In our big 50th episode of the “Law & Business” podcast, Anthony sits down with Amy Birks, a strategic growth advisor for businesses. Amy has over a decade of experience in corporate finance, developing strategies and managing projects, and six years creating digital marketing and growth strategies for online businesses. That’s what makes her the purposeful CEO’s secret weapon for growth and results.

Amy and Anthony talk about how the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has caused a “new normal,” debate whether this is around for a long time, how businesses are already quickly adapting to it, and how businesses need to continue to adapt, regardless of what a “new normal” looks like. After all, no matter what happens, technology will continue to develop and change business. Enjoy!

Anthony Verna: (00:19)
Welcome listeners to the Law and Business podcast. Once again, I’m Anthony Verna, but you knew that if you’ve been listening to the podcasts. With me is Amy Birks. How you doing, Amy?

Amy Birks:
I’m terrific. Thank you.

Anthony Verna:
Amy, I see you as a business consultant, somebody who is helping people to think of ways to grow. Am I being too wordy about what you do?

Amy Birks:
Am I too wordy or are you too wordy?

Anthony Verna:
No, am I being too wordy?

Amy Birks:
No, I think you summarized it really well. I think you did a great job.

Anthony Verna:
Well cause you have people just go intellectual property lawyer. You can get me in a couple of words. I can never see if I can get you in a couple words. So let’s start here. A lot of us are hunkered down. A lot of us are cooped up. You are. I am. And I guess a lot of businesses are changing because of that.
Amy Birks: (01:19)
Yeah. At the time that we’re recording this right now, we’re kind of in the height of all the unknowns around the coronavirus and so everything is uncertain and it seems to keep changing on a day to day basis, hour by hour, really. I mean right now, especially in our country and really across the world. So we’re seeing this very, very interesting shift in how everything is done. And what I’m noticing is that there’s a couple of different opportunities. One is that we can all react from a space of fear of the uncertainty because unknowns and change and uncertainty create a good amount of discomfort for most people. But I think the other opportunity is looking at how we can, as business owners, especially how we can respond creatively to what’s happening. And rather than seeing it as like, Oh, wow, our business could be in danger. Our economy could be in some real danger to seeing what the possibilities are instead. And that’s what I’m most excited about because I am somebody who sees opportunities. I find them like a heat seeking missile and so I just keep seeing them everywhere I go. I see them and especially for small businesses cause that’s who I support.

Anthony Verna: (02:45)
I’ve always seen you seen you, Amy as a bit of an optimist as well.

Amy Birks: (02:49)
Yes. That is also true. That is also true. But I think that’s needed right now. You know, like you said, we’re all hunkered down. I’m sitting outside on the back porch of my home right now because the children are home from school and they’re very noisy which is also wonderful. Like it’s great that we’re all getting opportunities to connect more with our families, but there’s a lot of uncertainty and I think that if we can find those moments to be optimistic and hopeful, then that is what is really required. I think for all of us right now to move on and to continue to grow. Growth is my business, right? That’s what I do is I help companies grow. And so in order for us to grow, we have to be able to adapt to change and be willing to do that. And that’s sometimes hard when we’re afraid.

Anthony Verna: (03:36)
So let’s get into specifics. What are some really specific things about change that businesses have to do? I mean number one. Let me see if I can start and see this a little bit. I’m noticing, of course that a lot of business networking events are either being canceled or being held virtually. I’ll tell you what’s been interesting this week for me is I’m noticing how a lot of people might not be dressing for… like right now I’m not dressed for business, but you and I are on audio, and I’ve been drafting an amended complaint in one of my cases with co-counsel. So, I don’t necessarily need to be in a suit to do all of that. But when you’re meeting with people, I mean I’m noticing how many people this week have been in t-shirts and baseball caps, when I normally would see them in a suit.

Amy Birks: (04:37)
It’s funny that you bring that up. So you know, as you and I were mentioning before you started the recording, we’re living in a whole new world right now and I think everything is up for grabs in terms of how things will be different when we get to whatever the new normal is. Like, I think that, as humans we’re all looking for when the switch is going to get flipped back and we’re going to be able to say, ah, okay, now it’s familiar again. But the thing that I keep talking to my clients about the last two weeks as I’m helping them think through creatively how they can be responsive right now and actually grow their businesses instead of shrinking and without being opportunists as I think many companies are doing right now in kind of a manipulative, funky way.

