Diary of a Small Business Owner (3/13/20) - It Just Got Real

Diary of a Small Business Owner (3/13/20) - It Just Got Real

Today was spent like last Friday was spent, only seriouser. 

That's what you do when you're an entrepreneur. You make up words. You made up a business, after all. How hard can making up a word be?

Last Friday, my co-founder, Rob and I gathered to discuss this whole COVID-19 epidemic (it was only an epidemic then). That feels forever ago, like we've spent a month getting through this last week. Back then (all the way back on March 6), we were digging out from tornado damage and wondering what this virus might do to our city and our business. Now, seven days later, we're planning for the worst.

After meeting with one another, then two key staff, we had our marching orders and went to work. We sent out a press release sharing our ability to offer canceled conferences a way to stay connected when you can't meet in person. We game planned marketing to let people know we're still here. And we reached out to our purveyor family to let them know we're thinking about what's going on, even if we don't know what's going on. 

A Message to Batch Purveyors

In the last week over 100 meetings and conferences have canceled in our hometown. As a company who relies on these corporate groups to buy event gifts for attendees, sponsors, and speakers, we're now forecasting a down year. We've never forecasted a down year.

I left my third meeting in the early afternoon and dared to go to the grocery store. Trying to forget about the exercise of preparing for the worst, I was hoping people scrambling for groceries would just be nice to each other. When we're all scared (but too proud to show it), being nice is a solid next move.

I got home, put away our food and kept working. Emails needed to be replied to. Pitches and estimates needed to be sent. Staff needed to be reassured. On any given day my inbox can have anything from donation request to bill reminders, sales pitches to time off requests. I've become savvy at hopping from one disparate topic to the other and now internal emails are littered with every restaurant I've ever visited or software I've ever signed up for telling me what they're doing to make sure employees wash their hands.

I try to monitor the news and stay positive. During normal times, owning a small business forces you to do "entrepreneurial yoga", stretching between preparing for the worst but hoping for the best. Every day. Even when there is no global pandemic.

All week I've been trying to do some heavy lifting with my pessimism muscle, but I'll admit: I don't use it that often. I skip pessimism day at the gym. I'm bright-eyed and bushy tailed most days, so having to think through what we'd do if our store was forced to close or how quickly we can move expiring inventory to a remote buyer is a hard mindset to get in. Two weeks ago I began working on a plan to franchise this business in other cities. Now I'm hoping other cities are around to try this idea in one day. Like I said, "entrepreneurial yoga."

Most days now I'm exhausted by dinner. Tonight at 6 I had my call with my cohort from the 10,000 Small Businesses program. Serendipitously, this week's topic is risk and contingency planning. Baptism by fire is a real thing, I'm learning.

But during the call, I connected with my people. These are my people, other entrepreneurs, owners and hustlers from all over the country in all kinds of industry. We laughed a lot together because when you don't know what to do (which is 90% of small business operations), laughing and moaning will at least get you to the next step where you can steel yourself to run back out into the rain and try to fish and bail water at the same time. Because damn it, even if the ship is sinking you're gonna try to steer it to safe harbor.

When the call ended, my son was fussy. He's three months old so fussy is his main way of communicating, no matter what he's feeling. Turns out that tonight, fussy meant he just wanted to be held. Me too, kiddo. 

I don't know what this country or my business are going to look like by next Friday much less next month. My pessimism muscle is getting stronger but I'd really like to stop using it as soon as possible. But I do know that no matter how long we socially distance, we still need to be held. We still need to connect and we'll fuss until we get it.

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