As a small business owner, I know how hard uncertainty can be. I also know the anxiety that comes from trying to make sure employee needs are met, client needs are met, this continues to come in, etc. After a successful IPO for TrueCar, a startup I worked with very early on, I launched my own design agency, Create Ape. Going from just myself to over 12 employees in the last few years.
I know that with so many closures and quarantines now taking effect across the country that many small businesses (and large businesses) will have a very hard time during the next few weeks and maybe months. Hopefully things can settle down quickly and life will go back to normal soon. But if it doesn’t, I would like to share 5 tips that might help you in your small business during these troubled times.
1. Stay calm, and carry on.
I know it sounds trite because we see these internet memes everywhere but truly panic doesn’t help you or anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times over the last six years of running Create Ape, a UX Design and development agency, that I’ve had to literally get up, leave my office, and walk around outside and just breathe. After a few minutes I notice the sun on my face, maybe a gentle breeze, I see the trees and flowers, and I’m able to refocus on the tasks at hand. During this crisis we really need to make sure we are practicing self-care and being gentle with ourselves. A lot of these things are unprecedented and we should acknowledge that it may take some time for us to get used to how things may be for the next couple of months. Don’t be too hard on yourself!
I remember in my early 20s there was a local bakery that created the most delicious chocolate chip cookies I have ever tasted. Getting a fresh batch was such a treat. During a particularly difficult college year, I had been dealing with large amounts of stress and anxiety. I remember running to the grocery store that evening and seeing a fresh batch of cookies. Not sure why, but I was so happy. After going to Blockbuster (who else misses Blockbuster!?) to re-rent a comedy, I went home and settled down to enjoy. As I watched the movie and had these cookies, I realized how happy I was. And I had an epiphany that has stuck with me since then:
“No matter how hard life may get, remember the milk and cookies that make you happy. “
Everybody has something that they love to do. Some of that may be limited now during this crisis, but try to find the things that you can do that make you happy and do them for yourself. It will help you and your loved ones as you’re able to recharge and refocus on the tasks at hand.
2. Technology is your friend and innovation often comes through adversity.
CreateApe has largely been a fully remote agency for most of its life. Utilizing tools like Zoom, Skype, Basecamp, and most recently Figma (if you’re a designer and not using this you are missing out big time), we have been able to engage clients locally, nationally, and globally. And guess what? We’re pretty darn successful at it. Why? Because we don’t let the limitation of not being colocated slow us down. Now I realize that’s not for everybody but maybe there is something that you can do to pivot your business during these times.
For example, if you’re a bakery, could you use video technology to showcase your wares real time or post online? Or post wares through social media/website and then offer a delivery service with a fee to customers who are unable to come to you? If you had those cookies I would be a repeat customer for life!
If you are a hairdresser, maybe you could be doing at home appointments (while obviously taking the necessary sanitary precautions). And maybe going above and beyond to reassure your customer base of your own health would help them as well by posting a picture of your temperature, that you are symptom-free, and that you have gloves and masks (or a scarf, or anything) to ensure your safety and theirs?
Just because people are quarantine themselves at home or staying away from large gatherings doesn’t mean that they stop wanting the things that they normally purchase or do. In fact during this time, many of them may want those things even more. I overheard my wife talking the other day how she wishes she could go get her nails done but feels it would be an unnecessary risk since she’s asthmatic. Perhaps people like her would be more open to an at home appointment if proper precautions are taken.
The big take away here is that we should look to technology that already exists to help “virus proof” our business models wherever possible. While you may not double or triple your yearly business (and maybe you might), at least you can try to maintain income until the crisis passes. And this will pass!
3. Maintenance, updating, and reinvention.
So often we become too busy with everyday work and life that we tend to promote ourselves last. If you look at the CreateApe portfolio page right now, you will see a small fraction of the projects we’ve done over the last six months and quite frankly some of it is already outdated. The problem is we are often focused more on our clients work, and we lack the time or the resources to update these marketing avenues in a way that would best reflect our brand. But every now and then, usually around the Christmas season, things slow down just enough for us to start doing some maintenance on our site, brand, and services. I was looking back at this recently and realized that some of the best ideas we’ve had as a company have come during this time.
Sometimes when things slow down, it provides you an opportunity to rethink what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what you can be doing better. By analyzing and updating your services, brand, website, blog, social media, etc., you may find yourself in a better position then you were before and in the years to come. In fact by doing these things you might realize that this was a blessing of sorts in disguise.
Now may also be a good time to do some of the things that you have been holding off on because a lot of companies are in the same boat as you and are offering large discounts to keep the lights on. Maybe there is opportunity for you to trade services with other small businesses as well.
For example, Create Ape is offering other small businesses our lowest rate for the month of March and April without any requirements (we usually require a commitment to be on a retainer rate). This is a significant discount and the ability for businesses that otherwise might not be able to afford our services the chance to utilize award winning design and development for their brand during this time. It helps us and we think will help them. Think outside the box and see what happens!
4.Reach out to your local, state, and federal government.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of taxes. But I pay them and appreciate the things they provide such as roads, schools, security, etc. As things have been progressing and continue to progress it seems that the government is reacting positively to help people financially during this time. This will likely be a slow process. While many things are still being figured out, now would be a great time to reach out to your local mayor, congressman, etc. to ask what help they can give.
It could come in the form of tax relief, business incentives, etc. While I don’t know everything I do know this: you won’t know unless you ask and the more people ask, the more help there will most likely be.
5. You are not alone.
Over the last couple of weeks you’ve probably seen examples of panic, ridicule, anger, etc. But I have also seen a lot of people come together as a community and offer to help others, and it’s made me realize that we are all in this together.
My hope is that regardless of our political affiliations, sex, creed, religion, etc. we will come together in these trying times as a nation. As Americans. As members of humanity.
Recently I saw videos of quarantine Italians singing on balconies, and ingenious gym owners doing free exercise classes on rooftops, and even military jets doing patriotic maneuvers over the skies of cities. I thought to myself: if they can do that, we can too.
Everybody has talents and gifts that they can use to help their neighbors and friends. Maybe it’s positive social media posting (Lord knows we sure have enough of the negative), or maybe it’s picking up the phone and asking how others are doing. If you’re religious maybe it’s praying for those in need, and if you’re brave (and young) maybe it’s delivering food and medicine to those who are stuck at home and unable to leave. Maybe you have a gaggle of kids at home who are no longer in school and can enlist their help in drawing pictures, creating funny videos, etc. and sending them to elderly neighbors who could use a lift.
At the end of the day, we’re going to get through this. But how we get through it is up to us.
My hope and prayer is that we can come together as a community and nation so that when our children and grandchildren look back at the pandemic of 2020 they will see that we rose to the occasion. That they would see the same resolve and goodwill that we saw in our grandparents and great grandparents during the world wars of the 20th century.
Hopefully this helps some of you. Below are links you might find useful and feel free to reach out with any questions. Stay safe and God bless ?
Health & Safety: