A month ago, I wrote a piece about optimism at work and how you get over the feeling of stress. You can look at that article here.
A month ago, feels like a year. My problems then, seem insignificant now.
Like many small business owners across the country I am worried. In fact, more than worried, I feel a deep sense of panic down in my gut that I am struggling to control. Last week on Monday, my team were prepping for three conferences to run that week, by Tuesday we had cancelled and deferred them all. By Wednesday, I had called every creditor we had telling them we had no revenue and no capacity to pay. By Friday we had to plan for the reduction of our workforce – including valued staff who volunteered to take leave without pay. People that I care about, people who have mortgages and families. Our accounts receivable on Monday was a healthy 6-figure sum. By Friday it was zero.
I look back now and I cannot believe that was only 7 days ago.
COVID-19 has everyone worried about their health and the health of those they love, but for most small businesses they’re now worried about their livelihoods as well as their health.
Over the last week, I’ve spoken to many the SME owners who I usually support with my custom and they are all scared. Adam owns the bar we drink at, his business was down 50% last week, yesterday he closed indefinitely. David, who owns the coffee shop under our building has closed one of his three stores and can’t get his landlord to budge on a rent hiatus, his takings are down 70% and he doesn’t know if he will make it. My gym closed indefinitely yesterday, effectively putting 30+ people out of work. Everyone is hurting. Most of us are scared.
The feeling of going from healthy revenue and solid revenue forecasts for the next six months to nothing in a week is overwhelming. I wanted to reach out and share my tips for getting through the next week(s):
Sit at your desk or behind your counter and take some deep breaths. The term “fight or flight” or the stress response will help us rise to many challenges, but it is ineffective if provoked for a long period of time, such as during financial and health woes. Breathing deeply helps oxygenate the body and focus the mind, allowing you to think clearly rather than staring out in panic.
- Get on the phone and start emailing.
This is an unprecedented time and big companies do not want to force small companies into administration by being hard-nosed and inflexible. Explain your situation and your inability to pay. Use one of my favourite authors, Chris Voss’ (Never Spilt the Difference) techniques and say, “How am I supposed to do that?”. This statement is Voss’ reverse empathy technique which takes the problem from your hands and places it into theirs. If you’ve never asked for leniency on rent, bank fees, invoices or credit before, now is not the time to be proud, now is the time to ask for things you don’t think you’ll get.
- Defer all your loan payments.
All the major financial institutions are being flexible with pausing loan repayments and adding them to the end of your term. Worried about the end of your term? Don’t be. Get through the now, worry about the later, later. You don’t know how buoyant your company, or the economy, maybe on the other side of this crisis.
- Call the bank.
The banks are inundated right now with panicked customers, but they are being heavily incentivised by the Government with cheap and secure money dedicated to lending to SMEs. No one wants the small business economy to collapse. Borrow what you need to get through. The repayments on the other side may mean tightening the belt but they will be better than collapse now.
- Think about what else you can do to make money.
Who is in your contact list, who are you connected with on LinkedIn? Is there a way you can rally the community, your champions to support you enough to get through this? If you sell coffee, can you sell take-home beans to your clients for their lock-in? If you are a pub, can you make enough money from take-away or home delivery? Everyone whose ability to trade has been cut off by social distancing constraints is in the same boat.
- Talk to someone who understands.
We’re all in this together, if you feel afraid and scared and paralysed with fear, there are a bunch of other small businesses out there who feel the same. Talk to one of them. If you don’t know anyone, reach out to me – I’ve been running this company for 7 years and I’ve poured my life into it. It’s like my third child. So, I know how you feel.
- Remember what it felt like to be a start-up.
When it was just you and the great unknown, did you have what it would take to make it? Would you fail? It was lonely and terrifying. Remember that fear because it wasn’t that long ago, and this time is the same as that time except you are much more skilled. You’ve made it this far; you can make it to the end.
I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m certainly not an economist. But for a lot of people, this will be a tough time for a long time. For my own business, it is already a tough time and I am worried. But I have the support of my business partner and the backing of my family and I have the skills I learned over the last 7 years to be agile and adaptive to a new way of doing business. For those of you who feel alone, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will email/call you back. We need to support each other as an SME community.
For anyone who works for a large corporation that is doing OK, I implore you to not stop spending your training and external L&D budgets. We are moving everything online so that we can guarantee our clients will get the events they pay for, no matter what the social and health restrictions are. Spend with us because we need your support.
On that note, continue to buy your latte, even if you’re working from home, go out and get a sandwich if you usually buy your lunch. It may not be the small business you usually support but is a small business and we need you.
If you love us, support us now and we will still be here when this is over.