Let’s just say it: It can suck right now to be a small business owner. Some people are lucky to be in industries that are going gangbusters, such as medical supply chain, logistics/freight and, naturally, liquor retail and distribution. But many of the nearly 30 million small business owners in the U.S. are struggling with the hurricane-force realities and terrifying questions spawned by the novel coronavirus pandemic. At BEACON Business Group, we are in the latter category, so I thought I would share the ways in which we are trying to weather these stormy economic times.
Some background: Our brokerage firm helps people in the Midwest sell their companies. We’ve been operating successfully since 2006, and 2020 was shaping up to be one of our best years yet. Just three months in, it’s as though we’re looking up from a pretty deep hole.
In January, we became victims of wire fraud, which was devastating since the money stolen represented our forecasted first-quarter revenue. And then…the pandemic. Two deals we were virtually to the closing table with simply disappeared; another two are on hold. We are lucky to have businesses listed that are classified as essential and doing well, so we’re hopeful. But the economy is not what it was just four weeks ago. Predicting what will happen in the next four to eight to twelve, and how our business may suffer, just isn’t possible. We absolutely do not want to lay off employees or, worse, shutter the business.
So, to use football vernacular, we’ve moved from an offensive position—using all our marketing-machine power to focus on and get class “A” listings—to more of a defense and special teams strategy: keeping our brand in front of prospects and their advisors but eliminating unnecessary spend both in business operations and at home; taking advantage of relief programs that make sense for us; and looking for ways beyond our core business to generate revenue in the interim and beyond. Here’s what we’re doing that might work for you.
Apply for the SBA Payroll Protection Program loan. There will be long virtual lines for entry into this program, but the more prepared you are with proper documentation, the less likely your loan processing will be delayed. After wading through the mire to understand the process, my husband, Steve, created a document checklist to help you get the right stuff together for your loan application. Find the checklist and more info about applying for the program here.
Seek relief from creditors—both for home and business. Yes, it involves hours on hold listening to music that will drive you crazy. Put the phone on speaker, turn down the volume and do other things while you wait for someone to pick up because it’s time well spent to stretch your working capital and preserve home finances for essentials. Talk to lenders, credit card companies, insurers, utilities, basically any company for which you have revolving or installment payments. The forgiveness isn’t guaranteed and it won’t be indefinite, but what you can get could be a big help during the next few months.
Network virtually with other professionals in your industry. So important, for three reasons: connection, collaboration and cash-generating ideas. Connection first. Steve and I are both working from home now. And while our dog is sweet company, the time we spend on a regular Zoom gathering with a group of business brokers from around the country, all of whom are facing similar issues, is pure gold. It gives us all a sense that we’re not in this alone and provides opportunity to chat, smile and laugh. On the last call, a broker from Alabama had a large tropical bird perched on his shoulder. Talk about joy!
Warm fuzzies aside, we discuss how this crisis is affecting our businesses and what each of us is doing to move forward and keep cash coming in the door. There are a lot of great ideas shared and, boy, do we learn. We’ve already made changes to our business strategies and tactics based on what the group has shared the last couple weeks.
Reach out to your networks, join chats, virtual happy hours and webinars. No matter what industry you are in, there are other owners and advisors out there who understand, are experiencing what you are and can offer ideas, advice and support. Maybe you can, too.
Keep your name out there with the appropriate messaging. At BEACON, we have a pretty robust direct mail, email and social media marketing program. When COVID-19 went from a threat to a pandemic, we thought we should just shut it down. But in talking with others in our industry, we realized that staying in front of our audience is critical during this time. While business owners and investors may not decide to sell or buy right now, they will at some point soon. We want them to choose us to help them when they do.
So we are taking full advantage of the low-cost options provided by social media to offer business owners and advisors resources and advice that make sense in the current climate. What advice and support are you qualified to offer clients, prospects and target audiences? How can you “sieve” the news out there to make it meaningful? Be the person who provides objective and helpful information if you can. People will remember you for it.
Maintain a business routine, if possible. Even if it’s just getting up at the same time, showering and checking email. At BEACON, we have weekly meetings to update our team on listing, prospecting and marketing activity. While actual face-to-face is not possible, we have continued these sessions virtually. Last week, we sent everyone a package and instructed them not to open it until our call started. In the package: a Gumby doll, as inspiration to be flexible and positive during this adventure.
Preserve your health—and sanity. While it’s important to understand what’s going on at local, state and national levels and follow orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the flood of information coming at us from every direction at every moment is overwhelming. In this “new normal,” it’s critical to step back from it all, in ways that we can. Turn off the news and do something for you. Things we do:
- Walk. We live in a condo, so when nature calls our pup, we have to take her out. It’s time we treasure now.
- Work out. The gym in our building is still open, with a two-person limit at any given time. But there are many workouts, from yoga to kickboxing, available online at no charge.
- Binge-watch. We are partial to European crime shows at the moment; our kids like “The Office,” “Parks & Rec” and “Breaking Bad.” If you have Netflix, you must watch comedian Kathleen Madigan’s “Bothering Jesus.” If this show doesn’t make you laugh, I don’t know what will.
- Do puzzles. Any kind. There is nothing that provides the mind with escape quite like digging into a really intense puzzle.
- Do virtual get-togethers. We’ve done Zoom happy hours with our adult children with great success, as well as online trivia with friends and family. The technology is relatively unintimidating, even for baby boomers like us. Click here to learn more. Other platforms include Go-To Meeting, Google Hangouts, EZ Talks and FaceTime.
- Take stock of what’s important. When times have been scary and unpredictable in my adult lifetime, they also have brought out the ingenuity, resilience and innate goodness of human beings. We will get through this. In the meantime, let’s cherish what we have. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Tell the people you love that you love them. Smile. Breathe. Smile again.
Catherine Cassidy is the marketing director of BEACON Business Group, Inc. which she owns with her husband, Steve Boylan. Send her a message on Linked In.