A Pep Talk for Small Businesses During Quarantine March 18, 2020
I’ll start this pep talk off with reality — things are looking very grim. As small business owners, we don’t have cash reserves. We don’t have angel investors backing us up. And we know that our communities, as well meaning as they are, are also fickle and distracted and scared right now.
But here’s the thing: We’ve faced nightmares before. When you look back at what you’ve built, how you’ve grown and what you’ve overcome, I’ll bet you can’t help but be impressed with what you’ve accomplished. With how much you were able to create. With the community that has formed around this amazing work that you’ve put into the world. We don’t have much right now, but as small business owners, what we do have may be the exact things that we need.
We can make changes quickly
Watching the small business community pivot so quickly, effectively starting entire new business models in a matter of days, has been incredible. Gyms are converting their content to digital, coffee companies are creating rewards cards, makers are producing entire collections. If you’re a restaurant, you’ve probably launched some sort of delivery service in less than a week.
Our ability to pivot is incredible. Because we are small, we are able to reorder operations and try new things. Yes, they will most likely be a mess at first. Yes, we’re going to have to change them again and again before we’re really back on our feet. But that’s something we know how to do. (And once we’re a year clear of this mess, we might just have new revenue streams that we would have never pushed ourselves toward otherwise.)
We can make it with no money
We’re going to have to bootstrap our businesses all over again — to DIY our products, to post aggressively to social media, to work 12-hour days, to forget about off days. We might have to tap out our savings again. We might have to reach out to friends for investment again, and that means revamping business plans and justifying ourselves all over again. And it’s going to be harder this time because our businesses have debts and obligations and staff to pay that we didn’t have when we started. That feels unfair. That is unfair.
But as much as it sucks that we’re here, we do know how to move forward. I’ll bet your shocked when you remember how much you did with so little money when you started out. (We remodeled the upstairs of Church Street Coffee & Books on $1,000. I talked with a business owner this week who built her initial inventory with $3,000.) Yes, we’re going to have to make hard calls (especially regarding staff), and yes, we thought we were past this stage. But if anyone’s equipped to make their way out of this, it’s us.
We can take a breath
If you’ve just launched a surprise delivery service, I doubt you feel like you’re taking a breath right now; you probably feel like you’re drowning. But I’m guessing that, as these weeks drag on, we’re going to slow down. The orders will come to a trickle, at least compared to what we were making before. No matter what, we won’t have the rush of a crowd around us. This is depressing in so many ways, but there’s also an opportunity here that we never really get in a service business — time to think.
In these quiet moments that we do not want, we get to change things we wish were different. Maybe you’ve wanted to reorganize the kitchen or the cafe. Maybe you want to do inventory. Maybe it’s painting a wall or working on your website or creating a training manual. You can do virtual staff trainings or make new signage or just do a real deep clean. Or you can even sleep, read to your kids, take online courses on how to be a better boss or how to run your own social media account. When business is at a standstill, we have the ability to move it in a different direction.
I’m not trying to pretend this crisis is a “blessing in disguise” — it’s obviously not. You and the people who depend on you are facing scary realities both personally and in your business. But all is not lost. I’m so proud and impressed by the creativity and passion and love and hard work I see from small business owners every day, and in these days in particular. Whether or not you should move ahead or will move ahead with your business is still undecided, but are you capable of it? That much, I think, is clear. You can do this. You’ve done it before.
Carrie Rollwagen is host of the Localist podcast author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Vice President of Strategic Planning at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.