As I write this, we are ending our second month of the full crisis. Everyone has gone grocery shopping with a mask on. Toilet paper is sometimes available in the stores. Many small businesses have received some sort of funding, and in many states the unemployment kicker has relieved the worst of the rental defaults and hunger. The world is coping. But our world is irrevocably changed. We now think every time we “walk through a door”, we don’t touch handles or elevator buttons, and we view all strangers with cautious distance.
The first problem for small business is to cope with what we have. It’s been two months of payrolls and excruciating decisions about cuts, expenditures, debt and payments. Whatever liquidity you had in March is with you for the long run. Your customer base, your weekly sales and your weekly costs are going to be set in stone until the crisis ends. My business tools are not sufficient. There is no way to plan when the picture changes monthly. There is no way to predict whether there will be more gifts from Congress, or more pain from Customers reneging on agreements.
People will not be “normal” until we can mix freely with strangers without danger. That means we must have herd immunity and it must be verified. Immunity might be conveyed by everyone getting the illness, or everyone getting a vaccine. It might also be conveyed by the new cases decreasing to such small numbers that we are confident strangers are virus free.
None of these things are going to happen in 90 days, and probably not in 2020. The logistics of a vaccine are staggering. If there was a vaccine today, it would take a year to create enough doses to vaccinate half the world population. Here in the US, a vaccine would be dedicated to high risk individuals for at least the first six months. With flu vaccine, it takes two weeks to take effect, and does not confer complete immunity. So we could well be into 2021 or 2022 before anything comes close to normal.
In my view, the future is bright, but with painful changes. Connected Services are going to have a heyday – starting with Zoom but moving to everyone who can deliver business products online. The gig economy will shift as more people move into front-line delivery roles. Brick and Mortar will shrink dramatically as the simple act of walking in the door carries risk. A friend noted that Boeing has recently laid off 1200 engineers, and they will never be rehired. Without herd immunity in a year or two, high paying jobs that are tied to “walking int the door” will be lost forever. The economy will not crash, but will change profoundly as market sectors shift.
The opportunity lies in re-calibrating and focus on new venues for sales. A catering friend says that they delivered 150 food boxes as a drive-by fundraiser for a charity. Both the charity and the caterer are struggling to innovate, and whether they succeed is not important. What is important is they worked together to test a new concept.
At CompanionLink, our loyal customers provide our best inspiration. We can work together to generate innovative ideas. My role is to put away my ledger and help my customers succeed. Their success will feed our success.
My competitors are in the same boat as I am. Suddenly it is time to benefit from years of free service or generous policies. Here at CompanionLink we have always had free tech support even to customers who spent minimal amounts of money many years ago. I am surprised today at how these people are so willing to support us by purchasing a low cost upgrade or suggesting a new avenue of business. (Thanks Guys!) On the other hand, companies like Microsoft, Comcast and Verizon have spent the past half-decade raising prices and canceling service to past customers. I know people do not have the same level of loyalty to them as they had in the past.
We are just two months in to what may be a five-year economic transition. The 1972 Stagflation crisis ended with IBM, Wang, and Dec replaced by Microsoft by 1978. The 2002 Dot-Com bust saw Novell, Symantec, Kodak and Blockbuster die, while Facebook, Amazon and PayPal were born. The trend looking forward is connectivity – helping customer achieve their goals without face-to-face meetings. Values, flexibility and efficiency will get you to that customer. Until then, we have today. Dogs and Children will still enjoy this day so take time to play with them. Plan and test new ideas, see what works, and move upward with your life. This is nothing I planned, but it gives me the opportunity to excel in new areas, and for that I am grateful.
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