But the thing that I keep talking to them about is that we have an opportunity to just change the game entirely. And so part of that, I think the landscape is going to change and the collective of all of us are moving and bobbing and weaving and trying to regain our balance and feel through how this is affecting us. And it’s so unfamiliar that it creates that discomfort and all of that. And eventually we’re going to get more familiar with the discomfort and that’s going to start to feel more normal again. But in the meantime, everything is possible. All these companies who for years have resisted the idea of remote work and said that they could never operate that way, well now they have to. And so they’re figuring it out. I think there’s so many different examples of that and this creativity that’s coming to the forefront. And so, you know what I think is funny about this conversation right here about people dressing in t-shirts is that I was talking to one of my friends and former clients this morning, helping her brainstorm some stuff and she’s a stylist. And one of the things that she’s talking a lot about right now is that we could be home, sitting… and me, like I’ve been working from home for 10 years now and so I know, and I started out, right? Yeah.

Anthony Verna: (06:34)
You and me both working from home for ten years.

Amy Birks: (06:36)
Right? So, in the first few months for me, I was like, yeah, pajama bottoms, yoga pants. That’s what it’s all about. And I was so psyched. But in reality, our productivity is different when we don’t take care of ourselves. And so this is what Susan and I were talking about. So Sue Stelaria is this like wonderful, amazing stylist and she’s like, if we’re not at least trying a little bit, then our, our whole state of being changes. And so it’s not just even our productivity, I think, as humans who are going to evolve and grow and thrive and, or survived through this, our emotional wellbeing is a part of that and feeling good about ourselves as a big part of that too. So, like showing up in the t-shirt for the first week or two, I get it. But I think we all have an opportunity to consider our emotional wellbeing, how we’re taking care of ourselves and showing up as a person who is like, Hey, I’m here. I do good work and I’m a professional. I can win business this way, or I could lose it this way too. And, I think there’s so many different things that are new and different and exciting because of that. To me at least.

Anthony Verna: (07:46)
It’s funny, I just posted a video blog about the state of the intellectual property system, in the United States. And one of the things that I said is actually for the most part it’s not really changing because the patent and trademark office in the United States has really been a work from home kind of forced to begin with due to budgetary cuts and other needs in order to grow the workforce, but keep costs at a certain point. So, everybody there’s already been work from home.

Amy Birks: (08:15)
And what I think is so great about that, by the way, as you and I were talking about again before we started the recording, is that right now there are all these people who have have idle minds like who are trying to get their minds off of the state of the world right now and are looking at finding ways to be creative. And that to me right now I think is the key to how can we all innovate? And so, because I think there’s going to be so much of that people are at home, they’re not going anywhere. They have nothing but time right now that I think that your industry is in a really great position because people are going to be ideating, they’re going to be creating, and they’re going to be creating from a space of thought leadership and intellectual property.

And that is also very exciting, creation and creativity right now, I think is one of the best tools that we have at our disposal, especially as business owners. And, if we can think differently about how else we can serve our populations or audiences or communities or our clients, then we’ll be poised to weather this storm. And again, I think there’s lots of potential to grow, for businesses to grow and not shrink if they can. If the founders and principals can look at the potential that exists from an authentic service standpoint and not from a how can I maximize this opportunity and be manipulative and shady and make $1 million during the coronavirus.

Anthony Verna: (09:46)
So, when you say an authentic service standpoint, what specifically are you thinking about?

Amy Birks: (09:54)
So, I’m really lucky in that all of the clients that I work with are amazing humans with companies and products and services that are helpful to the world, right? And they also happen to be people who actually care about the world. And so, I have seen, as I’m sure you have and probably your listeners have seen in the last several weeks, a lot more opportunistic messaging coming out. You know, people saying, “Hey, join this program.” or “Hey, buy this product.” or “You need this.” or “Buy Purell for $600 on Amazon for eight ounces or something like that.” There’s a lot of that happening. And so, when I’m thinking about authenticity, I’ve been encouraging my clients to feel into how they can connect more deeply with their audiences right now.

