For small business owners the fear is overwhelming. The challenges faced today are unlike any other challenges small business owners have faced before. In the past, when we’ve faced financial challenges we have been able to look back on a decision or a string of decisions and events that caused the issues and recognize what could have been done differently to avoid them. This is completely different, no one could have predicted it and nothing you could have done differently in the past would have prevented it. What we can do is look at some of the steps we have taken in the past when faced with a cash crunch and apply them to today’s situation.
- Accept what is happening and act.
No one saw this coming; no one could have prevented it and you couldn’t have changed it. It feels like that literally overnight everything has come to a grinding halt. You can’t pretend it hasn’t happened, you can’t look back and question the decisions you previously made and if they could have prevented it. They could not have. Although fear and anger are normal emotions, we must quickly get over it, accept the reality and take action.
- Be transparent.
Transparent communication during this time with everyone from lenders to customers and everyone in between is critical.
Talk to your employees and ensure they know where they stand, if they have been laid off, make sure you keep in contact with them about plans to reopen. Talk to your lenders and landlord. You may not exactly know what the next steps are and exact dates of reopening or even what reopening looks like, but they will understand that.
- Be honest.
This is not the time to sugarcoat the situation and give a false impression of the situation. As an owner and a leader, you are often looked at for positivity, now you are being looked at for honesty and an accurate assessment of the situation. Moving your business through the crisis is going to require you to be resilient and creative. Its going to be a long road of change and uncertainty.
- Relationships over sales.
Everyone is in the same boat, many of your clients and accounts are not open for business and cannot spend money with you. If you push for sales, then you will sour the relationship. Look at each account and understand the situation they are in; you are hurting for sales and revenue but being overly aggressive will show a lack of understanding and compassion.
Work on cementing the relationships you already have. Find out what is going on with their business and share ideas. See if there are ways you can support each other though these times. They will welcome the call and the opportunity to discuss the challenges with someone that gets it. Not every business owner has a network of like-minded business owners to chat with. Discussing the situation with employees and family is vastly different than another business owner in the trenches with them.
Once this is over, your business relationships will be stronger. You will be remembered for your support and compassion. That will create a long-lasting loyal client going forward.
- Become an expert in government subsidies and loans.
Don’t expect your accountant to call you and tell you what you qualify for, if you are a small business your accountant likely has many clients. Your bank isn’t going to call you and hold your hand and make sure you apply for the right loan programs.
The bank staff are also confused right now as things are constantly changing, so you need to be the expert. When everything is changing so fast it’s difficult to keep up. You need to be the person that does keep up and understand the stimulus funding and subsidy programs available. Ensure you fully understand the eligibility and the fine details. These programs for many businesses are going to be the difference between survival and closure.
As a leader you need to know what your employees think and how they are feeling right now.
Ask them how they see things changing and how they think the business can adapt to the new reality. Ask them to think about what your customers will want to feel safe and if they were a customer what they would expect from your industry.
There are going to be a lot of changes to how we do business. How we previously did business will likely not be accepted by customers going forward. When things reopen it will not be business as usual and we need to be more flexible and innovative than ever. This will be really hard for some business owners, small family business that have been in business for generations won’t be able to make the change and its going to be devastating to see them close. There is going to be a lot of closure and consolidation in all industries. What you previously saw as a competitor may become an ally. Reach out to local business owners, reach out to others in your field. Working together will make you stronger and provide the support you need to get through this.