Few could have anticipated a global pandemic that would turn entire industries upside down in a matter of weeks.Some businesses have been driven to the brink of destruction; others have adapted or even flourished.But even for the companies in that last category, success has come at a price; is the Coronavirus pandemic really a battle with no winners?
These are the questions being asked in the new podcast series ‘Making it Work’. In special episodes just released, host Tom Scallon and co-presenter Kelli Martin speak to a diverse range of entrepreneurs and small businesses owners to find out how they’re coping COVID-19 and what their challenges and experiences are.
Feeling the Impact
AnaOno provides lingerie and support to women who have undergone mastectomies. “We’re an essential business. Patients need us to help recover and to get through their treatment,” says founder Dana Donofree. Conversely, Diana Ganz’s wedding attire business is struggling to make ends meet. “I thought we were somewhat protected – who’d reschedule their wedding? God, was I wrong.”
Others have fared better. Skateboard wheel manufacturer Shark Wheel saw a boom in sales. “Our sales are off the chart,” says founder David Patrick. “Our business is up – triple, quadruple what it would normally be at this time of year.”
That doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride.Startups have to spend constantly to sustain growth, and the owner is often the last one to get paid.Prime meats and fresh food supplier Danny Catulloadds, “It’s unfair to expect any small business to keep that sort of cash or credit ready to go. The government needs to help out so that we can get back on our feet.”
The Relief Lottery
Ah yes, the government. Aid programs have simply failed to deliver. “We applied to the small business disaster relief and paycheck protection programs on the first day. I’ve heard nothing.We’re trying to keep our employees employed but if there’s no sign of this money, it’s going to be very difficult.“Dana agrees. ”It’s frustrating to know that the money’s there, but it’s almost like winning the lottery.”
Danny has actually employ more staff to keep up with demand.“However, I have many friends and colleagues that are struggling financially and closing down. To experience a successful run while friends aren’t is difficult.”
David shares the survivor guilt. “You made it when everybody else didn’t. We’ve got people that are facing losing their homes, their futures. How do you console somebody when they’re like that?”
So is it a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest situation? “No. The ones that are survivors survived. I think the other ones… there were probably five or six different economic things that would have wiped them out.”
Diana agrees. “You have to have a plan. If doomsday comes– what does it look like for your business, and can you survive it? But A twelve-month scenario is very complex – we also have to assume that our countries of manufacturing are also in trouble.”
Communication and Isolation
Communication has changed during the crisis. “I find myself on Zoom calls every hour and then I’m not getting my work done. I’ve limited what days I will take phone calls and Zooms to make sure that I have the commitment to the business that it needs.”
Diana has seen the positive side ofisolation. “Our team is being much more productive working from home. Things like blogging or social content writing – you cannot get stuff like that done when you’re sitting at a table of five other people.”
Isolation doesn’t work for everyone, however. “It’s just really not fun being here by myself,” says David. His approach has been to turn the situation on its head.“I’m going to focus more on my mental health, with being happy in a Zen mode rather than really enjoying the chaotic mode.”
David’s biggest adaptation, however, was to his operating model. David realised that his 3D printing technology could help with the shortage of PPE in US hospitals.“I had to go buy and set up a lot of hardware – 13 3D printers and all the material.” Aside from the huge setup effort, this community initiative is adding four hours a day to his workload.
Community interactions go in both directions. First-time customers who’d never been to Danny’sseen anonymous donations coming in to buy food for the hard-working crew.“I think this virus has shed a light on how essential a lot of unheralded workers are to our economy, to our normal everyday lives.”
Looking to the Future
One thing that has become patently clear is that resting on your laurels is an even shakier strategy than many had realised. “Either you innovate or you imitate,” says David. “It’s much more risk to be an innovator but if you’re not innovating in your business, you risk catastrophe.”
Danny adds,“We’ve been in business for three generations.We’ve survived through so many different crises and made sure that we have pivoted along the way to change our business model.”
The cold, hard practicalities are also important. “Save your cash,” says Diana.“Talk to every possible vendor you can about deferring payments, hold on to your cash. Plan for paying out 60, 90 days. Don’t be ashamed to do it. Everybody is doing this, and I mean everybody.”
And finally, it’s vitally important to remember that not all of the plans for the future need to be tied to business. “The first thing I’m going to do when this is over is my husband and I are going to take a vacation. I’m going to go off the grid and we’re going to go somewhere and really, really enjoy our life and enjoy ourselves for a few days as soon as we are able.”
Filling a much-needed gap, ‘Making It Work’ is a free global podcast featuring 12 episodes in total providing real case studies from a diversity of business owners on the ground. Their shared experiences and challenges can provide SME’s and entrepreneurs with the insights to steer their business through the uncertainty and perhaps even identify the opportunities. Of particular interest will be the two-part COVID-19 SPECIAL launched in JunePart I – How Are Small Businesses Staying Alive? and Part 2 – How Do You Run a Business During Lockdown?
Most great ideas are, after all, preceded by chaos!