As we write this in March for the May edition with the theme of mental health, we have an abundance of questions weighing on the psyche of small business owners that we can discuss. These are trying times for everyone both emotionally and financially. Small business owners are experiencing extreme pressure due to the lockdown on consumer activity, but we will get through these times with some important concepts for small business owners to keep in mind.
How You May be Feeling
Uncertainty can prompt a variety of feelings, few of them good. Fear and frustration top the list as small business owners struggle to plan in the face of a lot of unknowns. Yet it reminds us of the important things in life like our passion for family, friends, and the activities we love. As a small business owner, perhaps these were the reasons you started your business – to bring your unique talents to the world in service to others, while providing for your family. These motivations guide us in life, not just business. Pandemics and economic swings won’t change that. Let these motivations strengthen you as you face down the challenges of uncertainty.
“Being mindful of your thoughts can be helpful in managing your emotions during times of uncertainty. Mindfulness of thoughts is letting thoughts come and go. We simply notice them without trying to change or control them while recognizing that they are only thoughts. It allows you to radically accept it is nothing more or less than a thought, there is no need to judge them, just notice and let them go or let them be.” – Dr. Valencia Agnew of Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services
Ways to Tackle Uncertainty
Be kind to yourself; it’s normal to be stressed. It’s not uncommon to beat ourselves up for feeling anxious or stressed. We’re here to tell you that it is perfectly normal to be worried in difficult times. It’s a natural reaction. Don’t resist it but don’t let it control you either. Acknowledging it with a sense of detachment helps keep you on top of things.
Get clear about what you can control and what you can’t. A major source of stress is worrying about things we can’t control. It may be helpful to list what you can control in one column, what you can’t control but can influence in another, and what you can’t control or influence in a third. Focus your energy on the first two columns and only think of the third column in terms of best case, medium case, and worst case, but don’t obsess over it.
Plan. Planning allows small business owners to be decisive and nimble. One can’t account for every possible scenario and a global pandemic and economic downturn was unlikely on anyone’s radar. However, some of the concepts from wise planning – lowering costs, maintaining cashflow, reaching customers in different ways – still apply.
If you haven’t done much planning, take heart. There are ways to reduce anxiety as you navigate uncertainty. A few are described below.
- Get creative. For example, restaurants rapidly adapted to serving curbside and delivery when they were forced to stop dine-in service in early March. Restaurants provide meals in a specific place, but they quickly pivoted to providing meals in ways that weren’t dependent on physical location. The key concept to keep in mind is by asking yourself, “How can my business still provide a product/service but in ways that don’t follow the traditional rules?”
- Other examples: distillers in the area are making hand sanitizer, Hanes is making masks for healthcare workers, brands selling online are revenue sharing with brick and mortar retailers who were shut down. If you think about your business’ value chain—what you make/provide, how you make it, how you get it to customers, and who might be new customers—you will likely find opportunities for creative solutions.
- Keep close to customers. Government and other organizations can provide valuable support, but small business owners shouldn’t overlook their customer base. We all recognize the gravity of the times and one of the silver linings is that many people are showing their compassion and humanity by volunteering for those in need, rallying others and importantly, supporting small businesses. Let customers know that you are still operating, still seeking to serve them, will do so safely, and, frankly, that you need support.
- Remember, you are not alone. Another challenge of uncertain times is feeling like you’re alone and don’t have help. The entire country is going through a difficult time; we’re all in this together. Not only can you reach out to your customers, you can also reach out to other business owners and organizations who support them. Perhaps there are opportunities for collaboration that will help all concerned both financially and emotionally. Check out local Facebook groups and organizations like GROW, SpringGR, StartGarden, the GR Chamber and more.
- Seek and accept help. Many organizations and the government at multiple levels are offering resources for small businesses to help them through these tough times. GROW is a Women’s Business Center, and an SBA resource partner. We work closely with Michigan SBDC and other organizations. Which means, our staff is ready and able to help small businesses and connect them to additional resources like these. Learn more at GROW’s resource page at growbusiness.org/covid.
“We’re all adapting to changing circumstances for ourselves, our families, our businesses and our community. Be sure to give yourself grace and take a break from the news, work and your own thoughts. Take care of yourself mentally and physically.” – Bonnie Nawara, CEO of GROW.