Small Business Blog – How to Navigate Crisis using Leadership and Durability

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.

Leadership

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.

Durability

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.

Ethics

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.

Summary

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.

Stages of Grief for Small Business in Crisis

Things are looking up! I’m feeling hopeful about the future.

It’s not the news. There is nothing to make anyone happy in the news. The Virus is grinding on – neither accelerating or decelerating. Politicians posture and push but nothing seems to be getting solved.

In places that are “Opened up” people are still staying at home. It looks like legislation is not having influence on the pace of the economy. The pace of the economy is awful; with 20% of the US Population out of work. Everyone is concerned about their budget and no one is spending freely. This makes business growth nearly impossible!

Stage 1: Denial

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross proposed the 5 Stages of Grief, the first of which is Denial. Most small business owners hit this stage sometime between February and April, as we pondered how this virus would affect us. The first week that sales were not as expected. The first time we felt fear that a loved one would be endangered by this virus. The first time we looked at our IRA and recognized that years just got added to our work-before-retirement plan. Our first reaction is that it cannot be happening!

Stage 2: Anger

Anger converts your internal pain and directs it outward. Surely someone, somewhere is responsible for this problem. Surely it is their fault that I am suffering. The virus is merely a bit of protein, and we do not get angry at a bit of protein as much as we do how other people respond. We are angry at people who endanger others, people who travel and the travel industry that allow the virus to spread. At governments who, even if acting in good faith, make announcements and rules that we do not agree with.

Stage 3 – Bargaining

If I get saved from this, I promise I’ll call my parents every week, be kind to my children, never raise my voice again. Please save me from the pain of not knowing what comes next, or how to navigate the business decisions. Should I apply for a loan or furlough staff? Do we place advertising to increase sales, or decrease costs by putting all expenses on ice?

Stage 4 – Depression

When your energy is spent, a quiet sadness descends. I do not even know how to handle the situation. Each day becomes an endurance race to cope with new phases of the crisis. I envy small business people who can smile through anything, comparing my insides to their outsides.

Stage 5 – Acceptance

Kübler-Ross ends here stages on a hopeful note. Once you have accepted a loss, you can settle it and move on. This week I feel I’m reaching this phase, but then some news comes my way and I’m back to Depression and Anger.

Enduring the Covid Era

Our current problem is not a one-time loss but an ongoing disaster. Think about 9/11 when 3,000 people died in one day. This left a lasting scar on the national psyche, changed the nature of business travel, and changed the balance of federal spending between domestic and military spending.

Covid is taking 1,600 people per day currently, so a 9/11 every two days. And it is not ending. 10,000 people a week, 40,000 people a month. The scope of change in government spending, national priorities and the nature of our community is 100 times what we did in 9/11.

This a hinge moment, a generational shift, an epic event. It is so new we do not even have a name for it. In ten or twenty years, people will ask “what was it like during that time?” What will we say?

Navigating Your Business Forward

How do we move forward, even against the tide of the ongoing epidemic still coming in? Kübler-Ross gives us a blueprint. No need to hurry the stages. Move through them with self-care and understanding. Take time now to look with clear vision on what is happening now. Find your point of acceptance and start building on it.

I am coming to an understanding of what is motivating my customers right now, and how to fulfill small needs for them right now. For now, I can listen to their words and help the best I can. This will be my blueprint forward.

You would not be in Business if…

Small business is a mixed opportunity. You have complete control of your actions and a clear vision of how these actions become sales and solutions for your customers. It is the choice of an entrepreneur is to make less money and have more control.

You control yourself, and to some extent you can control your vendors and staff. Depending on your style you try to convince, force, cajole or entice these forces to align in your chosen direction. You have no control over the world at large, and to try to exert control will only sap your self esteem.

I am finding the tools are at my fingertips. I can make decisions that seem to bring light to those around me. At CompanionLink we have found some minor cost savings. We have purchased a small amount of equipment and furniture to upgraded our staff home workstations which improves our quality of life and quality of work. We are shifting our marketing and product strategy to focus on customers who are buying products right now.

These are small steps, but these are making business meaningful for our team. When the crisis stops spinning, we hope to be on top. It is the best we can do in an unstable economy.

Other articles in this series:

3 New Revenue Sources for Small Business in the CARES Act

We are all hurting now. The normal ebb and flow of business in America has been throttled by stay at home orders. Even if you do not own a restaurant or bar, even if all your workers can work remotely, you are probably highly impacted by frightened customers and small business. This is a huge blow to ego and self esteem.  It becomes hard to concentrate. Everything seems like an emergency.

I have been greatly relieved by the thought that the CARES Act that passed last week will assist us in ways that are worthwhile.  Here are a few things I’ve found that can benefit CompanionLink, our vendors, friends and relatives during this troubled time.

Pandemic Unemployment Insurance

A new category of Unemployment Benefits has been created to help Self-Employed and Gig workers. These new benefits are handled through your state.  If you are Self Employed and have reduced business because of the Stay at Home order, or even if you are too concerned to go to work, you qualify for this benefit.  Apply for Unemployment through the state.  Even if the weekly amount is small, because your income is low, you will be eligible for the $600 additional weekly benefit (roughly $2400 per month) through July 31, 2020.  So for four months, roughly $12,000 will flow to everyone who is unemployed. This benefit is taxable income so be sure to calculate your withholdings. 

I would guess that this benefit will be extended as long as the Lock Downs continue, which may run through the end of the year.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/25/politics/senate-stimulus-unemployment-benefits-coronavirus/index.html

Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program from the US Small Business Administration will guarantee a loan to your business, and after a time, will forgive up to 100% of the loan amount. 

This program is extended to Nonprofit and other types of business that do not normally qualify for SBA loans. You do not need to be turned down for credit to be eligible for the loan. 

The loan amount is 2.5 times your monthly payroll, benefits and rent.  After 60 days, if you spent this money on payroll, benefits and rent, then the amount is forgiven. Here is the best part; the loan forgivance portion is not considered taxable income to your business.  This program is administered by your local bank provided they are an SBA lender.  Call your bank for details.  Note:  The application forms have not been created yet, and full details are not yet available. Your bank will help you through this process.

https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/paycheck-protection-program

Google and Facebook Advertising Credits

Both Google and Facebook have announced Small Business grants, and/or advertising credit.  For Google, the advertising credit is automatic and will be added to your Google Ads account.  For Facebook you need to apply, and details have not been sent yet.  Keep an eye out for similar credts from Apple, Amazon, and other large vendors.

https://blog.google/inside-google/company-announcements/commitment-support-small-businesses-and-crisis-response-covid-19

https://www.facebook.com/business/boost/grants