Charting your journey to a new small business normal

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Michelle van Schouwen

First, the bad news:

The reopening of America’s economy is likely to be patchy, hurried in some states and counties, painstakingly slow in other areas. The U.S. response to small business needs for cash and capital has so far been disappointing by most evaluations, and many small company owners are growing desperate to save not only their businesses but even their families’ financial stability.

We’ve already seen the results of mismanaging how employees work together in the “virus age” in meat processing plants, where employees are often working close together, given little time or space even to wipe their faces, and made to work faster to meet demand. The outbreaks of COVID-19 in these plants have been terrible for employees, customers and the public health. That’s the wrong path. Small business owners can take heed.

White House senior advisor Kevin Hassett says the economy is likely to experience a jobless rate comparable to that of the Great Depression as it copes with the pandemic, which, if true, affects everything from consumer demand to the ability of a small business to maintain or expand its economic footprint in the near- to mid-term.

The good news:

This is key! You, as a small business owner, are probably adept at solving unsolvable problems. You will work with your employees, community, other business owners, and resources like this blog to navigate your way through the coming months.

The economy WILL reopen.

Your power:

Remember, as a small business owner, you are an important member of the community and the nation. Use your power to advocate for the standards, financial support, reopening and phasing strategies, and regulation your company and other small businesses need. Team with other business owners, sympathetic legislators, and community or trade organizations to make your demands and viewpoints known.

Your planning checklist:

-Plan for efficient, useful, frequent communication with all your stakeholders. Now more than ever, you need to stay in touch, engaged and empathetic. Use social media extensively, as well as an adjusted form of your typical marketing that suits your needs, budget and the times. Use video chat and email. Consider how publicity and other forms of public relations, such as offering community support, can help your business now.

-Consider what you and your employees need to be safe, and how you can accommodate these needs. The list can include everything from masks and safety equipment for employees who must work on-site, to flexible facility hours to promote social distancing, to supporting employees’ efforts to work remotely.

Clean your space to help avoid virus transmission, using new CDC guidelines.

-Determine what your customers need now. Have these needs changed because of the pandemic? Are customers interested in no-contact services, or ways to stay engaged without coming to your site? Have their basic objectives changed? Do they have as much money to spend as before? How can you accommodate these shifts? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers excellent insights on pandemic-influenced trends in customer behavior.

-Does your business require in-person or close contact with customers? If so, can you find ways to perform these services safely? (For example, Georgia, having reopened salons, provides very detailed operational protocols.) Check federal and state guidelines for businesses like your own. Also search out best practices from other states, especially if your own state has been lax.

-Assess the materials or inventory you use, and how your supply chain has thus far been affected. Continued supply chain disruptions are almost inevitable, so planning ahead for inventory and alternate sources could be key to smooth operations in the coming months.

-How can you reduce the chance of virus transmission in your use of inventory and other materials? In terms of contamination, current studies indicate one is more likely to contract COVID-19 from the delivery person than the materials delivered, but keep your ears open for new information.

-Make sure you have sufficient cash and access to capital, if at all possible. Apply for all relevant government aid. Do not spend your own life savings if at all possible.

-Do you need to scale your business (whether up or down) during the pandemic? How can you most effectively do this? Be sure not to overextend yourself with hopes of a short-term recovery. If you cannot afford your full staff, adjust accordingly, and the same goes for capital expenses and inventory.

-Should you partner or merge your services with those of another company during this time? In some cases, two companies can offer a package of products or services that is more appealing than what you alone can provide. Consider contract labor or hiring out adjunct services rather than remaining fully staffed, if you foresee trouble sustaining payroll.)

-Can you afford your current space during this time? If not, what are your options? Can you and your employees work at home? Can you end a lease, negotiate lower payments, or suspend it?

-In what other ways can you cut your expenses during this time? Be brutal. (My earlier article on running lead and smart offers useful tips.)

-What tools can you add to make your work more efficient now (video conferencing, online ordering, customer relationship management or job ticketing software)?

These are the times that try business owners’ souls. Your ability to get through them, even if your business looks a lot different by the end than it does now, will mark a major accomplishment. Please know that the team at Succeeding in Small Business is behind you every step of the way.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her new work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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