Over the course of any given week, the media companies we own and manage speak to about 750 small business owners. And if you’re looking for some good news about this pandemic and our future, it’s about time you heard an honest take on how these women and men are fighting for their professional lives.
For those of you who run or manage small businesses, you’ll nod your head in agreement. The consumers – our readers – however, must understand the purpose and value of a vibrant small-business community, which makes up almost half of our nation’s economy.
When you walk into any locally owned business today, you’ll immediately sense the fear on the faces and in the voices of the owners. Maybe “fear” isn’t the precise word. Maybe it’s trepidation. Maybe it’s unease.
However you prescribe it, the people who own businesses today don’t know what’s around the next corner, and there’s a wonderful example right here in Houston.
Almost two weeks ago, as testing increased, positive COVID results spiked and hospital CEOs held daily press briefings, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Lina Hidalgo began floating the idea of locking down the city.
In order to get control of this pandemic – as if anyone or anything will do that besides modern medicine – the leaders of this city said we all needed to go inside our homes, drink more wine, eat more food, get more depressed, and wait for the virus to disappear from the air.
In the following days, as we made our daily calls to local businesses, you can only imagine the horror stories we heard.
“We’re doomed,” they said. “If they lock us down, we’re going out of business.”
That phrase was uttered hundreds of times to our sales and marketing teams, and the only solace we could offer was a virtual hug and a “Good luck.”
A few days later, Gov. Greg Abbott emphatically said he would not order a statewide lockdown, and he wouldn’t let local authorities do it either. Abbott, who like other politicians has made good calls and bad, has had to back-track on comments during this pandemic, and his assurances did little to ease the concerns of business owners.
As a side note, am I the only one who wishes – just once – that our elected officials would just exit stage left and let a team of medical professionals come out with one voice on every decision we need to make? Sure, there’d be disagreements, but it would be better than taking cues from politicians. No matter how genuine they may be, they’re still politicians, and they can’t help but shape words to fit their narrative. Rant over.
The natural response of small businesses has been fear. And when you live in fear for an extended amount of time, the results are exactly what you’d think they are.
First, small business owners are exhausted. They’re frustrated, fatigued, walking into their stores not sure if anyone will show up, and if customer do happen to appear, will those customers be healthy, will they fight wearing masks, will they spend more than a few dollars?
Take it from someone who runs his own small business: When you’re unsure how much longer your business can last, opening your email and answering the phone can suck the wind out of the most head-strong person.
There’s another fear small businesses have: Most of them do not want to spend money on anything except the air conditioning and their debts. The results have been disastrous for those who rely on small businesses for employment opportunities.
In Houston, restaurants were allowed to open weeks ago – some of them at 75-percent capacity. So wasn’t it interesting that many didn’t hire back enough servers or cooks, and instead kept focus on their carry-out business?
The reason goes back to the very beginning: Trepidation. Business owners don’t know what’s around the next corner, and they aren’t going to make decisions that jeopardize losing everything, including hiring back employees.
So where’s the positivity in all of that? Simple.
Every day, when our company calls local, small businesses, they all answer the phone. They ask us what we’re hearing. They ask if we know anything about potential lockdown orders. They ask how we’re doing.
Today, when our company calls local, small businesses, the resiliency in their voices is unmatched. They’re all looking for ways to make it to the end of the year. They’re all praying for a vaccine. They’re all hoping the economy can stay put until that vaccine comes. And they all have a single mission: They’re going to fight like hell to have a business when this nightmare ends.
I wish every person reading this could take 10 minutes to talk with a small business owner. Ask them how they’re making it. Ask them what they need to get through this mess. Ask them how they find the energy and courage to open their doors when they know they’ll lose money for another day.
Up in Washington, D.C., they’re talking about another round of stimulus to help struggling small businesses. The conversations are going to get political, and both Democrats and Republicans are going to sound like insecure teenagers, hoping to win political points across a national media that believes we live and breathe to hear what politicians think.
Let’s hope they make the right decisions. In the meantime, we’d all be better off soaking in the energy and resiliency of the thousands of small businesses who refuse to let this nightmare win.