Talking SME Podcast: Passion and Purpose
We’re delighted to welcome Vida Barr-Jones to our new episode of Talking SME Podcast – Passion and Purpose. This is a series of podcasts where we talk about a wide range of topics with business experts, and offer broad insights to help SMEs become more successful.
In this episode, Vida Barr-Jones, CEO of Brand Agency Focus7, discusses what it’s like to maintain a business through Covid. We talk about how business purpose and passion are crucial ingredients and in addition, a great way of rewarding our wonderful NHS workers in kind.
A bit about Vida
With passion and professionalism in abundance, Vida certainly has an impressive track record of establishing and meeting business goals. She has not only 34 years of commercial experience, but also eleven as a Board Director. She is an inspirational leader known for excellent communication and engagement across all levels.
‘Passion and Purpose’ is just one in our series of podcasts where we talk about a wide range of topics. We talk with business experts, and also offer broad insights to help SMEs become more successful.
Don’t forget to check out our other Talking SME Podcasts here.
Jane O’Gorman (00:00):
Welcome to Talking SME. I’m Jane, O’Gorman from Ten2Two and I’m delighted to be joined by Vida Barr-Jones, CEO of Focus7. Thanks so much for joining me today.
Vida Barr-Jones (00:18):
Hi Jane. It’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Jane O’Gorman (00:21):
Oh, my pleasure. , Vida, I know you’ve had firsthand experience of the challenges that many of us have faced over the last year, and I’m really delighted that you are here and that you and I can have this catch up today. And I’ve enjoyed reading your recent blogs. And interestingly, one of the recent one talks about in order to move forward. You need to look back and quite often we’re used to the expression., Don’t look back, don’t look back. So it’s really good to hear. Why do you think it is so important to look back in order to move forward?
Vida Barr-Jones (01:01):
Well, I guess when we’re working with a client, we want to get to the heart of their business and to do that, we actually have to look back and look back at the essence of the leaders, their purpose, you know, what were their motivations for starting the business or for joining it? You know, why did they do what they’re doing? And, and what happens very often is that, business leaders, these days, are normally in the position that they’re in, because they’ve just simply been knocked off course by circumstances.
You know, we all start a business with a great vision that, you know, in 10 years’ time, I’m going to be turning over 10 million and I’m going to sell my business. But then in reality, what actually happens is, is that we genuinely find ourselves being knocked off course and certainly in the first five years of any business, you know, it takes five years for business to completely naturally establish itself.
Vida Barr-Jones (01:43):
And they often say that only 1% of businesses will actually survive over the first five years. And so actually when a business gets to five or six years, it’s been through this most incredible journey. Nine times out of 10, it’s been knocked off course just by circumstances. Um, and so one of the things about looking back is to go back and find the passion that you had in your business, so that you actually can get to the heart of the business and bring that forward into the present and then into the future.
One of the things that happens when you’re in your business is sometimes you don’t stop and look at the trends that are happening around you. Um, and then you actually have to look at the trends of the past and the present so that you can actually build a business for the future. And that’s why we really like people to look back. It’s all about in a funny kind of way to move forward for the future. You must have to unlearn everything you’ve ever known about your business to relearn, how to grow your business, to move forward.
Jane O’Gorman (02:40):
Wow. That’s really thoughtful input. Thank you. I agree, and I think it’s really, really beneficial to look back, particularly when there are other challenges that may come up that we haven’t foreseen. And we know this from the situation that we’re all trying to manage at the moment, looking back and I’m sure you have, what would you say has been the biggest challenge for you over the last year?
Vida Barr-Jones (03:06):
Well, I mean, in general, when the pandemic first came and we all had to go into lockdown, I actually personally myself and my business partners, we lost 80% of our business overnight, literally. Um, we were in the hospitality and the travel industry, and we had a couple of customers with businesses considered to be luxury, luxury businesses, and therefore they almost stopped trading overnight. So we actually had to sit down and completely rethink how we wanted to run as a business. You know, we’re a brand led growth and marketing agency. We are all about trying to help businesses, you know, find their community, and build their business through their community. And we had to sit down and look at, you know, what could we do for our community in that short period of time.
