I haven’t written a letter in quite some time. To be perfectly honest, I spent most of 2020 just trying to keep a small business afloat. And it has NOT been easy.

March 12, our country (the U.S.) shut down. By March 17, Red Branch Media (always bootstrapped, never taken a round) had lost over $80,000 of receivables per month. For those counting, in a 30 person firm, that’s 8–12 jobs. So we fired ten people.

Just kidding, no we didn’t.

While Fortune 500 companies laid off and furloughed their employees (only to later lay them off), we kept every single one of our employees.

While massive companies received aid and still laid off employees, we didn’t.

When companies everywhere were having employees work 100% of the time for 80% of their pay, Red Branch Media didn’t.

When other agencies slashed their headcount by up to 70%, we didn’t.

When we didn’t have enough work to even keep everyone ON our payroll, we kept them on anyway.

When people voluntarily left, Eric, Jeremy, and I took on their work; writing, coding, cold-calling, lead-scoring. Jobs we hadn’t had to do in years.

While other companies kept their employees in the dark, worried about who was gonna get fired next, we had weekly meetings, calls, and letters to ensure our employees knew every single solution we were pursuing to keep their jobs safe and our company solvent.

And this past quarter, we are pleased to say, we gave every single employee a raise, as well as a week off for the Christmas holiday, completely paid, on top of their salary.

When our clients asked for leniency in making their payments, we realized they were in the same place as us. Scared, worried, struggling, so we gave them space and time to get their bearings.

When our clients began laying off marketing people we’d been working with day in and day out every day for years, we worked hard to support those still there.

When our clients set near-impossible lead goals to hit during a time of shrinking budgets and shoring up cash, we (sometimes, but not always) hit them.

When our clients asked to move below our minimum threshold, we said ‘okay’ without hesitation and completely transformed our brand new membership model to accommodate them. Why? Because that’s what a PARTNER does.

Do I tell you these things to brag?

HELL. YES.

I’m so proud of the people who made it to the end of the year with us, clients, and employees alike. And even if our decisions didn’t pay immediate dividends, I am beginning to see green shoots of those seeds we planted at the beginning of the pandemic begin to emerge.

We have big Q1 plans. We’re hiring new Branchers (finally!) to replace those who left. We’re swimming in RFPs, and our awesome clients are beginning to increase their spending once again. To quote an oft-used phrase, we’re building back better.

But this came with a cost.

Relationships with people I used to be able to see on the road suffered.

My “personal brand” has sputtered and died (and at the worse possible time, is it me or do women over 40 become increasingly invisible with each passing year?)

Our SaaS marketing product line, Transendi, never got off the ground.

My pet project, and first foray into B2C, was forgotten amidst more pressing concerns.

The book Jeremy and I were writing about kicking divorce’s ass has become a dusty draft sitting somewhere in Ulysses.

We lost our adorable office.

I haven’t worked out in, well, it’s none of your business :)

OTOH…

My 98-year old Grandma and 2 sisters contracted COVID, and all are well.

My eldest son moved to Colorado, long a dream of his, and he is thriving.

My middle son made the rocky transition to college and kept his scholarship despite all the changes in schooling.

My youngest son finally started his Youtube channel and is making his way through the first perilous year of high school safely, at home.

I got the world’s actual cutest puppy, Copper.

Many of my employees stepped up to do jobs they were NOT hired for and are excelling beyond my expectations.

I got to see my sisters, which is my favorite.

My friends are employed and safe and still my friends.

And we are all safe and warm and most definitely well-fed.

This year has been a series of really awful battles. I describe it as a game of whack-a-mole. No sooner does one issue get resolved than another rears its ugly head. But I have learned to:

Slow down. Like everyone, I had bought into the hustle culture. I now know how to be still, play a game, have a deep conversation, snuggle.

Ignore traditional indicators of success. Grades, job titles, revenue, house price, number of employees, mentions, likes, just don’t matter the way they used to.

Relish in my loved ones. I have been so blessed with SO much love throughout my whole life. In the last year, I have learned how rare and amazing that is.

Be patient. THIS one is tough because I am still learning it. But not everything has to come right now. I can be patient and wait for the fulfillment of dreams.

Appreciate the contributions of others. From the woman who cleans my house, to the intern who manages social, to the servers who literally risk their lives to bring me food (and SO many more, obviously there are more heroes in this world than I can mention in my letter) I have been in awe of people I simply smiled at before: the checkout woman at my grocery store, the mailman trudging through snow, the teachers who are trying SO hard to keep our children educated, the organizers who helped save our country from itself, the medical care staff in nursing homes, hospitals and clinics. They all have my gratitude.

Treasure my children. In February of this year, my son crashed into a mountain and was in a coma for two days. I’ve never been so frightened in my life. For the entire year, my children and I have learned to be together in a way we never have before and I love who they are. They’re really cool.

Love. I have learned to love in a way I have never loved before and my heart has opened to those who have loved me.

2020 was NOT the best year of my life, nor I would wager, any of yours. But it was an experience I will never forget. Will everything go back to normal at midnight tonight? No, but it is symbolic of a new start and if not the end, at least the beginning of the end.

I hope you learned something too.

Maren

Chief Marketing Brain of @RedBranch Media. I help folks in recruiting, talent acquisition and HR, figure out marketing, community and social. #TBEX #TChat