To our government officials:
On behalf of all small business owners impacted by the COVID-19 virus, we need your help…and not just your money.
I’ve spent a lot of time with business owners on the front lines dealing with the impact of this virus. Everyone I’ve spoken to, regardless of their specific perspective, sees the pain and loss to families and loved ones in our communities. We also know there is so much pain we don’t see — the pain that is being inflicted on the most vulnerable. We understand that it is our responsibility to do our part to support our communities at this time, and we promise to do so. I like to believe this is one of our superpowers in this time of need given our community roots.
We believe you are hard at work putting together a stimulus package to help ease the pain. We believe your intentions are good. But we know how the system works — influence influences. It’s not a judgment against you. It’s a judgment against the system-at-large that we have all created over the years.
The reality for most small businesses, including many important non-profits in our local communities, is that we don’t have any lobbyists in the room, union representation, or real influence. Some of us are part of larger trade groups that are giving their all to support our industries, but we know the small business leverage doesn’t stand a chance against the bigger corporate interests.
Small business owners are alone. That’s not a sad fact, rather a reality we’ve lived with since we’ve opened our doors. There is only so much the government can do in the timeline we need it, and that’s OK. That’s how the system works, and we all knew that when we signed up for this ride.
We are controlling what we can control and barreling forward as we always have in good times and in bad. It’s where our pride comes from, and this work ethic is what bonds us to the people we surround ourselves with.
Yes, small businesses in key industries impacted by the virus need financial support as do their employees immediately. If you can deliver, then thank you. But just as importantly, small businesses need far more than short-term financial support to weather this storm. We need a relationship with our government that values the high-risk nature of entrepreneurship in times of turmoil and the deeply human roots that they create within the communities they serve.
If you want to speak the language of small businesses during this crisis, think like a small business does in moments of distress:
Stretch the imagination.
Be a little outrageous.
Here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices going:
Issue a Declaration of Forgiveness. As a small business owner, no decision feels like a good decision during this time. I feel like I’m letting down my employees, my clients, my family, the non-profits I support, and myself. No decision feels good when you’re scrambling through the unknown. As part of the Declaration of Forgiveness, on our next tax bill you can get the words “this isn’t your fault” watermarked in the background. Guilt of failure runs deep in small business circles — let’s lift some spirits.
Execute a 25th hour clause. We need more time to solve these gigantic disruptions in our business. From mobilizing teams to work remotely to dealing with the revenue faucet being turned off, there are more urgent priorities than there is time. For the next four weeks, can we find a way to make all days 25 hours long? What’s an extra hour? We will claw back the hours over Saturday and Sunday evening some way. We will be in quarantine anyway — do weekends even really exist when you can’t leave the house? With that extra hour, I could do wonders.
Announce a panic penalty. I’m thankful for our country’s free press — particularly in this political climate. But if you need any further evidence the capitalist system is alive and well, look at the media’s behavior in a time of crisis. It’s all centered on driving clicks. “Coronavirus is bringing a plague of dangerous doomsday predictions” was the headline of the lead story on a leading news source’s website. The salacious headline grabbed me, and I then took notice of the closing point in the article saying, “…invoking doomsday scenarios can be harmful — they can damage others’ psychological health.” Yes. Agree. Society’s mental health matters if we are going to recover. We need the media to keep our government accountable, but maybe we can get some of the super smart tech giants to implement a sentiment tracker that gives us warnings of when the headlines might be out-scaring the reality. The words “doomsday” and “plague” in the title of the story is a pretty good sign that you may want to avoid the news cycle today.
Put C-SPAN on steroids. The news is a firehose of information. From sporadic news conferences to breaking news tweets, our flow of information is as uncertain as the virus itself. I get it. There is so much going on, and everyone is doing their best to get us all the information we need. But it’s not sustainable. Why not this schedule every evening: 6pm local news and live local government update followed by 7pm national news and live federal government update. We can’t resolve uncertainty about the virus, but we can create certainty about information flow. “Breaking news” has become so watered down that consistency has become equally (if not more valuable) than speed. Here’s what I want to hear from our leaders in government… “here’s what we said we would do… here’s what we did… here’s what we are doing… here’s what we need you to do.” And then do it again the next night.
Assign a Federal Homeschooling Czar. Many of us are homeschooling children now in the midst of trying to stretch the impossible in our businesses. My stress fills my presence knowing I can’t be an effective business owner and an effective parent and an effective teacher. How about a “No Parent Left Behind” Act?
Issue loyalty credits. I am surrounded by an amazing group of people. My employees, my clients, and my partners of over 19 years in business are like family. I can’t possibly thank them enough for their help over the years. And after this experience, I am only further in debt to them. Why can’t we create some kind of loyalty credit for employees of businesses that are employed with the same company for the entire calendar year of 2020? From those who remain full-time through the crisis to those laid off, furloughed or put to part-time — if you were employed on March 1st (right before the crisis) and can show employment status with the same organization on December 31st of this year, let’s give these folks some love. Help me do that.
Declare a State of Hope. Without hope, nothing else matters. We declare a State of Emergency, what’s stopping us from declaring a State of Hope? Let’s mandate all news networks to include at least one promising story of greatness happening in our communities each night across the country. Just hire the crew from CBS Sunday Morning — they do it best. Kindness is contagious as is the drive for progress.
Create a cause match. There are many important non-profits that are going to be decimated from this crisis. The non-profits do the hard work for the people that need it most. They go where the government can’t go alone. As we rebound, it is inevitable that individual giving to causes people care about will face serious headwinds. This is not good for our communities and not good for small businesses as this directly impacts our employees, our families, and fellow community members. Why not create a matching program where every dollar a local resident donates to an accredited 501(c)3 in their community, the government will match dollar for dollar in 2020?
And, last but not least, Give the promise of urgency.
As bad as this situation has been for small businesses, the toll this has taken on people’s personal lives and their health far outweighs any of my issues. Life will go on for me no matter the financial impact of COVID-19, but for others, that will not be the case as it’s heartbreaking. Please promise that the most vulnerable are cared for quickly. Please promise the first responders are cared for appropriately. We have a bad history of this as a country, and the last thing I want to see is a rescue package that helps small businesses at the expense of the most vulnerable.
To any government official reading this, we have faith in you to do the right thing. Please do it (quickly). To my fellow small business owners, hang in there. If you need an ear, someone just to talk to, I’m here and promise you will be heard. Things can get lonely, so don’t think you are alone.