pandemic. Sales dropped 60 percent at one point, and the company closed its nine stores and cut jobs.
In a recent livestream with Inc., LaFleur spoke about how she started and grew her business and steered it through Covid-19's darkest days. In this candid and far-ranging interview, how she built and managed her team took center stage. Here are some takeaways from the session for anyone leading a team.
Promote from within
LaFleur says it's important to show employees that they can have career progression and development at the company. The average tenure at M.M.LaFleur is close to five years, she says. "I don't want to create a company where people are coming and going every two to three years," says LaFleur.
Further, she tends to try out consultants and freelancers before making a new hire. "I'm not a big fan of hiring fast and firing fast," says LaFleur. By building a lean team, she says, the company will run more efficiently during a crisis.
Manage layoffs humanely
During the pandemic, M.M.LaFleur had several rounds of layoffs. The company took pains to help people find new jobs, creating a résumé packet for those who wanted to participate, and sharing it with investors, friends, and other contacts with companies that had jobs to fill. She also invited people to look at her LinkedIn profile, offering to make introductions on request.
At even small companies not using an outplacement firm, she says, "There are a lot of other ways to use your network to at least let [a former employee] know that you're there, should that person decide that they want help with their search."
Don't discount the critical role that your well-being plays when it comes to leading your team.
"Your mental health is everything," says LaFleur. She says she's "religious" when it comes to exercise, even if it's just a 30-minute walk. What's more, she says that she has been seeing a psychiatrist for a decade.
"People would laugh if they knew how much I spend, both time- and money-wise, on my mental health," she says.
Family and friends are part of your personal support team, too. LaFleur spoke frankly about how she leans on her husband and mother. For example, she says, in 2019 panic attacks kept her up at night, and she was popping "a ton of anti-anxiety pills to get through the day." On a weekend when her husband had to travel, her mother, who lives in Japan, flew to the U.S. to stay with her for four days. "I'm kind of oversharing here, but I think my point is you need to make sure that you've got the support you need to put your head back in a good place," she says.
Have a good "right hand"
LaFleur says it's crucial to have a partner with whom you can talk and share ideas freely. For example, she'll say to them, "I'm going to just be crazy here and suggest a bunch of crazy things. And we're going to talk about all of them."
This person could be a consultant, a board member, or an entrepreneur friend. "Having that support is crucial," she says.