Kent Lewis on How To Bounce Back Stronger in Business
Kent Lewis, Founder, pdxMindShare
Can you start by telling us a bit about your journey as an entrepreneur, focusing particularly on your experiences with setbacks and challenges? How has this shaped your understanding and mastery of resilience in business?
Although I started my career in PR, I quickly transitioned to digital marketing in 1996. Soon after, I was building teams at agencies, before founding my own agency in 2000. Having run Anvil Media for 23 years, I navigated a host of economic cycles and other challenges relating to losing large clients, employee turnover and even the pandemic. In order to survive, if not thrive, I had to be resilient. As an strategic advisor and business coach, I help mentor business owners through similar challenges today.
In the world of entrepreneurship, failure is often seen as a stepping stone rather than a dead-end. How do you perceive failure, and can you share an instance where a failure led to an unexpected growth or success in your business?
I define it as a failure to learn and grow from your mistakes and oversights. Unfortunately, our culture looks down at failure, so I've had to educate my team and clients regarding the benefits of learning and growing through trial and error. In 2019, I was about to sign a sale agreement for the acquisition of my agency to a competitor, when I sat down with an advisor. He illustrated many reasons why I shouldn't sell over a lunch. The next day, I backed out of the deal. I believe it benefitted both organizations in the long run. In my case, I was able to sell in 2022 for a significantly higher number after using that time to fine-tune my business.
What strategies have you employed to cultivate a culture of resilience within your organization? How have these strategies made your team more adaptable and innovative, especially during trying times?
I believe the secret to building a culture of resilience is by building trust and respect. While I can tell my employees that we're a transparent company with integrity, action speaks louder than words. When you help your employees navigate difficult situations, you build their resilience via demonstration. Resilience is a mindset and it encompasses all aspects of life. Over my decades as a business owner, I guided employees through personal relationships, financial hardship and turmoil with clients and coworkers. My default preference was to be more of a mentor and coach than to solve the problems for everyone, despite my desire to do so as a fixer at heart. In 2008, I promised to double every employee's compensation by the end of 2009. We called it 2-in-2 and with the team focused on achieving revenue and profit goals, they were completely distracted from the recession. We had 2 very good years when we otherwise shouldn't have.
You've spoken about bouncing back from failure, but I'm curious to know if there is a methodology you follow to analyze what went wrong and how to correct it. Could you describe your process for assessing and learning from mistakes?
My process for assessing and learning from mistakes has shifted over the years. I used to take a very tactical approach in my analysis. The 5 W's as a starting point, then a quick SWOT analysis and post mortem with those involved. I've evolved my thinking to focus on the people involved, their expectations and motivations and focus on how I/we could have better anticipated and addressed those factors for a better outcome.
Many entrepreneurs fear failure to the point that it paralyzes them. How do you balance taking calculated risks with the fear of failure? What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs who struggle with this?
Running your own business can be scary. Personal guarantees, lines of credit, cash flow management and personnel issues tend to keep entrepreneurs up at night. I've combatted fear of failure with the knowledge that the best return on my investment, bar none, has and will always be, betting on myself. I ultimately have control or can influence every situation in which I'm involved, unlike a bank, large corporation, vendor or governmental agency. With that mindset, risk is perceived as much less and more manageable. Your most valuable asset is your time, and although it is limited, the cost can be relatively low when allocated smartly.
Sometimes, resilience requires knowing when to pivot or even walk away from an idea. How do you recognize the difference between a challenge that requires persistence and a situation that necessitates a change in direction?
Knowing when to pivot is the ultimate differentiator between success and failure, especially with entrepreneurial businesses. Look at Blackberry, for example. From industry leader to virtually invisible in a relatively short span of time. I faced this situation in 2012. The agency was going on 12 years' old and we hadn't adjusted our structure, process or services to address current and future needs of clients. I was resistant to change as our financials were strong, but the leading indicators (feedback from clients, prospects, and vendors) indicated we were in trouble. By the time I finally listened to my team, it was nearly too late. In 2013, I rebuilt the team and business from the ground up. The years to follow were difficult to say the least, but ultimately put us in a good position for an exit a decade later, instead of certain demise.
The global economic landscape is always changing, and recent years have seen some extraordinary disruptions. How have you adapted your business to overcome unexpected global challenges? What were the key factors in your successful navigation of these waters?
I've written extensively on how to navigate financial and socio-economic challenges over the years. Initially in 2008, then again in 2020 with COVID. While certain strategies and tactics are evergreen in an economic downturn, COVID was different. We took an approach of educating, empathy and over-communication in the new age of isolation. I believe our approach became the new normal in the age of Woke. And that's not a bad thing, as consumers and employees want to associate and connect with caring people and organizations.
Resilience in the face of failure is often linked to personal growth as well. How have your business experiences shaped you personally? Can you share a moment where your professional resilience translated into a personal transformation?
When I launched pdxMindShare in 1999, my network of digital marketing friends were too busy to meet and think about the future. A year later, they all reached out to find out when we were meeting again, but this time it was to talk about getting a job. In 2001, I opened the group up to all walks of life and since then, I've met hundreds of Portland-area professionals and have seen and heard it all. Those stories informed my view of what it is to be an employee, as well as how to run a business more effectively and with purpose. More importantly, I saw the impact of running my networking group based on stories I heard from attendees securing new talent or getting a dream job through our network. It gave me new perspective, energy and desire to continue elevating the Greater Portland business community that carries through to this day.