Small business owners and economic uncertainty: We can survive this!

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article entitled “How Small Business Owners Are Coping with the Economic Turmoil,” in which they asked small business owners around the country how they were reacting to the current economic uncertainty. The answered varied considerably from a photographer who thinks his business may go down the tubes to a couple of people who are thinking of expanding.

For me, the odd thing about this turmoil is that in July, I was seeing strong rays of hope. I had my best month revenue-wise in several years. So I was feeling hopeful that the economic woes of the past three years were more or less behind us. I especially felt good when I received an assignment from the investment banking firm that had stopped using my writing services when the economy hit a brick wall in 2008. They were back! This was exciting and very positive news. They were doing M&A deals again and could afford to invest in some marketing.

Then Congress decided to act like a bunch of ninnies and played fast and loose with the debt ceiling, showcasing for the whole world the extreme political divisions and lack of strong leadership all the way around that are now the chief characteristics of our national government. Things that should have been handled months ago came down to the 11th hour and then resulted in legislation that didn’t seem to please anyone, least of all Standard & Poor’s.

With the Wall Street crowd seeming to have taken leave of their senses this week, what exactly is a small business owner to do? The overall impression I came away with from The New York Times article is that small business people are coping the way we always do. We try to do our best to serve our customers, keep costs in check, make sure we collect on our accounts receivable, and keep our fingers crossed that things will turn out for the best.

I am not sure it is possible to run your own business for any length of time without being an optimistic at heart. Yes, you have to be realistic about the economic outlook and take whatever steps you can to protect yourself and your business. But you also have to believe that this too shall pass. Otherwise you’ll be in too much of a funk to do your best for your customers and your employees.

I have survived three recessions since starting my business in 1989. In fact I started my business just as the real estate bubble of the 1980s burst. I remember wondering if I would survive and I also remember how much stronger and confident I felt once I had made it through that economic crisis.

I think most small business owners and solopreneurs have learned a lot about what it takes to stay in business in the past three years. Those learnings should serve us well in the next downturn, whether it comes now or some years down the road.

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