When Brian Butler moved to Lutz roughly 14 years ago, he figured he would have plenty of time to assume a meaningful role at a Tampa Bay company, play golf and go fishing.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
The opportunities the decorated retired U.S. Army officer had envisioned didn’t materialize.
“I thought I had a lot to offer this community. And, I was humbled in a way that I just couldn’t believe,” Butler said.
So, when he couldn’t find the right fit, he created his own company.
Vistra Communications, LLC started small, with Butler as its sole employee, working out of his Lutz home. Over time, the president and CEO has led a company that has grown to include 100 team members.
The company provides marketing, communications and consulting services to corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, and federal, state and local governments.
Butler recently shared some of his expertise and experiences through a virtual Zoom meeting with members of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.
“You know, starting and running a small business is a challenge. You all know that,” Butler said.
It’s particularly challenging now, he said.
“This is a tough environment. This hasn’t been seen in our country in a long, long time,” Butler said. “Not just the COVID, but you look at the civil unrest. You look at the political unrest. You add all of those things in, it just adds to a very, very tough business environment.”
Companies were caught off-guard by the economic meltdown caused by COVID-19.
“It came fast. I think it caught us by surprise that we’d be put in a situation that three months later, we’d still be in a position where a lot of businesses haven’t reopened yet.
“But, I think our team will tell you as soon as we made the decision that we were going to work from home, we became very aggressive with growing our presence,” he said. They did that online and through telephone calls — speaking with current clients and with potential clients, who had told them ‘no’ before.
“We just started calling them, emailing them that we’re here, we haven’t closed down. We have services that may be helpful for them at this time,” he said.
“We lost some clients in this period. We knew we would. But, we won some clients, too,” he said. “I’m convinced it’s just because we’ve been present. We’ve been vocal.”
As COVID-19 flattened the economy, some companies shut down completely, while others experienced precipitous drops in business.
It has been a time when companies have been forced to take a close look at their operations and to try to find ways to pivot.
This is a good time to not only work in your business, but to work on it, Butler said.
“I’m a person who believes everything starts out with a plan. We can’t just wake up and haphazardly do it, and expect the success that we want to achieve,” he said.
“Pause. Really focus on and develop your plan. Find some mentors that will be good sounding boards, as you work toward that plan,” he said.
Follow the golden rule
There are some fundamentals, too.
“We have to treat people the way we want to be treated. By treating people the way you want to be treated, I think you’ll often find that business will come back. People will tell others about your business. And, they’ll share your successes and things you’re trying to accomplish, and business will come through the door in that manner.
“You have to develop great relationships, and those relationships won’t often come if you’re sitting in your office,” he said.
“You have to find the time to get out of your office and go build great relationships with people that become a great part of your business success because they often refer business to you.
Seek out ways to learn from others, he added.
“If you’re a business owner, and you’re not hanging out and having intimate conversations with other business leaders, other business owners, you’re probably missing something.
“And, you need to have those conversations with those who don’t necessarily look like you, because they may bring some things to the table that you’re not necessarily thinking about, to help you grow your business,” he said.
Find ways to give back
Ever since Vistra started, it was committed to giving back to the community, Butler said.
“I will tell you that from Day 1, every nickel, every dime, every hour that we spent giving back — it’s almost like tithing, it just comes back to us, over and over again.”
One of his company’s give-back initiatives is called CEOs in Schools.
It stemmed from an experience Butler had six year ago, when he was asked to mentor the principal at Mort Elementary School.
He said that experience opened his eyes to the many ways small businesses could give back to schools and become part of the education fabric of the community.
He figured CEOs had a lot to offer schools, so he set off to involve more.
Last year, a CEO spent the day at each of Hillsborough County’s 170 elementary schools.
There are plans to do that again this October.
“They need you in there,” he told the business leaders at the chamber’s Zoom meeting.
“You bring a perspective that teachers — who grew up to be principals — often don’t have,” Butler said. “You think about resources in a different way. You think about logistics in a different way. You think about management and hiring and firing, in a different way.”
At this particular time, there are so many people in need.
More than 40 million people are unemployed and cars line up in long lines for food — and that’s just the people who have cars, Butler said.
With so much need, there are many, many ways to give back, he noted. He encouraged those listening to do what they can.
“I think we have to make a difference in the lives of others,” Butler said.
Published June 17, 2020