Small businesses across America are reeling from the effects of the coronavirus. Many have temporarily shuttered and furloughed workers, wondering when and if they may be able to reopen. Others that are still operating are doing so in the face of stringent limitations and a high risk of exposure to COVID-19. More than 22 million workers have already filed for unemployment. And with no end to the pandemic in sight, small business owners are watching their cash reserves shrink by the day while fearing how they’ll be able to stay afloat when life gets back to normal.
It’s not easy remaining hopeful during a crisis, especially one that has enveloped the entire world. We’re living in challenging, traumatizing times, but consider that these unique conditions have also presented new opportunities for small business owners. Now is the time to move away from the day to day and focus on growth and development.
Let’s look at some practical ways you can leverage this time of uncertainty to stay positive and productive, and prepare for a rebound that will allow your business to thrive.
Acknowledge the Reality
Many small business owners are still fighting the fact that the reality we were comfortable with has changed. Instead of working a normal schedule, spending time with family and friends, and having the freedom to leave your house to shop and have fun, we’re now advised to stay away from others and only leave the house if we have to. Work hours are scattered, and for some business owners, completely non-existent. We have few ways to escape the daily stresses of home. And if you live with others, it can be almost impossible to find time where you can decompress and tune out the rest of the world.
It’s not easy shifting to a new way of living and doing business. This is an emotional time for everyone, and negative emotions can make it seemingly impossible to stay productive and positive.
Acknowledging your current reality for what it is can help you put negativity in its place. Don’t judge yourself for feeling lost, angry, or vulnerable, but rather allow yourself to accept that life right now is frustrating and out of your control. Venting your feelings can help you release them and make more room in your mind for positive thoughts and productivity.
Limit Your Media Consumption
The media serves a specific purpose: to keep us informed of current events and new developments. Since before the pandemic was dubbed a pandemic, COVID-19 was all the rage in the media, and it’s only gotten worse.
From Facebook to news channels to print publications and more, everyone is talking about COVID-19, its devastating effects on small businesses, and the potential recession we might be entering. News stories focus on the number of deaths from the coronavirus. It highlights a record unemployment rate. Instead of dialing in on how costly it is to run a small business and how many small business owners financially struggle each year just to keep their doors open, it spins small businesses in a negative light if they’ve had to close or lay off employees
While it’s essential to stay in tune with any changes in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more important not to let the media consume your every waking hour. Much of the negativity we’re already experiencing is perpetuated by the media and does nothing to instill good thoughts and hope in the minds of small business owners.
Remember, ignorance is bliss. Learn to tune out all the chatter around you about COVID-19 so you can find inner peace and confidence when normalcy is restored.
Reflect on Your Business
If you’re closed for business or aren’t operating under your regular business hours, now is an excellent time to reflect on your business plan, strategies, and goals for the short and long term.
Too often, small business owners are doing the work of multiple people and get bogged down in the day to day operations. On the surface, it seems like an excellent way to save on payroll costs by doing certain things yourself, but it also leaves you little time to plan, strategize, and test new ideas that will lead to growth.
And even though you might not have wanted this much time off from your normal duties, shift your thinking and consider it a gift. You’ve been given some time to tune out all of the distractions and interruptions that can get in the way of your next great idea, so use this time to start fleshing out some of the things you’ve always wanted to do to grow your business.
If you have your original business plan, now is an excellent time to look back on what your dreams looked like before you opened your doors. You might be surprised at just how far you’ve come over the years, and maybe even laugh about certain goals you had set for yourself.
Most importantly, use this time to compare where you started to where you are now. How much has your business grown and changed over the years? Have you hit any major milestones you once thought were not achievable? Have you added new team members to your staff because you’ve been so successful?
This period of reflection can be a strong reminder at just how strong and resilient you are as a leader. Remember that you had what it took to get as far as you’ve come, and even if you aren’t able to pick up where you left off, you can experience that level of success again.
Invest in Professional Development
One of the most productive things you can do is to invest in yourself as a business owner. Keeping your mind busy with something other than worry can help ease your fears and allow you to take advantage of your newfound free time.
One avenue worth exploring is to find an online course that can teach you a new skill, such as how to run successful Facebook ad campaigns or start a blogging strategy. There are thousands of courses available online that tackle just about any subject you need to know to improve your business. You get all the course materials you need and can learn at your own pace from the comfort of your own home.
Another area you might consider is a tax course that can help you get more familiar with the recent tax changes and how they affect small businesses. The filing deadline for the 2019 tax season has been extended through July 15 due to the pandemic, and if you haven’t already filed, you may learn new ways to lessen your tax liability.
One other opportunity to consider is to work with a small business coach during this “downtime” to help you refocus and recharge. Small business coaches work directly with owners to cover everything from growth strategies to marketing to testing new ideas and more. They can serve as an impartial sounding board for your new ideas, help you diagnose issues, and their professional opinion on specific business matters. Business coaches are happy to offer their services remotely, even during quarantine.
Keep a Gratitude List
By nature, our brains are wired to hold onto negative thoughts and feelings, and during a pandemic, it’s only too easy to dwell on the bad and forget about the good. But even as businesses are closing, employees are laid off, and hundreds of thousands of people are getting sick with the coronavirus, there’s still so much to be grateful for right now.
