I was talking with my parents about the COVID-19 virus this weekend. Their opinion of current events is interesting because they’ve seen and experienced so much more than I have. I may not always agree with them, but I value their opinion and I’ve learned many lessons from them!
Our conversation about the virus was unique because there hasn’t been anything like this in any of our lifetimes. They didn’t have any stories that start out with “back in my day, when we had a global pandemic…” There were no pearls of wisdom for them to share with me.
A Moment of Reflection
Later, I started to think about what I’ve learned during this pandemic. I’m a small business owner that works closely with other small business owners. What business lessons have I learned from the COVID-19 virus and its effect on the economy? More importantly, what can I do to prepare for any future outbreaks?
The first thing that comes to mind, and one area I was extremely fortunate in, is having the ability to work remotely.
Fate and circumstance combined to move me and my family from Alaska to Michigan a few years ago, and I made the strategic decision to pivot my business to focus on remotely handling my clients.
This means my office was already set up and personalized to make it an ergonomic, enjoyable workspace.
All of my peripheral devices are easy to reach and functional. The walls are painted with my favorite colors, and this spring I planted flowers outside my office window.
I’ve got sunshine coming through the window from mid-morning to early evening, and it’s illuminating my view of the flowers, bird feeders, and an occasional chipmunk. This space isn’t just my office…it’s my sanctuary!
Sticks or Twigs
A huge aspect of remote work is technology. When we moved to Michigan, we considered moving out to the “sticks” where we could enjoy the peace and tranquility that you just can’t get in the city.
Unfortunately, internet speeds in rural areas leave much to be desired. Eventually, we decided against moving to the “sticks”, and we settled for the “twigs” instead.
We’re fairly close to the city, so I’m not serenaded by a roster every morning, but I still routinely get to see deer, rabbits, and a surprising number of turkeys in my backyard.
Most importantly, I have high-speed internet access. That was a must-have item when we chose our house, and I’m grateful we made that decision. It’s a crucial aspect of my business; I would not be able to work remotely without it.
Speaking of grateful, I’m also grateful that we found an amazing realtor. Joe Harris. He is a Re/MAX Hall of Fame member and he dominates the market in Mid-Michigan. If you happen to be looking to buy real estate in this area, I highly recommend him.
The Learning Curve
Some of my clients were reluctant to use an online-folder system, but we must have a way of efficiently and securely distributing data. Their apprehension eventually gave way to acceptance, and, after a brief learning curve, the process smoothed out nicely.
Once the COVID-19 virus made remote work practically mandatory, they were already set up and comfortable with the file-sharing process. All business owners learned some lessons and started implementing tech into their daily lives! I had my clients ahead of the game.
Related: The Winds Of Change
Using technology to communicate really couldn’t be much easier than it is now. My clients know they can reach me via a telephone call, text, email, Skype, Zoom, and fax. I make sure they can get in touch with me at any time.
I did have to remind my Alaskan clients that they are 4 hours behind the Eastern Time Zone, so if you call me at 6:00 pm Alaska time, it’s 10:00 pm in Michigan and I may not answer.
The QBO Conundrum
The last technological hurdle I’ve had to deal with is online bookkeeping. A few of my clients are reluctant to have their business’s financial data stored online. They prefer to have their bookkeeping data stored on a computer at their facility.
I try to steer my clients towards QuickBooks Online, but I still maintain the ability to access their computers remotely. Remoting into a system to do work isn’t the most efficient process available, but it does enable me to continue to meet my client’s needs.
A Personal Touch…
Another thing that has helped me maintain my business through this pandemic has been the personal relationships I have with my clients. They’re not just businesses to me. They’re people just like me who gave up the security of working for someone else in order to experience the satisfaction of running their own business.
During this pandemic, my business management skills have been needed more than ever. I helped my clients secure Federal Payroll Protection Program loans, as well as multiple State and Municipality grants. I’ve provided guidance on taxes, hiring, re-hiring, unemployment, and many safety and health issues.
Knowing these small business owners were struggling to keep the doors open, I knew this was the time when they would need my help! I did my best to take care of them despite the uncertainty with the economy.
Now that we’ve settled into a “new normal”, my clients know I won’t cut and run when they’re struggling. I’ve proven that I’m not just here to take their money. I can adapt to the situation and help them succeed, even during difficult times.
Channel Your Inner Gumby!
The last lesson I’ve learned is about flexibility. I’ve seen a lot of businesses adapt to the changes brought on by COVID-19. Our favorite landscaping company started taking orders and payments by phone from vehicles in their parking lot.
It was a simple process to pick up a truckload of dirt. Just place your order from their parking lot and wait for someone to load up the bed of your truck. They promptly emailed us a receipt, so there was no reason to even leave the vehicle. That is a brilliant adaptation that enabled them to stay open this summer.
Another business that adapted to the COVID-19 situation is one of my favorite places to shop…Darcey’s! They sell mostly furniture. Their inventory is a wonderful collection of new, used, and repurposed furniture items. The prices are very reasonable, and it’s the kind of place my husband likes to shop at too.
Darcey’s initially shut down in response to the virus, but they eventually re-opened. They’re open on fewer days and for fewer hours…but they’re open! They’ve responded to a reduction in business by reducing their operating hours and thus their payroll. It’s a huge accomplishment for a small business like this to survive this economic crisis.
Larger, big-name furniture stores have gone out of business in the last few months, but Darcey’s was able to be flexible and ride out the storm. And, now that the economy is recovering, they’re poised to see an uptick in business.
Pearls of Wisdom
Of all the lessons I’ve learned during the global pandemic, these have impacted my life the most:
Keep up with technology. Be technologically proactive…not reactive. Don’t wait for a crisis and then expect to modernize. That has been expensive and painful for a lot of people.
Build Good Relationships With Your Clients
They need to KNOW you’ve got their back when things are tough. You want your clients to be thankful they’ve got you when a crisis happens…not questioning your competence or motivation.
Be Flexible When There is a Crisis
Flexible with your time; flexible with your salary; and flexible with your job description. Do whatever is necessary to see your clients through the worst of times and you’ll have their business, as well as their friendship, for the rest of your life!
Though 2020 was stressful for everyone, we all learned some valuable lessons. Instead of focusing on the negative effects of this year, try and look on the bright side!
Your business has grown, modernized, and you’ve set yourself up to survive the pandemic!
That’s success in my book.