Where Do We Go From Here? Small Businesses and Coronavirus

We all need to plan for the unexpected, but we also need to change our plans when the unexpected happens. While many epidemiologists and public health experts have been warning about a possible pandemic for decades, most of us were blissfully unaware of the danger.

Then came coronavirus.

Hopefully it will run its course with as few deaths and as little economic disruption as possible. But as the saying goes, “hope is not a plan”. Inconsistent and confused reporting, limited testing, and widely different governmental responses at the country, state and city levels is making things much worse. Despite the widespread confusion, one thing is clear: every person on the planet will likely be affected in some way by the coronavirus outbreak. Every small business owner should prepare for it by revisiting their business plan.

If people aren’t going to work, restaurants are closed, major public events are canceled, and large businesses are cutting back on services and hiring, there will definitely be consequences. A recession is likely. The questions are “How deep will it be?”, and “How long will it last?” Nobody really knows. The fact that this is worldwide, and that both supply and demand are being simultaneously hit means all bets are off. We are truly in uncharted waters.

Large corporations have already started furloughing and laying off employees, and you can be sure this will continue for months, even if they receive significant bailouts from the federal government. Small businesses are unlikely to receive nearly the same level of help as large corporations. Politicians will pay endless lip service to how much they care about small businesses, but in the end, they will leave the vast majority of small businesses to their own devices. This is unfair, but it seems to be the reality.

Restaurants, bars, hotels, inns, spas, event centers and many other “non-essential” businesses have already been hit hard. And the pain they feel will inevitably spread to other businesses fairly quickly. The President is confident that the economy will come roaring back once the contagion is controlled, but that seems unlikely. So far this has been a rolling epidemic, spreading from country to country at an unpredictable pace. As one country or region starts recovering, another gets infected. This means supply and demand could each be impacted in unpredictable ways for many, many months.

Small business owners will suffer more than large corporations. Many of them will be forced to shut down if things do not improve within a month or two. All business owners will need to make tough decisions. Lay people off? If so, which ones? Shift people to part-time? How many and which ones? Close the business? Keep the business alive for now and hope for the best?  There are no easy answers, and every business is different.

A consulting firm that has limited contact with clients can shift operations so employees and contractors work remotely and scale back on their hours. If done well, clients will barely notice the difference, and nobody has to lose their job. A Chicago restaurant with a staff of 45 is in a very different position. Forced to close in-house service and limited to deliveries and carry-outs they definitely face a serious disruption to their business. They may have to lay off some staff. But if the restaurant can generate enough revenue to cover the fixed expenses, it may be possible to spread the remaining work out over a larger number of people working part-time, so more people get to keep their jobs and fewer people are laid off.

hand washing signIt is not easy to stay positive in times like this. It is important, both for yourself and your family, to try. Meditate. Exercise. Watch a movie. Read a book. Spend more time on old hobbies. Start a new one. Listen to music. Learn a new language. Take a free college course on the Internet. Connect with friends, relatives and colleagues over the phone or the Internet. Volunteer for a non-profit. Give blood. Wash your hands! No matter where you live or what your interests are, find some ways to relax and take your mind off Coronavirus and Covid-19.

Remember that at some point the Coronavirus crisis will end. The economy will recover, business will pick up, and life will get back to (probably a new) normal. If you own a small business today, make sure you calmly and rationally evaluate your options before making any major decisions. If you decide you need to lay off employees, or worse, shut your business down, be sure to treat your employees and contractors with the respect and compassion you would expect to receive if you were in their shoes.

Greenhouse gas emissions, particulates, and pollution in general have all decreased dramatically around the world over the past few weeks.  These dramatic reductions in pollution will likely save tens of thousands of lives around the world. Even the worst crises have a silver lining.




About Andrew Clarke

Andrew Clarke is President of Ground Floor Partners. Over the past twenty years he has advised hundreds of small businesses on strategy, marketing, real estate and finance. He is passionate about small business, social and environmental justice, and is a proud member of the American Sustainable Business Council, Food and Water Watch, Green America, Food Consultants Group, and the American Planning Association.

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