It all happened in the span of about a week in early March. Every contract cancelled. My business went from doing the best it ever has – something which took many years for me to build – to being wiped out in a few days.
I couldn’t blame my clients. They were scared. Very scared.
At the time, the general thinking, or at least the hope, was that all businesses would be back, up and running at full speed, in a short 2 or 3 months. I knew that I could wait it out that long. But now, here we are – in the new “normal” still struggling, still trying to carve out a niche in the “virtual” world – and staring into an uncertain future that quite possibly will never see a return to the way things were.
All businesses the world over are suffering. Badly. Small and large. Many have closed shop, never to return. Even entire cities are looking at bankruptcy as revenues vanish.
The pressure on business owners to innovate, be strong and stay hopeful – is difficult, yet essential.
And interestingly – there is another test brewing as well, beneath the headlines, affecting the collective psyche of the business community. It has nothing to do with money – and everything to do with the human qualities of loyalty, friendship and mutual support. Or – as the case may be in this pandemic – the total lack thereof.
Friends, some clients and strangers I meet – all of whom have kept well-paying jobs – have smugly inferred that this is now Karma – that “rich” business owners are getting their due. Everywhere on social media, people write to applaud the complete destruction of “arrogant” industries, such as the airline business which had “ripped off and mis-treated the public for years” and is now, justly, being punished.
The level of ignorance is great. The vast majority of small business owners were just barely making a living before Covid-19. Very few of them, myself included, were far from “rich”. Many donated their time to the community, and during these trying times, a good number of them, despite being flat broke, are doing whatever they can to help others. Local restaurants, facing certain extinction, have given food to first responders, without compensation. Occasionally, without thanks.
No, we business owners do not want sympathy. We chose our lives because we wanted to have greater control. We went into business knowing full well that the day might come that our clients would disappear. If not by a pandemic, then through our own mistakes, bad planning and lack of experience.
But to have our income taken away, through the fault of no one, then be told we deserved it, is to put a spotlight on that very human trait of “gloating” – perhaps out of jealousy, the desire to be mean, or as a backlash against societal chaos.
It has been said that we all know who are real friends are in times of trouble. I know some business owners who are making a list – of the suppliers, clients, maybe even so-called “friends”, who have seen fit to withdraw their support, at the very time it is most needed. And when times do return to prosperity again, if ever, those on that list will be removed from association.
Such owners are being petty. Because at a time like this – nobody is “themselves”. Unparalleled levels of stress, anxiety and fear do very odd things to human beings. Our clients and suppliers are going through their own hell.
We must all – business owner and client – rise above the accusations, criticisms of perceived injustice and delivery of “karma.”
For my own little business, this has been a time of incredible innovation as we pivot from “then” to “now”, changing all of our marketing, systems, products and services. Is it working? It is starting.
And that’s where business owners need to put the emphasis. Moving away from “poor me” to “I’m going to smash this damn virus into the ground”.
It’s not that our clients wanted to leave us hanging. Most were loyal. They are still out there. And many new clients are ready to come on board.
The pandemic may just be the kick many of us needed.
Cory Galbraith is an author and company owner who is now busy reshaping his business.