Updated: Nov 10, 2020
It goes without saying that we are living in unprecedented times.
With nearly 22 million people filing for unemployment (at the time of writing this) due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions more working remotely and commerce slowing to a crawl, the impact on the U.S. economy and the lives of everyday Americans have already been significant, and it could get worse before it gets better.
For those who own small businesses, it's a particularly difficult time. Many have been forced to lay off workers and others are wondering if their fledgling companies — restaurants, dry cleaners, tech startups or consultancies — can weather the storm.
The impact from this pandemic and the expected recession are completely out of our control, yet I believe there are some key shifts that entrepreneurs will have to make to keep their businesses afloat — or even thriving.
Reframe uncertainty as opportunity.
Businesses of all sizes are reeling right now, with a majority of states under stay-at-home orders for the foreseeable future. But some are still growing in this new normal, including cleaning and delivery companies. Use this time as a reassessment period to ensure that all aspects of your work life and business are running as effectively as possible. Is now the time for a redesigned website? Technological improvements, in particular, should pay dividends coming out of the pandemic as more of us move more of our lives online and to our phones.
And, of course, for those working a 9-to-5 with dreams of starting a new business, it's a valuable time to take stock and develop a solid plan and a vision of what that future business could look like. There are dozens of examples of companies that got their start coming out of a major economic downturn, and those entrepreneurs ready to pounce when the economy recovers will be best suited for success. Regardless of where your business stands, even if it's not off the ground, it's an invaluable time to cement your skills, either by reaching out to peers or taking an online course. When life starts to roll back toward "normal," it'll be too easy to make other things a priority.
Embrace the 'oops.' Anyone who's started their own businesses will admit, if they're being honest, that they've made tons of mistakes along the way. Embrace it. You're going to make the wrong move sometimes, and that's okay. The trick is not letting your mind get bogged down in the details, or the "coulda, woulda, shoulda." Take the time to do an autopsy on the things that didn't go right, and learn a lesson from it. And whatever you do, don't let the fear of making a mistake stop you from innovating. Accept that it's part of the process and use it as fuel to move forward.
Imagine the worst-case scenario. Sure, it's important to stay positive, but it's also key not to let anxiety rule the roost — particularly in these uncertain times. Work through it by letting your mind "go there." Think, as logically as possible, "What is the worst thing that could happen if I do X?" If you can mentally work your way through how you'd handle the worst your brain can imagine, taking the risk may feel like a less treacherous option.
Keep a big parachute. It's always important to maintain a financial cushion in business to prepare for unexpected scenarios. But it's critically important in times like these when we have so little clarity about what's to come in the broader economy. Save as much as you can and do frequent financial checkups to identify patterns of unnecessary spending. And if it's an option, explore federal grants that are open to you. Most importantly, if you are struggling, now is not the time to rob your retirement. It's always a bad move to crack into your nest egg, but especially now that the stock market has taken such a sudden and dramatic plunge.
Keep people paramount. Our brave first responders and health care workers couldn't be on the front lines of this pandemic if they weren't taking care of themselves and each other. It's particularly important to keep the lessons we've been reminded of in this pandemic alive after it's over — and it will, someday, be over. Make sure you're eating and sleeping on as regular a schedule as possible. And if you have employees, touch base as often as you can. When we can't see each other face to face, make the time to find ways to connect, whether on FaceTime, Zoom or just email to ask how someone is doing. It's those little things moving forward that will make all the difference.