So, you know, the biggest challenge for us Jane was that we had to pivot .. I hate that word because we almost probably killed it to death but we had to seriously think could we be a brand and marketing agency completely online. And, you know, when, uh, when we’re trying to get to the heart of the business, we were doing that through face-to-face workshops. You know, Jane, you’ve been in our face to face workshops.
Vida Barr-Jones (04:16):
You know, how we try and build that rapport, and it’s all about business emotion, but now what we’ve managed to do that, and we managed to do that by joining a community of other like-minded businesses, where we actually all just were looking at, okay, we’re in an L shape recession. You know, hopefully we’ll come out of this L-shape recession in September, 2021. What do we have to do to build our businesses and what we want our businesses to look like when you come out of recession and therefore, what do we have to do now to rebuild it and to refresh what we had. And, and that’s literally how we got through, you know, March, April, May. And then we were able to start bringing our team back in, in June.
I’m pleased to say Jane, that, you know, with pivoting and with switching around, and then with changing how we were talking to our own community, you know, you refer to our blogs and our new newsletters weekly. We made a decision to help our community as much as possible by sharing everything we knew, you know, and, and as we were changing how we work here and we were showing other businesses how to change, how they’re working, because what we wanted to do was to share that learning that we were getting. So we absolutely had to relearn, we had to forget everything that we did, we had to, you know, go back and then relearn how to be a business again.
Jane O’Gorman (05:33):
That’s remarkable. And actually, although I say remarkable, probably not unfamiliar either, you know, in terms of what impact that must have had on you as a business and that very sudden moment to suddenly lose 80% and a have to look back and then rethink very tough. And I’m sure there are so many other businesses out there who completely share what those emotions must been like at that time. Uh, so difficult to then, you know, I think sometimes in difficult times, it’s hard to see, see that light at the end of the tunnel. And plan ahead.
Vida Barr-Jones (06:09):
That is actually one of the key things. I think one of the things is actually like, you know, Focus7 is a very collaborative business. We work with other people and we were working with a company called Bob, which is the business of brand and actually working with minded group of people, who we were then working in the course of how to break down the business and then how to rebuild it. So it was, it was incredible to work with a community of other businesses. And I think the big thing that helped us change was is that we actually got together with 20, 30, a hundred other businesses who were in the same position as us Jane and we all found a way forward.
Jane O’Gorman (06:45):
And do you, have you find that it’s been a much more collaborative environment, do you think that’s, if we’re looking at the positives that are coming out of this,
Vida Barr-Jones (06:56):
Because what happened was is that, you know, we were working with businesses in our own sector and around, you know, we were working with other marketing agencies who were having the same problems as us, but we were also working with, you know, people in the travel and the hospitality sector, and then other very large organizations and companies who just were going, Oh my God, how do I pivot? How do I turn what I’m doing? And interestingly, we all started to help each other Jane.
We were all looking at each other’s businesses and then coming up with ideas about how we could, unite together on purpose. Um, and then how could we actually drive each other’s business forward? And I think in, back in November, back at that last year, we actually all joined in on a unite on purpose campaign, across social platforms platforms to try and help businesses realize that, if they became purpose driven and they could actually get to the heart of their business and build communities around them, that they would actually be able to survive and get through this, pandemic together.
Jane O’Gorman (07:51):
That’s amazing. And that’s so lovely to hear in terms of those benefits that have been, that have come and are probably still coming from that. And I can imagine from the business perspective and from what you’ve supported others with, that’s been a great benefit to them. What do you feel Vida is, is an important quality to be a supportive business leader. And what do you look for in others?
Vida Barr-Jones (08:20):
Interesting that question.I think the first thing I think for us, because it is very, very important for us Jane, is that we got the community right within our own business. We’ve had some very long standing loyal staff and what we needed to do immediately was to create the flexibility, and the community within our own business. And we, we genuinely realized that to be able to help other businesses, we have to help ourselves. And we absolutely had to make sure that the people within our business were in a good place.
So, you know, we did furlough for three months, but when we came out of furlough, the first thing that was important to us was is that, uh, what was the flexibility needed within the families that were working for us because everyone was working at home. Um, and we needed to make sure that we could get the blend right.
Vida Barr-Jones (09:01):
And I think, you know, making sure that you are building that community spirit within your own business was almost the first thing for us to do, to be able to build that community spirit in other businesses. Um, so we were all aligned. We were all looking forward in the same way. Um, it’s been a massive challenge, you know, um, for people who were trying to homeschool, I’ve got dog, I don’t have a child, so I don’t face that challenge, but I see every day, the strain that that’s taken on people.
