5 min read June 25, 2021
Are your employee benefits and company culture ready to move ahead?

How one Midwest tech firm not only weathered the pandemic but better prepared itself to take advantage of a new phase of growth.

Photo of a business reopening after the pandemic.

Quick takeaways

  • As business activity gains momentum, your business can get ready to ride the next growth wave.
  • Companies that maintained good communication and employee feedback throughout the pandemic could be better positioned for steady growth.
  • Bolstering employee benefits can help a business recruit—especially in the most competitive industries.

The pandemic taught some businesses a thing or two about how to better handle the next crisis.

One such business is Aspire, a St. Louis tech firm and Principal® client specializing in management software for landscaping companies. At first, the company braced itself for the worst: It froze hiring in March 2020, cut its budget, and lowered its annual revenue targets.

But as it settled into remote work it also began to recognize fresh opportunities.

“We took a longer view of the situation and pivoted our sales and marketing more toward education and thought leadership versus landing new business,” says Jim Clayman, vice president of marketing at Aspire.

Aspire focused on producing webinars, articles, and blog posts to share its expertise rather than directly pitching products. “Our audience, also pausing, had time to consume that content,” Clayman says. “We forged a lot of new relationships during the pandemic with people who have since become our clients.”

”This is a lesson for business owners to analyze what makes your brand and expertise unique,” says Mark West, national vice president of business solutions for Principal. “And then don’t be afraid to share that expertise through good thought leadership. You’re not giving away your value—you’re demonstrating it to potential clients.”


Measurable optimism and growth in the great reopening

More industries and businesses have joined Aspire in recalibrating to be ready to survive and thrive in the great reopening, according to various data.

In March 2021, our Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM (keep in mind this was ahead of widespread vaccine distribution) already showed buoyed business and optimism:

  • 57% of businesses felt optimistic.
  • 77% already were comfortable with cash flow.
  • 65% expected full recovery within the year.
  • 82% of smaller businesses already were maintaining or adding jobs.

Then the quarterly survey in May from the National Association for Business Economics (a panel of 49 forecasters) offered a bullish projection of 6.7% growth for this year’s gross domestic product (GDP).

This makes it even more important to staff up now to be ready for the great reopening, West says. With so many businesses struggling to hire enough or the right employees, think ahead about whether, if necessary, you can operate with a smaller staff, or shift some operations online.

2 keys for post-pandemic business growth and success

In early 2021, Aspire made two key decisions that can help inform how you approach your own post-pandemic business:

1. Nurture a positive company culture to reassure and unite employees.

“If anything, we over-communicated,” Clayman says. “We wanted everyone to know that our company’s long-term prospects were still bright and that, together, we would get through these uncertain times.”

That included “ask me anything” virtual sessions during which the CEO met with small groups of employees to encourage feedback—purposely excluding the rest of the management team to help conversation flow more freely without the presence of direct supervisors.

Aspire even booked a New York City comedian who joined the company online for a stand-up routine. She even called on employees and incorporated them into the act, as if everybody was sitting in the same room.

“We were able to maintain our company culture during a crazy year, and it has really set us up for post-pandemic success,” Clayman says.

Businesses can make that kind of progress right now, too, West says.

We were able to maintain our company culture during a crazy year, and it has really set us up for post-pandemic success.”

Jim Clayman, vice president of marketing at Aspire

“If you lost a little bit of that family feel that a small business likes to have, ask yourself, what did your employees value before the pandemic, and what might they value even more now?” he says.

How you nurtured your staff in 2019 may not necessarily work in 2021 or 2022.

2. Maintain or boost employee benefits to stay competitive.

In January 2021, Aspire raised its 401(k) match to spur employee retirement savings, added paid time off and holidays, and held health insurance premiums steady by absorbing the cost increase. Such changes should be welcome to any workforce coping with the various stresses of a pandemic. But for a company that’s already grown from 70 to 110 employees in little more than a year, part of Aspire’s motivation is to remain a competitive recruiter.

“It’s getting tough to find good talent with the labor market,” Clayman says. “Software developers are a hot commodity.”

According to Principal data, even retirement plan sponsors that suspended their company match during the pandemic have begun reinstating it—about 40% of them in the first quarter of 2021.

Try the Benefit Design Tool to see how your employee benefit offerings compare to other businesses like yours.

As part of recruiting and retention, Aspire also has become more open to remote work—hiring more employees in other cities—as well as allowing hybrid work for its core staff in St. Louis.

Owners also should pay attention to how they might entice key employees to stay and help grow the business, West says.

“Make them feel like they have skin in the game, like an owner would,” he says. “They’re far less likely to leave if they understand how they contribute to tangible business goals and then get rewarded for meeting them.”

Aspire not only recovered in 2020 but ended with a record year. It has been growing at a 50% rate for several years and is doing everything within its power during the great reopening to ensure that continues.

“We have a strong product that materially transforms our clients’ businesses, and we treat and support our clients very well,” Clayman says. “Those fundamentals remain the building blocks of growth for us.”

What’s next?

Aspire is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group®.

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® and its employees are not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other financial professionals and other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.

Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Co., a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.