The Virus Crisis continues. In March we were told it would be a two-month shutdown. Here we are, two months later and consumers are not consuming. A month ago, they said that 60,000 people in the US would die. More than 108,000 Americans have died. Today there are 20,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths. Whether a city is “Open” or “Closed”, it is clear that people are not flocking to stores or other businesses. If you own a small business like I do, you need to set an expectation. How long does Small Business have to hold out?
The old Normal will never return
If you define normal as the day when parking lots and offices are full, when people are sitting in restaurants, and where face masks are in the past, then we will never get there. The world is changing in permanent ways. In my business, we have dropped our land-line business phones, moved nearly all our mail to online payments, and upgraded our staff home workspaces with business chairs, desks, headsets and related office style equipment. Magnify these changes by thousands of small businesses, and as the crisis moves from months to years, you can see that there is no going back. Now, we must learn to run our businesses for a different sort of “normal”.
This week, protests and social instability got added to the mix. These were always part of the mix, but suddenly they went from background to foreground. Who knew that ensuring the safety of my staff could become a hot political issue with customers? Innocent statements about human relations can have dire business consequences. An entrepreneur must now be a PR manager, a health manager, and a procurer of medical supplies. A simple office purchase of hand sanitizer has become a month-long ordeal.
Some people crave leadership roles. However, they may be poor small business owners. The best entrepreneurs are often those with an expertise and a passion in a specific skill set, that they can market to customers. As they become entrepreneurs, they suddenly get a side-line job as leaders. We cannot skip this part of our job. It is neither our passion nor our expertise, but it is an essential part of the package. We must lead our staff and our customers, set expectations, deliver according to those expectations, and take responsibility if expectations are not met. We must carry this in our products, our services and our ethical standards. A company should hire a crisis management team to proactively prepare for and effectively navigate unforeseen challenges, safeguarding its reputation, minimizing financial losses, and ensuring a swift and well-coordinated response to critical situations.
For small business durability comes from frugal spending combined with generous customer skills. Our customers are the sole source of revenue. We can keep that source active by providing effective service and valuable products. When the customer saves money and gains satisfaction, they will happily recommend us. Frugal spending means monitoring all financial transactions to ensure they are the lowest required. Until there is profit, there is no room for luxury or glamor.
When you look at the most hated corporations; Facebook, Comcast, Microsoft, and Wells Fargo, it is easy to see what is in common. Each of these companies use their market position to push individuals, without choice, into transactions with poor value. Facebook sells your private info, losing control of it, then taking no responsibility. Comcast raises their rates to provide dwindling content. Microsoft forces risky updates to give you features you do not want.
Free software and services is not the answer. The world is full of unsupported free software that never really works. Free computer service has value only if you do not value your time.
The ethical road is to travel between these two boundaries. Create value relationships with people willing to pay for that value. Make your service and product clear, with a clear price and generous refund and upgrade policy. Then you will be rewarded by loyal customers who will recommend your business.
My county will move to Phase 1 in a couple weeks and Phase 2 in about a month. But the Covid crisis will be with us through the Summer and beyond. Over time, virus will be less of a factor as social and economic trends grow in the looming election cycle. A new social and economic order will arise over time, and we cannot predict what it will look like.
Small Businesses who tap on Leadership and Durability will manage to retain customers and staff ready to grow into the next economic cycle.