Studies show that it takes about five positive experiences for every negative one for our brains to truly thrive on positivity. That’s how much stronger negative thoughts are compared to good ones!
Make it a point to find the good in everything you do each day. Even the pandemic itself has brought about some positivity: many large cities are experiencing cleaner, clearer air than they have in years. Gas prices are low. Wildlife appears to be thriving as human interference in their environment has lessened.
You can start putting all of the positivity in your life into perspective by merely making a gratitude list. Write down 3-5 things you’re genuinely thankful for each day. Read this list every day as it grows and continue counting your blessings. Each time a negative thought enters your mind, you’ll have an entire list of good things to think about that can counteract its effects.
Prioritize Self Care
You may not be able to take care of your business or your customers in the way that you want. But you can start making yourself a priority, and now is the time to focus on self-care.
Small business owners are no strangers to wearing multiple hats. One day you might be the operations manager, the next day, you’re focused on marketing, then after lunch, you’re tackling the books. Being pulled in so many different directions regularly can take a physical and mental toll, and owners often sacrifice their own needs to handle business.
Taking care of your health and wellbeing doesn’t come easily, but it’s something that all small business owners must learn to do. Making too many sacrifices simply isn’t sustainable, and the effects of not getting enough sleep, exercise, or proper nutrition will eventually catch up with you.
Now is the time to start creating healthy habits in your life that will stick with you once the pandemic is over. Map out a sleep schedule that lets you go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning while getting a full eight hours of sleep. Spend at least 30 minutes a day exercising, even if it’s just walking around your neighborhood or doing bodyweight exercises in your living room.
Most importantly, you should prioritize eating healthy, nutritious foods. Proper nutrition is essential for a healthy immune system. And even if you’re not venturing out in public much these days, you’ll still need to rely on your ability to fend off disease and sickness for the few times you might be exposed to others.
The more you can cultivate these habits, the better chance you have of maintaining them once you go back to work.
Set Goals for Your Business
Business owners everywhere are spinning their wheels, wondering when they can resume business as usual. Feeling like you’re stuck in limbo makes it hard to know which direction to head next and makes thinking ahead feel impossible.
But in times of uncertainty, it’s essential to continue to be forward-thinking. Things will eventually return to normal, even though we don’t know how much longer it will take. The timeline may not be in your control, but you’ll want to hit the ground running as soon as possible, and that requires being prepared.
Start setting new goals for your business now so that you can be in the best position to make up for lost time. Decide on what you want to change in your business, such as things that weren’t working well in the past, but you never had time or energy to fix. Paint a picture of how you want your business to look and function, along with a plan to achieve those goals.
In other words, continue living and thinking as though nothing has changed, even if you feel like everything has changed.
Find Something to Laugh About
Laughter is arguably the best medicine on earth. It stimulates the feel-good hormones in your brain to naturally lift your mood and sense of wellbeing. And in these trying times, there’s not a single person who couldn’t use a laugh.
Talking with a friend or family member and remembering fun times, watching your favorite comedy, or looking up funny animal videos online are the fastest paths to a good laugh. And even though there’s a lot to be sad about right now, that shouldn’t overshadow all the good in the world. Don’t feel guilty for cracking a smile or feeling joy — everyone deserves a little sunshine these days.
Look for Ways To Help and Get Help
Business owners who are struggling financially during this time can get help in several ways. Recently, the U.S. government announced that small businesses that meet certain requirements could get a loan in the amount of 2.5 times their payroll costs to be used on operating expenses, including rent, payroll, and utilities. Any part of the loan used to cover these costs is eligible for loan forgiveness if you can provide documentation. To qualify for the loan, you must have been in business prior to February 15, 2020. (As of April 16, 2020, the $349 billion set aside for the Paycheck Protection Program has already been allocated, leaving several small businesses stranded. There is hope that a second round of funds is coming soon.)
Also, many small businesses are using this time to give back to their communities in any way they can. For example, some restaurants are providing unsold food to hospital workers or police officers. Others are collecting items for medical personnel, while others are allowing students to park in their parking lots to use their business Wi-Fi to complete schoolwork.
There’s nothing wrong with reaching out and asking for help during these difficult times. And if you’re in a position to help others through your business, your efforts won’t go unappreciated.
Stay in Touch with Others
One of the most important things you can do during the pandemic is to avoid isolating yourself completely. Social distancing has taken away much of our feelings of freedom, and it can be downright frustrating and lonely to sit inside your home while waiting for conditions to change.
Staying in touch with others can help promote feelings of positivity and purpose and make you feel more connected to the world around you. Whether it’s a quick chat with a neighbor at a distance, a FaceTime call to the family, or a Zoom meeting for work, remember you’re not alone in this. Share your stories and experiences with others around you to maintain a sense of normalcy and humanity.
As a society, we’ve never experienced anything like the coronavirus pandemic, and we hope that we never will again. Remember that it’s not forever and that business and life will eventually resume in a way that’s familiar and comfortable to us.
Until then, the best anyone can do is to accept our situation and choose to be proactive and productive. Doing so will allow us to emerge stronger and more motivated to take on any business challenge we face.