Honeycomb keeps buzzing with a mix
of resilience and agility
Through the COVID-19 global health and financial crisis, John Bevitt, Managing Director of market research firm Honeycomb Strategy, has discovered he and his business are more resilient and adaptable than he previously believed possible.
Until early March, Bevitt and his team were enjoying the fruits of being part of a thriving business that launched in 2017. However like many SMEs, the environment changed on 12 March when the Federal Government released the details of the first $17.6 billion stimulus package [i].
While the stimulus plan aimed to prop business confidence, the result proved the opposite for Bevitt. “We opened our doors three years ago, and by the start of March 2020 we had built a pipeline of continuous work from new leads and repeat business,” he revealed. “Through new leads and repeat business, we had multiple new research projects a week.
“New business dried immediately after the PM’s announcement with most of our clients citing “uncertainty” as a reason for cancelling or postponing research projects.”
Fortunately for Bevitt, Honeycomb was already knee-deep in several research projects for its clients that include OnDeck, realestate.com.au and SEEK. That no client broke ranks, is a sure sign of the research quality presented by the SME. “We are maintaining consistent communication and reassuring our clients that despite working remotely we can maintain the due diligence that the research requires.”
How Honeycomb is keeping the lights on
Bevitt who left employment platform SEEK to co-found Honeycomb three years ago said the agility of his SME enabled it to adapt the challenges of COVID-19. “We have always adapted quickly to opportunities or challenges.”
By mid-March, Honeycomb already had plans in place to operate remotely. Bevitt recalls, “In early March we conducted a team brainstorm addressing the opportunities the pandemic would present. It was clearly going to be a case of the survival of the fittest.
“For our business this meant true innovation and identifying the industries that would need more support from us or would thrive through the crisis.”
The firm also developed a defensive strategy aimed at providing clients with the confidence to proceed with their market research goals. Bevitt noted that his competitors were cold calling his clients and pushing their services. “Most of our competition are unfamiliar to our clients and they made no effort to address their pain points in the course of the cold calling spay.”
Instead, Bevitt rapidly pulled together a forum of his significant clients. “The forum was an opportunity for our key clients to meet and develop a network but also for us to gain an understanding of what they’re going through and how we could solve their problems together.
“Our clients acknowledged we were the first agency to ask them about their pain points rather than simply pitch a solution at them.”
Maintaining a strong team culture
Operationally, Bevitt said he was forced to make a redundancy not long after the first stimulus package was announced. “We then took our team on a journey and spoke them through our plan if things got worse or better.
Bevitt continued, “Through our commercial transparency we showed the team we were taking the situation seriously – and that we were planning for the worst but working towards the best.
“Being fully transparent about our plans is critical and underpins the culture of our business.” Bevitt has also run sessions with his team about what the government’s stimulus packages mean for them individually.
The challenge of remote working
Working remotely from home is a major challenge to workplace cultures advises Bevitt. To this end, the Honeycomb team are introducing “Workout Wednesdays” steered by a team member, and Friday drinks via Zoom, as well as a daily 30-minute WIP session.
“Individual members are also using Zoom to have lunch together,” Bevitt said. “We’ve also had team members sharing quizzes that we’ve all tried to solve together on Slack.”
To assist with team morale, Bevitt starts the daily WIP meetings with a one-word Q&A that allows each team member to express their feeling as the COVID-19 challenges unfold. Early in the crisis, ‘fear’, ‘stressed’, ‘uncertain’, ‘overwhelmed’ were common responses. Always on the lookout for an interesting trend or insight, Bevitt commented, “The single word answers have changed since 12 March.
“With the team getting into the rhythm of social isolation and remote working, words such as ‘optimistic’ and ‘teamwork’ are more common answers to our one-word Q&As.”
Bevitt said the JobKeeper Payments announced by the Prime Minister on 30 March[i] had also contributed to improved optimism within the team. As part of the $130 billion JobKeeper package, the government will pay eligible employers $1,500 per fortnight for each eligible worker – equal to around 70% of the national median wage.
Business owner reflections in the eye of the COVID-19 storm
On a personal note, Bevitt has found working in isolation a chore, but has continued to lead by example. “As a business owner I have been prepared to be vulnerable with my team to show them that we were all in this crisis together.”
Also sociable by nature, Bevitt thrives on working in an office environment, “So, being stuck at home alone has been a challenge for me.”
He continues, “I’m not alone but I have gone a little stir crazy and have even ventured back into the office to get the creative juices flowing. When working at home, you can easily lose track of time and even what day it is. It’s hard to get in the headspace to take the business to the next level, which is why I occasionally venture into the office even if it’s on my own.”
Being forced to work remotely has provided Bevitt with more self-reflection time. “As an SME owner, I’ve recognised it’s very important to recognise your achievements.
“Based on the reactions from the team and clients, we have handled our response to COVID-19 in the right way,” Bevitt confided. “We operate from a place of authenticity with our clients and staff. This is the right way to conduct a business and is helping us to keep the lights on in a dark hour.”
Breakout: The value of market research
Market research plays several roles for his clients in helping them keep the lights on through a crisis such as COVID-19, according to Bevitt. “It provides confidence and certainty from having the data that validates a business or marketing decision.
“We have worked with clients who have created new products or marketing campaigns and if they hadn’t done research, they could have headed in the wrong direction and lost millions of dollars.”
Also, research is often used to create data in the absence of data. “Research helps a business owner or marketing manager fill the gaps about the aspects of their industry, customers, opportunities and threats that that they don’t know about. “Research is used to explore that space and is used to provide greater insights.”
To find out more about the value of market research and customer insights, contact Honeycomb Strategy on (03) 9957 8822.
The Honeycomb team on Zoom