How can you show empathy and allow them to know that you’re a human having a human experience along with them. Right. I talk a lot with my community and my audience about the idea that we’re all humans helping humans or if we can be that that’s when business gets easier. When we can adopt this three H philosophy of humans helping humans, then then it gets easier because then it’s not about opportunity. It’s not about the opportunistic opportunity or the manipulative opportunity. It’s about genuine opportunity and what is possible. You know, a lot of my clients are worried about making offers or you know, having calls to action or pitching anything. And I think that makes sense right now. I think that there’s a lot of people, even the ones who are authentic and who do care, it still feels like we’re right now in this state today, I think we’re in this space where there’s so much information that we’re all overwhelmed and so we can’t… I think consumers can’t even necessarily digest to make decisions about what they might need or how they might buy. And so I think that proceeding a little bit slowly and cautiously to say, I’m here, I care, I get it. I’m experiencing it too is a good message to send that creates an authentic intimate connection with your audience.

Anthony Verna: (11:57)
No. And that makes perfect sense too to be self-referential in this example. And, a friend of mine who does marketing has basically said, “Well, you probably shouldn’t be marketing during during a crisis.” And while I understand that particular perspective, as I had just said a couple of minutes ago, the entire intellectual property system is still active and working and there are people who are not represented, whose trademarks are still being rejected and who still have deadlines or whose trademarks are being challenged or whose patents are being challenged. And they still have deadlines because the system is still open. So there are plenty of things are where gee, the economy is still open and there are still deadlines and important deadlines.

Amy Birks: (12:55)
Yup. Well, and I think the other thing, again, because my clients are such kind of authentic and high integrity people I think it’s really a lot of the other kind of side of that conversation that I’ve been having with them is about when is it okay? Like I don’t feel like I want to put an offer. I don’t want to invite people to work with me right now. You know, that sort of thing. And at the end of the day I don’t think it’s about do it or don’t do it. I think it’s about feeling into it and knowing that your services are really necessary right now. People need them. You know, especially if you’re in an industry that is poised to help, like if there are things that you can do that are going to help the collective, then you should be ready to do that.

Don’t feel like you can’t. I’m like, you can’t make an offer or you can’t have a call to action or something like that because simply because we’re all experiencing this very uncertain time right now. I think that it’s about, leading with that authenticity, that empathy, that understanding and a desire to care more about the person that’s on the other end of the transaction than it is about the transaction itself. And if you can really be in that place and not let our minds get in the way of overthinking when to make the offer, how to write it, what the copy should be able to do that. I think the more that we can just get down to I actually care about the people who pay attention to what I’m doing, and they need me right now.

And so how can I best show up and serve them right now? And if it means, you know what, I’m going to wait to suggest that we do business together, then that’s great. And if it means that I’m gonna tell my list of 10,000 that they can email me if they need me and I’m here to listen, and that’s it. And that’s not something you would ever do before then try that. I think that again, all bets are off right now and it’s going to end. What I think is also interesting is that perhaps somebody is going to be listening to this episode a year from now. I think that what we’re talking about right now is still going to be relevant because everything, nothing is going to be the way that it was before.

Everything is going to be different. And so we have opportunities to really, I think become so much more conscious of our neighbors. Our communities are the people who we’re here to serve more than ever before. And that is what my hope at least is that that is what is going to be the lasting impact of the coronavirus will be that we all are going to see how much more important it is to be there for one another in a kind high integrity, authentic, empathetic way.

Anthony Verna: (15:45)
All right. So now you just kicked in my cynical lawyer mode.

Amy Birks: (15:53)
Lay it on me, lay it on me. Whatever. You got it.

Anthony Verna: (15:57)
No. Well, I’m not completely sure that once this passes, everything is completely changing. I’m not sure that I necessarily agree with that because people still, I still think that there are going to be efficiencies to meeting face to face. I mean once the internet started kicking in high gear, people thought that or I should say, I shouldn’t say people, I shouldn’t say a lot of a lot of futurists and academic people were thinking that the arc of humanity would be to move even further out into the suburbs and the excerpts and get lots of land and cities would die because we can now meet by video. Well, you know, instead what happened was that cities got bigger and bigger and bigger, even though the technology keeps getting better and better. So, I’m not sure that I completely, I mean I see where you’re going with it, but I’m not sure that I completely agree with your arc.