And I think in terms of the leadership, it was very much about making sure that we really, really are truly listening and then actually trying to help people restructure from and find that passion. But it was, it was that concentrated kind of like activity in terms of what do you need, what do you want and how do your staff need to work for you?
Vida Barr-Jones (09:51):
Plus also we were all in the same boat. Nobody wanted to be sold to during the pandemic. People still don’t want to. In actual fact, the important thing about being a leader was, is that you stopped putting the pressure on pushing sales out, but it became more about how do you pull your staff and your community in, so that actually they could see what you had to offer and that you were still there. Um, I guess it’s really, isn’t it interesting about the leadership style of it?
Because for me, it was very much about collaboration. It was very much about forming partnerships. It was very much about how could I help other businesses in my community who could then help me. So, you know, actually we started to do the good old trade off the tithing of, if I do this for you, can you do this for me? And actually that whole style of it, wasn’t about the profit.
Jane O’Gorman (10:38):
Yeah. I suppose the relationship. Yeah.
Vida Barr-Jones (10:41):
It was about the relationship. And so I think as a leader, if you can park the fact that there’s a panic that sets in that goes, I need cash and profit and make it not about the profit Jane and you can make it about the relationship and the purpose, and the fact that as a community of businesses, we were all in the same boat. Um, it was then about how do I lead my team through this, so that we can collaborate and partner with other businesses in the same boat.
Jane O’Gorman (11:07):
Interesting. That’s lovely. I love the fact that you mentioned in terms of thinking about that collaboration and how best people can work, looking at your internal community, as well as how you work with those outside of the business, but really listening and trying to understand what, what works well for them. It resonates absolutely with us because that’s what we’ve been trying to promote through flexible working.
Obviously these are challenging circumstances and people have so much to think about, but what you’re doing as a business leader is listening and adapting and that’s getting the best out of, of, of your team, but also the appreciation and that commitment. I’m hoping if I’m thinking of any positives that, that those are some of the, you know, the good output that we will have from the current situation that perhaps businesses will think a little bit differently in that respect.
Vida Barr-Jones (12:02):
And I hope so, Jane, I mean, we, you know, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve known you guys for a very, very long time. And in actual fact we have a very flexible worker instruction. Our first three or four employees all came through Ten2Two. So we all have we had in our business a very, when we first started, we had an approach of we wanted the right skillset and we wanted the right, personality and the right people to work with us. And it didn’t matter to us whether they were working nine to five. What we wanted to do was to find the right people. And I think that stood us in good stead Jane.
We went into the pandemic, like the fact that we already had an agile, flexible working kind of mentality. Um, we had already had people to work from home on days when they needed to, we went up the business to be able to work from home. Um, we just needed to add into that the humanity of it, because you know, we, I think in the very beginning, it was very much a case of, um, it was very exciting, to be able to work from home, but then literally home suddenly became the office. And I think, you know, there was just that extra element of humanity that was needed in terms of how we do it, but yeah, you’re right. You know, agility and flexibility, but that was our saving grace actually, Jane.
Jane O’Gorman (13:14):
Yeah. But I loved building the humanity, into it too, you know, that’s so important for us too, to be mindful of. And interestingly, I was very pleased to see the, the launch last week of the Hertforshire and West Essex benefits portal. Um, and I’d love you to tell us a little bit more about that, Vida, how it came about and, and what benefits this is going to bring.
Vida Barr-Jones (13:39):
And I’d love to talk about it. Thank you. I mean, Hertfordshire and Essex, we were approached by a very, proactive manager that they had there called Sarah Mason, and she actually looked after all the key workers and the care workers, in terms of their welfare, within the Hertfordshire and West Essex, trust, and they were genuinely, genuinely, so delighted with businesses and communities that had supported key and care workers during the first and second lockdown.
What they wanted to do was to actually, reward and payback local businesses for their support of key care workers. And they came up with this concept, I mean, on a, on a very national level, there is a care worker and key worker benefits scheme, but the idea of the local benefits portal was that it was very much about the local community being able to access the local key workers and care workers that they had supported by ongoingly, been able to offer them offers and deals, and, being able to promote local business for local people so that we could actually grow back the local economy.
