kelly campbell

Kelly Campbell

Entrepreneurship in the era of COVID-19 revolves around this: relationships.

It involves being authentic with a prospective clients or partners and forming connections with them. Kelly Campbell, a New York-based agency transformation coach, says businesses that are succeeding in the current climate are the ones who can show their humanity and remember that you may never know what’s happening behind the scenes of that prospective client.

Campbell is one of four keynote speakers during the three-day Innovate South conference, which advertises itself as being open to all creatives, visionaries, forward-thinkers and entrepreneurs. Sessions start Wednesday and will all be online at innovatesouth.org.

“In this current climate, you have people who are really scared,” said Campbell, a former digital marketing agency owner and host of a biweekly podcast who does about a dozen speaking engagements a year. “They may have lost a loved one to COVID. They may be experiencing grief.

“If (businesses) are having a relationship and conversation with people, they have to understand this is an unprecedented time. You’re dealing with a lot of racial strife. There’s a lot of upheaval. The more you can develop a rapport with the person on the other side and meet them at their humanity, you’re going to win the business deal.”

Here’s another key for businesses to succeed in the COVID era: being able to pivot successfully and, she noted, not just pivot for pivot’s sake.

The pandemic has had its winners (delivery services, grocery stores) and losers (sit-down restaurants, large retail stores), but Campbell told the story of one of her clients, the top in-person scavenger hunt company in the country. In business since 1999, it did hundreds of hunts in person but very few that were held virtually.

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Once the pandemic hit, the business shifted to almost all its hunts being virtual. The result: Revenue is up about 40% since last year.

And how it got there was simple: It fell back on its core value of connecting people when people needed it the most.

“One of their values was connection,” she said. “(They said,) ‘What is our reason for being? If our reason is connection, we have an opportunity before us.’ When the world pivoted, their company was there. They were able to meet the needs by going back to their core values. The people who are the most successful, they are realizing the impact of all these things.”

Sessions with Innovate South start Wednesday and will offer a collaborative space to share and learn from peers during three days of workshops, panel discussions, keynote presentations and pitch competitions.

It will also feature two pitch competitions this year — the Get Started Medical Pitch Competition presented by Cox Business, in partnership with Ochsner Lafayette General and Opportunity Machine, which includes a $20,000 cash prize, and the Invest Acadiana competition, which is focused on funding projects within Acadiana Opportunity Zones and connect local OZ projects with local and national investors.

“Having attended past conferences and learning so much great information from other business owners, I’m ready to give back to our entrepreneur ecosystem here in Lafayette with information and action items that have been crucial to our company’s continued success,” said Ben Johnson, founder of Techneaux Technology Services and conference presenter. “As a technology nerd, I’m more comfortable behind a screen, so I am pumped that Innovate South has gone digital this year.”

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Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.