Amy Birks: (16:57)
Yeah. So, let me qualify my arc then because I’m not saying that I think that by any means.
No, what I’m saying is that
I don’t think that what the future holds for us is like some dystopian future where we don’t connect in person or anything like that. What I’m seeing as possible is new paradigm shifts in the way that we think about how we do business and that the companies and that again, you know, to use this example again, the companies that historically have said no to remote work, well now see that it’s possible to do that or that schedule can shift or that the small business pizza shop who in the past thought that the only thing they could do is make pizza and people pick it up or they eat it there now is like, okay, I’m going to create a pizza kit and people can come pick that up and they can make pizza at home.

We’re being nimble. And I think the other possibility and potentiality for me that I’m most optimistic about is how it’s going to create a deeper desire for humans to be connected to one another in an authentic way. And so right now, the method of that has to be virtual. It’s simply because of the state of the world. And we’re not entitled to, are not encouraged to be in proximity to people other than our families right now. But think about that, right? You know, we’re forced indoors with our families. We’re forced to find new ways to connect with the people who we tend to move and pass, like kind of the ships passing. I think a lot of us in our families because we’re so busy focusing on work, like I think it’s creating this intense opportunity for everyone from personal to business, from to political whatever, to reorganize and reprioritize what’s important.

And so to me the in-person opportunities for events and things that I see the potential for them to become a lot more intimate and connected, not intimate, small, but like connected and the things that matter more are going to be the relationships and the people and our connection to humanity than ever before. And that is what I think is so cool is that if we as a collective can see how important humanity is and the world is like, think about… They’re announcing today how this is impacting global warming in a positive way. Like there’s all of these cool things that are coming out of this. And so those are the potentiality. Is that against you to overuse? The word that I’m most excited about is like what it means for us in the more broad sense of connection and humanity being good to one another and that prioritizing that in an era when I think we’ve really dropped that down to a lower rung.

Anthony Verna: (19:47)
I hope that your optimism comes through. We will find out. In the short term,. how are you finding that your clients are specifically changing to the week and a half that we’ve had so far?

Amy Birks: (20:05)
Yeah, so most of my clients, actually I think all of my clients are online business owners. So, they all have had, you know, like none of them are really feeling like, Oh, I have to change a whole lot in terms of their operations. Many of them are, are shifting how they’re thinking when like the conversations that I’m having with them is really helping them think through how they’re responding to their own clients.

Anthony Verna: (20:28)
So let me stop you for one second. So just because when you say a lot of your clients are online businesses, maybe we can define that a little better because technically, I think a lot of us have had an online component and an offline component. I’m

just curious how you define that.

Amy Birks:
Thank you for, for making that distinction.

So, none of my business owners have any sort of an offline presence. Their entire business happens remotely. They work with their clients either because they sell a digital product, or they have a service offering that happens in a remote way. But none of them have any sort of a brick and mortar type of business. So what we’re really focused on are the kind of conversations that we’re having right now are really how can they serve their audiences differently. Like, I have one client who teaches health coaches how to grow their businesses. And she’s got this really robust, wonderful program that she takes them through. And so right now, her health coaches are a little scared and they don’t really know what to do and should they be making offers and what’s the state of the affairs for our world going to, how’s that gonna change?

Anthony Verna: People still need to eat healthy food. Right?

Amy Birks:
Exactly. That’s what she was worried about that. So my client, so it’s interesting, right? The ripple that happens.

Anthony Verna:
Just not look at my diet for the last week, but people still…

Amy Birks:
We’re all stressing right now, I promise you.

Anthony Verna:
The local Mexican place near me had buy one get one burritos.

Amy Birks:
I mean you gotta support a local business, my friend.

