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How to Optimize Growth During Challenging Times

With the right frame of mind, obstacles become opportunities to learn, adjust and grow.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

April 2020 was the best and worst of times. Our company, the first and only health care business dedicated exclusively to treating myopia — or nearsightedness — in children, had just shifted into high-growth mode. Demand for our company’s services had never been higher, as children faced limited outdoor time and increased exposure to digital screens, the two main causes of myopia.

While we faced the same initial pause in momentum that befell practically every business owner in the world at that time, the pandemic allowed us to re-evaluate and refocus our business approach. The takeaways we gleaned from the pandemic have helped us take our business growth to the next level, and this roadmap provides a high-level view of how we used the lessons learned during a challenging time to ultimately grow our revenue by more than 100% over the past 18 months.  

1. Stay true to company purpose

When Treehouse Eyes was founded five years ago, our purpose was clear: Give children better vision for life. That mantra guided all our decision-making in the early days. Discussions with vendors, agencies and partners all centered around always doing the right thing for each child. We never questioned that purpose, even as we started to scale the business. As a result of the pandemic-induced shift, our purpose remained the same. What changed, however, was the way we operated. Up to this point, our messaging to parents was focused on treating their child’s myopia once the condition had started. We realized that to truly live our purpose, we needed to educate parents about how to prevent myopia from developing in their child in the first place.

Now, our messaging provides parents with tips like getting their kids outside more, reducing screen time and other behaviors proven to reduce their child’s chances of ever developing myopia. While arguably this could have hurt our business, we felt it was critical to be a good steward of our brand and purpose, a move that positively impacted our growth and reach. Today, we include reviewing our purpose in our annual strategic planning efforts. While we don’t expect it to change, it keeps our team engaged and centered on our company’s “why,” and drives engagement.

Related: The 3 Questions That Will Help You Define Your Brand Identity

2. Bring in a fresh perspective

In April of 2020, we had just launched a new licensing model. Demand from eye doctors for our model was high, and our growth was starting to ramp up. We trained our doctor partners in-person to optimize engagement from doctors and their staff, and we developed growth plans predicated on this in-person training model, with staffing ramping up to support our expected growth. When the pandemic redirected business activities and limited these meetings to virtual settings, we quickly had to rethink our approach to customer interaction. 

Much like everyone else, we thought virtual meetings would be a temporary symptom of the pandemic, and we started our next class of licensees on our temporary virtual training program without having the tools or expertise to thoughtfully redevelop our in-person content and deliver it in a digestible format over Zoom. What resulted was low engagement and retention from our new licensees. We quickly realized that to revamp our training process and retain our doctor partners, we needed to bring in a learning and development expert who could provide guidance based on their experience and expertise. 

Hiring a training leader opened our eyes to a new and better way to onboard and train our providers around the country. One immediate advantage to committing to virtual learning was that our doctor partners’ staff could have their staff attend the training.  Previously, the doctors were reluctant as they didn’t want the expense of flying staff to the training. Virtual learning allowed more staff involvement and eliminated the previous expense doctors would incur by sending their staff to train, which improved execution and reception significantly.

Today, we can now hire the best people regardless of where they live and not be concerned with how we get everyone together in person — all thanks to the open-mindedness to admit that we were out of our wheelhouse and needed to bring in an expert.

Related: How an Executive Coach Can Help Boost Revenue

3. Don’t lose sight of culture

Of course, the shift to virtual signaled another fact about our business: Our growing team was scattered across the country. Given my background in leadership roles at large corporations in times where virtual work was the exception, not the rule, I felt unprepared. It was difficult as a CEO to think about how to maintain and build our culture virtually, when my skills and the tools I used to help drive culture could only work in an in-person environment. 

I believe culture is even more critical in growing companies than at larger, more stable companies. With only 14 employees, each of our hires is critically important and can have an outsized impact on the team. In the beginning, I wasn’t as comfortable bringing in consultants or executive coaches to work on “soft” topics like this. I wanted our cash to be spent on growing the business. However, I realized if we didn’t have a plan to intentionally develop and reinforce our culture, the business would be at risk.

Over the last year, our team has worked with an external facilitator skilled at helping leaders build high-performing teams. The results have been phenomenal in terms of engagement, clarifying our values and helping us identify potential barriers to growth. While this work was driven initially by the pandemic, we should have started it two years ago.

Related: 3 Key Ways to Train Your Franchisees

4. Embrace change to grow

No one wants to go through any crisis, personally or professionally. However, as I reflect on our business and team results, the pandemic got us to think differently about our company, our growth strategy and how we operate. We’ve come through this period much clearer on our purpose, how we can more efficiently scale and how we build and maintain our culture in a remote work environment. I’m excited to continue to think about how some of these lessons get embedded in how we work every day.

This is work any company should do regularly. Change can plunge us into the depths of uncertainty, and it can teach us a lot if we’re willing to open our minds and learn. Only by experiencing changes can we learn to adapt and become quicker at adjusting in the future. And once you get through enough changes, you come to realize that even the most trying of times can have positive outcomes. 

Matt Oerding

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Matt Oerding is a passionate leader, entrepreneur and co-founder of Treehouse Eyes, a company dedicated to improving children's vision for life.