April 15, 2020

Oh, the Lessons we are learning

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I know the last six weeks have been incredibly painful for small businesses -- and the 26 million people who now find themselves unemployed as a result of COVID-19 -- to say nothing about the loss of life, the enormous collective grief, the separation, and the loneliness.

I’m not big on “forcing processing” before we are through because, well, we have a long way to go, but I’m a small business owner too and I’m learning some interesting lessons through this. Here are my “we're all in the small business boat” takeaways to date.

  1. Find a small bank and establish an actual relationship with a banker. I’ve talked to winners and losers in Round 1 of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) race (loser here). One thing seems to ring true, setting aside allegations of fee-driven decisions, the bigger the bank, the more they seemed to struggle with timely implementation of the PPP. While I have clients who received money from a big bank, most of those who received funding received it from small banks. I thought I had a good banking relationship, but when push came to shove the bank, not the banker, couldn’t get it done. Smaller banks are often hungrier, and that will likely benefit you.  
  2. State technology MUST BE OVERHAULED!! Cobol mainframes? Really? It is beyond a tragedy that people can’t get checks because the technology is so antiquated. God bless IBM for bringing COBOL programmers out of retirement to train the youngsters so they could get up and running. We need more public/private partnerships like this because industry has scaling capacity that the government sometimes lacks. These links need to be built sooner rather than later. That would help on the COVID testing front too.  
  3. Planning is important, but some things are absolutely out of your control. The sooner you embrace that notion (control is an illusion and change is constant), the better you will fare.  I’m a disaster planner (you wouldn’t want an attorney who isn’t, right?), but this is a lesson for all the planners who hear the adage “life can change in an instant” but never really believed it.      
  4. When something stinks, speak up for yourself and others in the same boat. PPP is a debacle. Money designated for small businesses went to large players (Ruth’s Chris, Marriott, and Harvard, to name a few). Why????? This is something that should enrage all of us. Call your congressman and your senators, and if you don’t have enough energy (because just surviving day to day is hard enough and it’s okay), band together with others. I knew there was a problem last week with this, but by the weekend I was stunned at the sheer volume of businesses that didn’t get that money and those who did (and frankly should not have been able to apply in the first place). I’ve been speaking up to anyone who will listen. You should, too.      
  5. If you are in a self-imposed news blackout for mental sanity - “You Go!!”, but do make sure if you have employees you are checking the Department of Labor website often. I’m getting whiplash from all the guidance coming out. Check FAQs early and often. Holler if you need help.  
  6. Small business owners are the best! I already knew this, of course---that’s why I work in this arena but it’s really been driven home during this crisis. Usually, I’m the one giving advice but on PPP it’s my biz owner clients and colleagues who have formed a circle of support, introducing good bankers, inquiring about my business challenges, calling to check in, and have a laugh. It has been such a gift.  
  7. Working from home is possible. Business owners who say differently are going to have a tougher time not accommodating this request going forward. Having said that, for me, the office just feels better, and I really enjoy having a workspace that is not in my living room. I work at home a lot but not exclusively, and I’m not sure I want to change that.

If you have some takeaways I’d love to hear them!

I survived on memes the first few weeks but it might be time to move on.