Oh, I know. So my client, Michelle, she messages me and she says, I’m a little worried like nobody’s going to buy my program right now because nobody’s buying. I think that’s the other bit of misinformation that is kind of is like a concern that isn’t necessarily true. And so I said to her, look, you know, here’s the thing. Your clients are some of the most important people right now in the world because they are here to help. Like they are actually their job, their role. And the reason why they decided to become a health coach is because they wanted to help humanity become more healthy. And right now, one of the most important things each of us as individuals can do is take care of ourselves first. Like figure out what we need to do to make sure that we ourselves as individuals are balanced.

Because if we’re not balanced, then we’re going to be stressed. We’re going to be in high anxiety, we’re going to yell at our kids, we’re going to freak out about the news. We’re going to like… all of these things are going to impact us way, way, way more than they would have. And so, I said that to her, which reminded her to say that to her clients and now she’s helping them pivot or to think differently about how they can be responsive. So, my clients are really, again, just thinking more creatively about how they can better serve their constituents, their clients and what offers to make. And again, the conversation that I keep having with them is how can you deepen the relationship, show up as an empathetic, I’m a participant in all this to say I understand how you feel.

I’m there too. And, and then to create context around what it is that you do so that and how how it’s positioned to be useful right now. One of the other things that I’ve been thinking a lot about are our businesses that I don’t support and how I keep seeing opportunities for them too… I keep looking in the mirror at my bangs and I keep thinking, Oh my gosh, when am I going to be able to get to my hairdresser? Right? Like, when am I going to be able to do that? I don’t know. My bangs are going to be in my eyes, I’m going to be screwed.

Oh my gosh.

Anthony Verna:
So just your bangs. I don’t think it’s a problem.

Amy Birks:
It’s a problem. First world problem perhaps. But it is a problem.

Anthony Verna:
I worry about my bangs all the time.

Amy Birks:
I’m sure you do. I’ve seen your bangs, they’re a problem. But you know, it’s one of those things. And so I’ve been thinking more about it and as I think about it, I don’t know how to cut my bangs. Right. I don’t know how to cut my bangs. And I thought, gosh, do you know if my hairdresser, she charges $15 for a bang trim. So if I wanted to go in between visits, I could get my bangs trimmed and she’d actually do it for me for free because I visit her, you know, every month or whatever it is. But it’s a $15 service. So, if my hairdresser were to say, I’m going to create a video that will teach you how to cut your bangs at home, it’s not something that’s going to remove a bunch of revenue for her.

Right. It’s not something that if I learned how to do that, she’s going to miss out. Especially because it’s something that she does for me for free anyway in between sessions. And it’s certainly not going to make her irrelevant to me on an ongoing basis cause she’s not teaching me how to touch up my roots or do my own highlights or any of that stuff, which is where her money really comes from. I’m still gonna go every month and pay her 150 bucks to do that. But if she charged me $30 to give me a video or a lesson or something like that virtually where I could learn how to cut my own bangs at home, then that would be wildly valuable, wildly valuable to me right now. You know, so like restaurants, if they were to let… like I mentioned the pizza shop doing an at home kit or if they created some sort of a virtual class that teaches people how to use the spices that they use in their restaurant or like did a series or something like that where they can still generate revenue, right?

Like something that feels like they’re making a contribution that people need right now that doesn’t make them also irrelevant. I think that’s the key takeaway here is how can we all do that? And so, I’m actually compiling a list that I’m trying to put together as I see other businesses and that we use that are hands-on, right? And day to day way who are shutting their doors and putting signs up that say we’re closed. Like, okay, cool, well here’s some creative ways that you may still be able to serve. Let’s keep you in business, let’s keep things happening. You don’t have to be afraid. You can still make things happen. If we can be creative and from a space of how else can I serve? What other skill sets can we bring to the table that are useful here and now that I may not have tapped into before?

Anthony Verna: (26:40)
I think, you know, I think things like that are very
useful, which is of course why I’ve been doing this podcast for a couple of years, which is why I’ve had the video blog as well for over a year. Like sometimes I do something, and somebody tells me, you know, I thought about doing it myself, but then I hear there’s this particular exception, there’s that particular exception. In other words, having the audio or the video means that I know that I can’t actually do it myself.

