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updated: 9/8/2021 10:38 AM

The Pandemic Pivot: How I grew my business 300% during lockdown

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  • Jack Schacht

    Jack Schacht

 
By Jack Schacht
My College Planning Team

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.

My four-year-old consultancy, My College Planning Team, hit a brick wall during the COVID-19 lockdowns. We had a full schedule of presentations at libraries, churches, high schools and park recreation centers to parents who were navigating the process of choosing -- and then paying for -- college.

The pandemic shut down all those venues. What to do now?

Well, after 50-plus years in marketing, management and business leadership, I've become pretty adept at pivoting. I seriously believe there is an opportunity to be found within every challenge life brings my way.

When it became impossible for our team of experts in college admissions and financial aid to present to audiences in live venues, we pivoted (like a lot of companies) to virtual workshops. Even during a pandemic, parents are interested in how to help their child find a college and how they're going to pay for it.

The result? My College Planning Team increased its sales 300% during a pandemic that shuttered many other businesses.

My pre-COVID business model of doing over 100 live workshops a year in the Chicago area was really rather archaic and a reflection of my generation. COVID was my wake-up call and told me that it was time to change my model to doing webinars instead.

So I hired the talent required to make our webinars engaging for our audience and productive for us.

Previously, my Naperville-based business had good penetration in the western suburbs, but we were struggling to expand beyond the Midwest. Now that we've gone virtual, we are serving clients across the country.

With many adults and teens vaccinated and community resources opening up, My College Planning Team has resumed in-person workshops, which are free and open to the public. Titles like "Understanding College Financial Aid" and "Paying for College Without Going Broke" certainly resonate with a lot of families.

We do, however, require a large audience to send out a speaking team. If the audience is going to be small, we stick with the webinar format. It's given us a lot more flexibility, in addition to reach.

It's not the first time I've had to shift gears in my 81 years. My first business, Career Counselors, started nearly 60 years ago, and it launched the careers of hundreds of college graduates at major companies throughout the Chicago area.

Even though I didn't know how to play backgammon, I sensed it would be a popular pastime, so I founded the National Backgammon League, which sponsored backgammon tournaments and special events at over 20 locations throughout the Chicago area.

My next business, Illinois Trade Association, started in 1984 and became the largest commercial barter exchange in the United States. I sold it to International Monetary Systems in 2006.

I'm proud of my ability to retain talented employees by fostering a culture of leadership.

For My College Planning Team, I brought together an extensive network of college advisors, high school counselors and financial experts all focused on one goal: To leave no stone unturned to reduce college costs at a good-fit college for the student.

Though I am exploring how to turn my business over to one of the leaders on our team, I really don't see a life of leisure in my future and will probably remain with the team as a volunteer as I enter my dotage.

But who knows what other opportunity may come along?