By Charlestein Harris
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve had a steady stream of concerned entrepreneurs reaching out to me about their businesses. They’re scared, and I completely understand why. To hear them explain it, it’s a little like going from a bright sunny day to being in the middle of a tornado. Except where most tornadoes cause destruction and move on quickly, the pandemic has stalled out, leaving businesses stuck in the middle of a raging storm with no clear path forward.
As a financial coach for Southern Bancorp Community Partners, a financial development partner of Southern Bancorp, I’m accustomed to helping individuals develop plans to get out of debt, buy a first home or start a business. But of all of the challenges I’ve seen entrepreneurs face, this pandemic was just as new to me as it was everyone else.
Yet when faced with a new situation, I like to fall back on my own training and experience. And what has served me well throughout my career has been sitting down and thinking through the best steps I can take to gain clarity in a situation. In doing this, I came up with a few steps that all small business owners can take to begin charting a path out of this storm.
Step One: Do your research.
At this point, most businesses that were eligible likely participated in the recently concluded Paycheck Protection Program. This initiative was very helpful to thousands of businesses, but it also left some entrepreneurs on the sidelines. While we wait for Congress to act on additional support, there are still resources out there ranging from Small Business Administration loans to grants and more, but you have to do some digging. A few resources to check out include www.SBA.gov, www.ArkansasReady.com and www.ArkansasEDC.com/covid19.
Step Two: Make a plan.
If you haven’t already done this, now is the time. Take a look at your finances today, and make some assumptions about the future. What expenses can you foresee over the next few months? Include everything from payroll to rent to electricity. Now is the time to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, if that’s the case).
If you need some help getting started, we offer a host of business resources to guide you, all for free, at www.SouthernPartners.org/learning-center.
Step Three: Be creative.
If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that businesses that think creatively are most likely to survive and thrive.
Can you go virtual with your service such as livestreaming or offering online-only meetings? Can you conduct business in alternate locations that allow for social distancing? Or can you think of new ways to be creative? One example that sticks out in my mind is a hair salon that has bolstered its limited in-person salon appointments with online consultation options for customers and home delivery of styling products from their shop.
Step Four: Keep communicating.
You’ve spent so much time developing relationships with your customers and clients that now is not the time to go silent. Just because you aren’t seeing them face-to-face on a regular basis doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t hear from you. Share your plans with them. How are you operating during the pandemic? How are you being creative? Customers appreciate honesty, and it can build a stronger bond with them that can carry into the post-pandemic world.
Step Five: Relax.
I know, this sounds like a ridiculous recommendation. Who can relax when the thing you’ve worked to build for years is in danger? But I don’t mean “relax” in the sense of no longer being concerned. What I mean is that in the midst of this raging storm, often the best method of seeing the path forward is to take a deep breath, count to 10 (or 100 depending on how stressed you are) and then look at your situation with clear eyes. What can you see? What can you proactively do until this ends?
There is no magic answer for entrepreneurs trying to successfully ride out this storm, but one thing I absolutely know is that doing nothing is rarely a winning strategy. Make a plan, do the work, and give it all you’ve got until the winds subside and the air clears.
Charlestein Harris is a credit counselor for Southern Bancorp Community Partners. Her Financial Fitness Blog resides at SouthernPartners.org.