“A crisis is a difficult, uncertain, and dangerous time. To thrive during a crisis, you need to change your mindset to prepare for risk and minimize its impact. You do this by lowering your needs to the bare minimum and constantly evaluating the situation in case you need to quickly adjust the strategy.” — Jerry Flanagan
In the next interview in the series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crises and how to adapt and overcome from a business owner that is building his organization with Veterans and Military Family Members. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
Today I am joined by Jerry Flanagan. An Army veteran and entrepreneur who created a national brand dedicated to empowering Veterans through business ownership. He founded JDog Brands (www.jdogbrands.com), which includes JDog Junk Removal & Hauling and JDog Carpet Cleaning. Rooted in the Military values of Respect, Integrity, and Trust, JDog has become a nationwide movement, creating business and employment opportunities for Veterans and Military family members nationwide.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I enlisted in the Army after high school in 1987 and served as a Combat Signaler — also known as a wire dog, which is how I earned the nickname “JDog” — until 1989. I loved being a wire dog; it was intense physical work, which was extremely fulfilling.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Everything I learned in the Military — the values, work ethic, camaraderie, trust — made me who I am and is the foundation of the JDog Brands business model. Early on, I relied on that training even while I was still learning the ropes of the junk removal business. I showed up on time, looked put together, and said “yes sir” or “yes ma’am.” These qualities gave me a competitive edge and a good reputation, and they’re helping hundreds of our franchise owners run successful businesses today.
My Military experience accelerated my leadership abilities, too. In the Army, we had to quickly access situations, make snap judgments, and watch the backs of those who were relying on us. The same is true in the world of business. Veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce gravitate toward that familiar leadership style. Having these individuals as part of our team streamlines our operations and makes us a more efficient organization because they understand the importance of a chain of command.
We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
A crisis is a difficult, uncertain, and dangerous time. To thrive during a crisis, you need to change your mindset to prepare for risk and minimize its impact. You do this by lowering your needs to the bare minimum and constantly evaluating the situation in case you need to quickly adjust the strategy.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
That’s the problem — each crisis is different and it comes fast and unannounced. In the case of COVID-19, no one could have prepared for things to unfold the way it did. But you can learn from the past and find ways to safeguard your assets and employees.
After a crisis, business leaders should evaluate decisions made, understand where things may have gone wrong, then make sure they’re financially prepared to handle a crisis. It’s different for everyone and every business, but I abide by the rule that we have one year of funds on hand to maintain the business.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
The first step during a crisis is to develop three plans broken up into the following timeframes: one month, six months, and one year. In each of those plans, get rid of every unnecessary expense and stop investing in the future. This is survival mode.
The next step is to evaluate the crisis daily — hourly if you’re in the thick of it — and be prepared to change on a moment’s notice.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
The best leaders who emerge from a crisis are confident and open-minded. They always remain flexible and are ready to move on a plan quickly.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I’ve had to live this scenario over and over again, so I speak from personal experience.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My worst personal crisis was the closing of the business my wife Tracy and I previously owned. It happened during the last economic crash. We lost everything and had to find a way to start over, while still taking care of our family and our two daughters in middle school, who needed positive, involved, supportive parents.
Ultimately we had to file for bankruptcy and build a whole new company to survive. But out of those setbacks came JDog Junk Removal & Hauling and JDog Brands. It wasn’t easy, but looking back we made the right decisions and came out stronger than ever before.
Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful during crisis planning:
- Stop and think. You need to pause and absorb the information you’re getting, then consider the impact for the next 30 days, six months, and year.
- Write down your worst-case scenario. Layout your doomsday scenario so you can make good judgments if everything goes south at once. Do this for both your family and business.
- Build on the scenario. Bring your strategies down to level one survivor mode. This includes basics like food, shelter, and health.
- Strategize how to get out. Once you have your worst-case plan established and can ensure your business and family is protected at the fundamental levels, begin to take small chances to prepare for getting out from under the crisis. This requires a little optimism, while still being realistic that things could turn for the worse (fall back on your initial plans in this case).
- Always lead and remain positive. Things will turn around; they always do. As a leader you’re poised to help others see the bright side, so present a “never quit” mentality to your peers, family, and friends, and reassure them that things will get better.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
We need to hire more Veterans. Not because it’s the “right thing” to do, but because it’s a smart business decision.
We also need to do more as a society to support Veteran-owned businesses. There are approximately 2.5 million Veteran-owned businesses, which generate over 1 trillion dollars and employ nearly 6 million Americans. By supporting these businesses, you’re supporting the economy. Anyone can do their part, whether it’s choosing a Veteran-owned brand instead of the competition, buying a gift card to get a smaller company through tough times such as these, or writing a positive review on Google, Yelp, or Facebook. Every bit matters.
How can our readers follow you online?
I welcome anyone to connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d also encourage everyone reading this to follow JDog Brands and our JDog Junk Removal & Hauling and JDog Carpet Cleaning accounts on social media to see what we’re up to next and how you can join the movement.