Amy Birks: (27:08)
Yeah. I mean I think that there’s a a reasonable amount of fear around that. And that is where I think it’s so useful to again be creative from a sense of service and also factoring in how do you then not make yourself irrelevant. And so, that’s the kind of logical brain side of it. I think the other side of it is yes, and if we’re not, like if we’re not afraid of that outcome then the outcome doesn’t have to be the outcome. I think that the more that we know cause the reality is even if my hairdresser taught me how to highlight my hair and I paid her whatever, $100 for a class on that, I’m never going to be able to do it as well as she is.

I’m going to be a generalist. Right. We’re all like … so I think is like a restaurant teaching a cooking class. Great. I’m still going to be so psyched on a Friday night to go out to dinner with my man and you know, sit and be served. Like that is still a thing. And I think that that what this kind of new normal that we’re moving towards, whatever that becomes, I think it’s going to continue to offer us opportunities to think creatively and to respond and think creatively and respond and think creatively and respond. So, yeah.

Anthony Verna: (28:27)
Yeah. I hear you very well on that. Since we are hitting the end point, for a lot of people who are feeling maybe still a little freaked out, maybe still not quite adapting to change or you know, maybe missing the teamwork of work or whatever the case might be. What’s a thought, you can leave them with?

Amy Birks: (28:53)
I’m going to think that the more that we can all adopt a viewpoint of what are the opportunities here? Like, what are the opportunities here that we can find through this whole situation and in general, right? So again, if you’re listening to this, a year from now, two years from now, 10 years from now, because everybody is following Anthony and loves his stuff, then, then truly I think that, that to me, that’s my philosophy in life is that anything and everything is possible. And so if that’s true, what are all the opportunities that exist in times of uncertainty, because in reality, we’re always in a state of unknown. It’s just more in our face right now than it ever was before. But everything is always unknown.

Nothing is certain. And so the more that we can get comfortable with that and not be afraid of it, the easier it is to be adaptable and to have bandwidth to think creatively and be responsive then otherwise. So, look for the opportunities, look for the moments that feel good and right and happy right now. You know, watch your kid sitting at the kitchen table watching Moe Williams teach her how to sketch the pigeon, who drives the bus, right? I was in tears watching my four-year-old do that the other day. Not because I thought it was sad, but because it was so, I was so touched that this guy like doesn’t have any obligation to do anything like that. He just wanted to help. He’s an author who wanted to help. And so look for those opportunities to feel good about what’s happening right now and then find and then think creatively and be adaptable so that you can find ways to navigate and know that it’s possible. Know that it’s possible. Nothing is written in stone. Nothing is certain.

Anthony Verna: (31:03)
It’s funny when you talk about how nothing is certain. We’re all kind of winging it anyway. A friend of mine from college and I always seem to return to that particular conversation that, that no matter how much of an expert we are the best that we can do is kind of take our past lessons and our past skills and apply it to what’s coming in front of us. But even still, we’re all kind of guessing because what’s in front of us is still a bunch of unknowns.

Amy Birks: (31:38)
Always, always is. And the more of us that can see that the more potential there is for us to, I think, thrive as a collective as well. So I’m, I’m thrilled that you guys sent that because then you don’t have to be afraid if you just know, like, all right, well, it’s always unknown. Okay, cool.

Anthony Verna: (31:58)
Well, as somebody who litigates, I think that has to be a part of your mindset. I can make an argument to two different judges, both of them who sit on the federal bench. So, both of them who’ve had years of experience, both of whom have practice probably in big law firms and they could both look at me and give me something radically different. I once had a copyright infringement lawsuit where the defendant basically did a cut and paste to the point that even the typos in the product were exactly the same typos as the plaintiff’s product. And the judge was like kind of looking at me like, well, there’s some issue as to even like where the source of the information comes from. And I’m like, your honor, the typos are the same.

Amy Birks:
You couldn’t anticipate what the judge was going to do. Like it seems so certain, but it just isn’t. It’s a metaphor for life.

Anthony Verna:
Yes, exactly. So on that note, Amy, I thank you for your positivity in thought. And if you want to find Amy, you can go to Amy Birks, B I R K How did I do?

Amy Birks:
You did great, my friend.

Anthony Verna:
I will speak to you soon, and of course, if you’re listening out there, don’t forget to rate us if you’re listening on your iOS device.