“Are you sure?”
“This probably isn’t a great time.”
These were some of the reactions that Noel Kepler heard over and over when she told her friends and colleagues that she would go ahead and start her new firm, T&F Communications, in the middle of the pandemic.
Noel is a good friend. At times I am her client and other times she is mine. She has been working in communications for nearly 25 years, initially at big public relations firms and now at an international non-profit. As a single mother raising a daughter in New York City on one income, when people offered her side work, she took it.
“I was consistently on the side hustle for 10+ years, which included teaching, training and working as a national speaker,” she told me. “I have a full-time job that I love with an international non-profit, but just couldn't make ends meet. So I took all those side clients and rolled them into an LLC in 2019 for tax purposes,” she added.
Noel is one of the most organized, methodical people I know. She never misses a deadline and knows how to stay true to a vision. We had discussed her formalizing her outside work over the years, so when she showed me her new website in September 2019, followed by her invitation in November to speak at her launch event in May 2020, it was clear that she was on her way.
Then Covid-19 changed the world. By April it was clear that her launch had to be canceled, and like most of New York and the country we were signing up for Zoom memberships.
Still trying to figure things out for myself, Noel sent me this email:
“As you know, I have been working to get my workshops and training materials online for a June launch. That is going well, and I believe I will be able to get the education platform up and running in June. One of the other methods I have come up with to move my work to a virtual setting, is to hold a "Communications Summit." I would like to ask you to be the opening speaker (think: keynote) for the first summit which I am hoping to hold in mid-July. The first communication focus will be on Working Remotely (for obvious reasons).”
I readily accepted but couldn’t believe she was going ahead with the launch. “Are you sure?” was my first question. She went over the pros and cons, but she felt she had to move forward.
“When COVID hit, I was lucky enough to not lose my full-time job, but my income still took a dramatic hit as I lost all of my side work teaching, training and speaking,” Noel reflected.
She decided it was possible to move forward with her launch if she didn’t listen to everyone who said it wasn’t. However, it also required a new strategy and most of all establishing a different way to gauge success. “I still wanted to make T&F Communications work and decided to use the virtual summit as a good learning curve. I stuck with my wheelhouse and focused the summit on communications for remote workers.”
In December, I wrote about the importance of flexibility when searching for new career opportunities in the age of Covid-19. Noel wasn’t looking for a new path, she was looking for how to get back on the path after her plans were completely derailed. This requires a different type of flexibility.
Regaining your footing can be challenging after a setback, it requires that you review your goals, but through a different lens. In Noel’s case, she was going to have a post work cocktail reception. Instead of trying a Zoom cocktail party, she decided to plan an afternoon seminar, which included a break-out session, which allowed people to network.
Take time to find time. Noel knew she had to dedicate blocks of time to the summit, a challenge when you already work in multiple time zones. She examined her schedule and realized that she was no longer commuting to work, two hours each way, so she took that time back and dedicated it to her business.
Never let up, but adapt to new circumstances and set new, attainable goals. While she was no longer doing in-person speaking engagements, Noel decided to focus getting her educational platform up and running online. This required a different way to measure success. She wasn’t focused on how many people signed up for a workshop, instead, she was trying to find ways to get more traffic to her website.
Recently I asked Noel how things were going. She told me that T&F Communications is humming again with virtual classes and conferences. She loves the organization where she works full-time, so for now, she looks at T&F as a potential back up or retirement plan.
On July 20th, I did deliver the keynote address at Noel’s “Virtual Communications Summit.” The speech was titled the “Current Normal,” and focused on the instability of the next several months and what adjustments were needed to be successful. Roadblocks can arise at any time, not just during a pandemic. What Noel taught me was how to be flexible while staying focused on your goals.