In response to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve written recently about Black Swans, maintaining perspective and anticipating government assistance.
Today, it’s all about attitude.
Not since the convergence of two deadly, cataclysmic events over a century ago – when a World War teamed-up with a Spanish Influenza pandemic – has there been a comparable time of pain, fear, and uncertainty as today. We’ve watched the novel coronavirus expand from a regional outbreak in China to a textbook pandemic, on its way to causing a global economic crisis.
When the Enter key was pushed to send my “Perspective” column exactly three weeks ago, less than 200 Americans had succumbed to COVID-19. In the blink of 21 days, that number is now over 16,000. No one was prepared for the sheer velocity of the human and financial toll as, incredibly, the coronavirus infected the planet. It’s now abundantly clear that this is one mean disease – tough and angry.
Out here on Main Street, the pandemic economic reality is landing differently on each small business. In our recent mid-pandemic polling, just over half of small businesses reported they can last a few weeks to a few months – which is actually an encouraging response. But simultaneously, the other half of the sector, which includes 1099ers and represents millions of firms and families, are in jeopardy of financial collapse next week, if not today.
The financial toll is no small thing to someone who’s invested years of toil and treasure in an enterprise now in jeopardy of failure through no fault of their own. But business worries dissolve into irrelevance when loved ones are susceptible to a COVID-19 infection or are already diagnosed and fighting for their lives.
Still, the anxiety every small business owner is justified in having – whether for tomorrow or six months from now – betrays an essential entrepreneurial trait: pathological optimism. Think of Pollyanna playing the “glad game,” or the handy glass-half-full attitude. It’s in our entrepreneurial DNA to claim Admiral Farragut’s battle cry, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” And we get frustrated when something like a pandemic rudely interrupts and threatens our plans. Or when a governor presumes the authority to order us to close our businesses and our customers to stay away. Talk about mixed emotions.
As we sound the troubled economic waters in front of us, a strong will and long-game perspective are more critical to survival this year than any other since 2008-09. Just as I encouraged you during the aftermath of that financial crisis, let’s assume a survival attitude that we can default to, especially during the most difficult hours. The unit is intentional because, while large business CEOs may wonder if they will survive the year, too many Main Street CEOs are now wondering if they’ll survive to the next hour.
So, for strength during those dark moments – which this small business owner has known too well – consider The 2020 Small Business Survival Attitude: “This year, I’m going to win by surviving.”
But lest you think I’ve spun up a cotton candy slogan, here are four pandemic survival building blocks to get you started, as you lay the foundation for whatever is next.
Inventory organic resources
These include leveraging pre-pandemic credit options, staying close to customers (especially those on your accounts-receivable list), communicating with vendors, being creative about converting inventory into cash, negotiating rent adjustments with the landlord, (your idea here). Remember, surviving isn’t elegant or pretty, and it’s only noble if you live to fight another day. As you lay this survival block, memorize these two passages: 1) from THE book of Proverbs, “Pride goeth before a fall.” 2) From Blasingame’s book of Proverbs, “There is no shame in surviving.”
The pandemic oppression will be over sooner than later. In the meantime, blend your own financial resources with assistance offered by the government (the money should start flowing this week). Accept the help and let it keep you in business and connected to employees and customers. Consider your business as part of the national strategic reserve – because it is.
Believe in yourself
No entrepreneur arrives at any level of success without surviving the marketplace trial-by-fire, during which, emerging intact on the other side can sometimes seem an impossibility. When diminished options make you think “Who could survive this?” at that moment there is only one force that will deliver you to fight another day: belief in yourself. Surely, believing in yourself is the nucleus of entrepreneurial sustainability. It runs deep and quiet, but you have it in you.
Believe in others
When the turtle was asked how he got situated on top of a fence post he answered, “Obviously, not by myself.” The marketplace is an awesome dynamo powered by the intention of humans. Just now, the good intentions of all of us believing in each other will restart this awesome machine sooner than later. And that is not playing the “glad game.”
“Surviving is winning” is not emotional – in 2020 it’s fundamental. There is no shame for small business owners to consider 2020 a success if they can open for business on January 1, 2021. And don’t be surprised – if we lay these blocks well enough – if that goal post gets moved to October 2020.
Write this on a rock … Believe in yourself as we believe in each other. Surviving is winning. This, too, will pass.