inResponse - Micah Slavens - Things That Are Open

COVID-19 is impacting our communities and changing the way we work, live and interact with each other.

We all want to know how people, business owners and our communities have been impacted and how they’re handling COVID-19. This global change is posing challenges to people, businesses and governments all over the world. Hearing and learning how others are responding to these unique challenges can often help inspire new and creative ways to react and respond in positive ways to aid our community.

inResponse is a new program in partnership with What I Wish I Knew to explore these questions and learn from each other. We’ll interview local leaders and business owners to gain insight into how they cope with challenges like the current pandemic. We’re on the hunt for answers, information and solutions and will look to share these so each of us can turn this challenge into an opportunity.

For the first session of inResponse we chatted with Micah Slavens, Principal and Managing Director of Lift Interactive - an award-winning digital agency in Edmonton. Micah has been serving many impactful community initiatives including Startup Edmonton, Make Something Edmonton and the Citadel Theatre. Lift has always been focused on supporting their community, especially now in times of crisis.

How are you making time and energy for more than just crisis management?

The motivation isn’t constant. “It comes in waves”, Micah says. The team at Lift Interactive has had to respond quickly to the shifting landscape caused by COVID-19. In response to this, they have created “Things That Are Open”, a web platform showcasing the local businesses and services that are still open and running in the city. As timelines are still unknown, businesses and entrepreneurs will need to be able to adapt on the fly.

“It’s the small things like helping a friend set up an online store for their business, or writing an article online”. These micro-level actions have been creating a serious ripple effect in the community, as businesses are stepping up and using their collective power to respond to COVID. All over the world small business is suffering as many people have already been self-isolating for several weeks. Small businesses are facing difficult choices to reduce hours, temporarily lay-off staff, and even close their doors for good.

How are you leading your team currently? What kind of challenges are you facing?

“How do we want to come out of this?” Micah reflects on a team meeting in March when businesses and services began shutting down. Leading a group of 25+ staff isn’t a simple task on the best of days, so during a pandemic, you have to throw out the rule book altogether.

“There are days where I feel like I am doing well, and rallying the troops. Then there are days where I feel like I am doing an absolutely brutal job.” 

For Micah, it’s about pushing forward and focusing on helping Lift’s customers and community. “I just said you know, we have to throw everything out the window if you can work and if you’ve got the energy, get stuff done. The more we can get done for our customers...the better the likelihood of surviving.” 

For less established small businesses, times like these can be even tougher. Not having the networks or experience to help you brace for the impact COVID-19 is having can all but close the doors for good. We’ve seen drastic pivots and creative thinking coming out of this showing signs of success. So, will this lead to a shift in the way businesses run in the future when the pandemic has ended?

Will businesses continue some of the trends we are seeing happening right now?

Micah believes that the changes we are seeing now will be in place when things begin to normalize. “Some people will have to get more creative, more flexible, more scrappy as some businesses won’t have the budgets they are used to.” For businesses looking to bounce back from this quickly, operations may not look the same coming out of this.

“Another big one is letting go of some of the expectations and entitlement that we had before. We have to let go of that and just adapt. We have to be there for people, to show them that we can help, be nimble, and be eager to work with them.”

What are 3 tips you can give to small business owners to help them through this?

•  Communicate with your customers proactively

•  Think outside the box and look for different ways to do business and partner with others

•  Let go of expectations and entitlement

“It’s that lean mentality of “fail early, fail often”. I love when something goes quickly from a spark of an idea to the name, to developing a brand, that’s the most fun part, and I see a lot of that happening”

You can check out and stay connected to Things That Are Open and Lift Interactive using these links: 

•  Things That Are Open Edmonton

•  Lift Interactive

•  @liftogram