The West Essex Trust has been very passionate about the fact that they have a community of 57,000 care workers, and they wanted to give local business unique access to those care workers so that the care workers could carry on feeling valued, um, and carry on being rewarded for all the hard work they’re doing during this pandemic.
Vida Barr-Jones (15:06):
And also local businesses can be rewarded by having a guaranteed audience, and helping local businesses to try and regrow and rebirth some businesses and get them back on track. Um, and so it’s a very much an online portal where suppliers can go in and put their offer and heir deal onto the portal. And then care workers and local care workers would then be given a login, um, and they would be able to take advantage of those deals. So it’s very much about, yeah, thank you. Okay.
So we’re so excited about it, but we do want to do Jane is to do a big call-out to all kinds of like local businesses in Hertfordshire, Beds, Bucks and West Essex, to actually sign up and join the portal, because they’re going to get a guaranteed audience of 57,000 key workers and care workers.
Jane O’Gorman (15:58):
That’s superb, and the, the great thing there is, and I’m sure there are many businesses out there, and this is great for the local community. And it’s that collaborative part again, where, you know, they may be thinking, um, what can we do? How can we show that appreciation? 57,000 care workers. That’s a significant number of people. And we owe so much, and they’ve done such an amazing job.
And, and obviously on the other side of the coin, we’ve got, you know, so many businesses now we want to kickstart the company, want to get things moving again, and to find a platform where they can reach an audience, but offer support too. I think it’s a great concept and yeah, hopefully what, what, uh, how do, how do businesses sign up? How does this work?
Vida Barr-Jones (16:45):
Well, I mean, there is, there is a massive campaign that we’re going to be launching. Um, we’ve also, um, it’s, you know, if you go on to the Hertfordshire and West Essex or go on to Sarah Mason’s profile on LinkedIn, but there is a link, um, and I’m putting out a campaign, um, and we’re also going into all the local press and the local magazines and the local papers.
So we’re trying everything that we can to, to log on. Um, but what I will do is is that if anyone listening to this, um, to this podcast, Jane, Jane, or they can go to my profile and there is a link there as well to get onto the scheme, but they only need to contact Sarah Mason at the Hertfordshire and West Essex Trust and they can get onto the scheme. It’s a fantastic project for us.
Vida Barr-Jones (17:28):
And the reason that we loved this project, Jane, cause it was all about community. This is all about supporting a community that is tired and overworked and stressed with a community of businesses who are tired and overworked. It was tying together, a whole community spirit where we could actually bring back into the heart of these businesses some, some real hope, and also then give the community of care workers, some real hope and recognition that people still cared about them and were thinking about them. That’s why I love the project cause it was just a massive community project.
Jane O’Gorman (18:04):
Yeah. That’s, that’s wonderful and fingers crossed I’m really hoping for a great success for that Vida. And it’s lovely because, you know, just thinking about the chat you and I have had, and it has been tough and, and, and there are still challenges ahead, but we’ve touched on so many positives here and in my head now I’m hearing collaboration, I’m hearing humanity, I’m hearing spirit, I’m hearing hope and, and it’s, it’s uplifting and, and fingers crossed, you know, we have to, you know, we’ve looked back, let’s look forward and let’s hope for a brighter few months ahead.
So, so thank you so much for that Vida and, and as we close, is there, is there maybe one piece of advice that you would give to fellow business leaders who are facing challenges currently and planning for this new year ahead?
Vida Barr-Jones (18:59):
Yeah, I think, you know, we have to be brave and we have to actually think about trading in a different way in a new era. And I would, I would encourage businesses to reach out and to collaborate and to find strong partnerships and to start looking at working together with other communities or businesses and not be a lone standing business, in the challenge moving forward.
And I do believe, and I would encourage businesses is that it’s not about pushing sales out in a desperate fashion. It’s about pulling people in, through your passion for your purpose. Um, so, you know, find that purpose and collaborate with other partners.
Jane O’Gorman (19:39):
Wonderful. Vida, thank you so much. You’re an inspiration. It’s been an absolute delight talking to you today.
Vida Barr-Jones (19:47):
Thank you for inviting me, Jane. I’m delighted to join you
Jane O’Gorman (19:51):
And to our listeners, and I hope you ‘ve enjoyed Talking SME, look out for future episodes coming soon.