Small Business and COVID-19
I own and operate a small business. My consulting company usually provides a reasonable income for my family, a modest salary for our office manager, and reliable fees for a network of independent consultants who rely on the additional work we bring them. But it is often touch and go, as the work is generally not long-term or steady. Usually, if everyone pays us in a timely fashion, it all works out and the machine keeps humming. Of course, these are not normal times, and nothing is humming as it ought to.
I've invested everything and then some into my business and used the good times to make it through the thin times, and in this part of the world, there's been more famine than feast in recent years. And I am hardly alone: the energy sector in my province is entering its fifth year of depressed prices and market access woes. Travel, tourism, hospitality, construction, engineering, retail industries - all were fragile when COVID-19 hit like a sucker punch.
I have always been grateful for public servants (I use to be one) - for their service before self - teachers, administrators, nurses, doctors, municipal workers who keep our streets clean, the officers who keep the peace and our borders and institutions secure. Our recovery now depends on them and it is our collective job now to keep them healthy and supported, because without them the whole house comes down. Thank them. Acknowledge their service. Make sure their kids have the care they need, and that their families have the support they require.
My mind turns to back to small business owners. There are limited options for them when customers disappear. It's the opposite of a beneficial financing scenario - there is no revenue and no realistic prospect of getting revenue for weeks if not months. We are going to need outside the box thinking to get through this. And seeing as small business drives 80% of our economy, we are really facing an unprecedented situation. But I'm an optimist, and in order to stave off my anxiety, I've started compiling a list of things various levels of government are doing to address the situation, as well as things we can do as business leaders and entrepreneurs to help one another.
1. If you are a big enough company, with a deep enough balance sheet, keep your employees employed and your contractors and vendors engaged, even if it is done remotely and involves tasks or services outside their usual workflow. That steady income and security will be the thing that kicks starts an economic recovery and an employee or contractor will never, ever forget that you had their back.
2. Make a list of the clients and the companies that have supported you and your business in the past. If you have the ability, pay it forward by asking how you can support them. Don't be afraid to ask for their help too. Our businesses are only as strong as our networks and the person that changes the tires on my car might be the person that gives me the contract that helps me make rent this month. Think of ways to help one another.
3. If you can't afford to pay your staff, avail yourself and your team of the emerging Employment Insurance programs like Job-Share (https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/corporate/notices/coronavirus.html) and the fast tracked, early qualifying, insurance programs being set up. The toll-free number to call is 1-833-381-2725.
4. If you sell goods that are useful in a pandemic (like gowns, gloves, cleaning supplies) or have services available like security, cleaning, nursing, laundry, or IT, fill out the fast tracked COVID-19 procurement landing page. It will never be more straight forward to do work with a government in this country and they need you. https://buyandsell.gc.ca/calling-all-suppliers-help-canada-combat-covid-19.
5. The first wave of emergency stimulus is the federal $10B aid package being funneled through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). It still looks like there are some hoops to jump through and I worry about timeliness and qualifying levels but it's a start. https://buyandsell.gc.ca/calling-all-suppliers-help-canada-combat-covid-19
6. As every entrepreneur and business owner knows, keeping the wolf away from your own door is never far from your mind. It seems obvious but trim expenses where possible. The many costly pressures of modern living are already dissipating, so use that as an excuse to conserve cash. I have heard of several mortgage companies, banks, and large property management companies offering at least 1 to 3-month mortgage and rent breaks. Utility and data companies are looking at doing the same. At some point, this will all have to be paid back, but right now this relief can make a huge difference.
7. Finally, in the words of some anonymous shopper who posted a note on the empty shelf of toilet paper next to a sign that said LIMIT 2 PER CUSTOMER, "Be Kind. Watch out for each other." That's the kind of business I want to run. That's the kind of society I want to live in. That's the kind of person I want my kids to see when they wake up each morning.
Stay hopeful, and please add to this list as more information on supports becomes available.
Dave Muddle, CMC Partner
M Consulting | Wilde Advisory Group