Finding your business path forward during COVID-19

By Michelle van Schouwen

My heart goes out to small business owners during these trying days. With some exceptions, most owners are struggling to pay bills, find income and make painful employment decisions. For quite a few, these decisions may even include the life or death of the business.

What’s more, the extent and duration of shutdowns has, at the time of this writing, been changing daily. Add to this the possibility of yourself or a loved one catching COVID-19 and being out of commission for weeks (or worse) and we’re looking at extremely anxious times. Adrienne Miceli Trask, a salon owner in southwest Florida, described her situation: “My main frustration is that I did the right thing. I chose to close the salon down on my own, and there are still other salons that are open. This will put us back even more if we get a statewide stay-at-home order. Also, the fact of still having to pay rent to my corporate landlord while this is all going on… there doesn’t seem to be enough support for small businesses unless you take out a loan, which is not what I need right now.”

As you decide next steps for your own business, following are some considerations:

-You are not in this one alone. Small businesses across the U.S. are going through the same issues. Businesses in YOUR sector face the same decisions you do.

-Rarely can you close your doors and reopen them again without raising eyebrows. You CAN do that now.

-You are in a great position to negotiate with vendors, landlords and even the bank. This situation sinks many boats – at least temporarily.

-Keep in touch with your customers, even if your doors are closed. If you can still safely provide some services, consider doing so.

-Some economists argue that because this economic decline is so situational, pent-up demand will help the economy recover once the crisis abates. The question is – when? Your decisions must factor in the “two months or two years” economic models.

-Look for ways in which the new federal $2 trillion stimulus package can help your business. Whether it is deferring payroll taxes or taking out a small business loan, new provisions apply. Some of these new loan balances may be forgiven, assuming you use the funds as specified, maintain current employees and do not rehire those you’ve already let go, and that you meet any other stipulations of your loan. (Please see some details and limitations here. This article does not offer legal advice. Talk to an attorney before taking out a loan.)

-The bill also provides unique unemployment benefits for the self-employed.

-Furloughing employees may be your best option. Help them to collect their unemployment benefits, including special provisions of the Congressional stimulus package.

-Be extremely careful about spending all your own emergency funds or your retirement savings to preserve your business. This is typically not a good idea. Shed, negotiate or at least defer expenses so you can reopen and pay your bills and your employees later.

-If your business was not doing well even before this health and economic crisis, take some time to evaluate your path forward. If your business future looks particularly unpromising, this may be the time to pivot or exit. Sometimes, such a move can be your best option.

Be well, be strong. The majority of small business owners are in this mess with you. Together, we’ll emerge.


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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