Time to Climb Behind the Wheel and Drive
October 20, 2021
By David Rhoa, originally featured in SBAM’s FOCUS magazine
Have you ever been in a car accident? One moment you’re driving along without a care in the world. The next moment there’s the impact accompanied by shattered glass and that awful, hollow sound metal makes when it forcefully collides with another object. There’s shock, pain, fear and anger all in a blink of an eye.
When it’s all over, there are police reports, self-doubt, insurance claims and perhaps even physical or emotional rehabilitation. Then, when all the repairs have been made and the wounds healed, we start over and once more climb behind the wheel and drive.
Last March, small businesses throughout our state were casualties in a global car wreck. Think about it. In February 2020, the national and state economies were humming along nicely. The stock market was setting records. Unemployment was the lowest it had been in decades. Odds are your business was also doing well. Even if your business was not where you wanted it to be, chances are you were bullish on the future and the growth opportunities that lay just over the horizon.
Then in March 2020, as if out of nowhere, almost every small business was t-boned by a ‘72 Chrysler Imperial.
Like being in a traffic accident, our lives as we knew them, both personal and professional, came to an abrupt halt. Government regulations were conceived and implemented at lighting speed and with little regard to their unintended consequences. Customers seemingly disappeared as they sought to adhere to the new regulations and deal with their own challenges.
Supply chains were interrupted. Employees lived in fear and looked to their business owner to ensure both their continued employment and personal safety. Services were curtailed in both the private and public sectors.
In very real terms, all of us, as individuals, organizations and societal groups, had to change large portions of our lives in a mere instant. Moreover, we continued to live in this altered reality, this abridged lifestyle, for nearly 16 months.
Throughout this period, we were constantly reminded that “due to COVID” or “in response to the pandemic,” things were different. Mail and parcel delivery was slower from every carrier. Dining out was different. Elections were different. Church services were different. Normal, everyday encounters with other humans were different. COVID-19 was both the reason behind our problems and the excuse as to why things could not be improved.
Then, after living in this alternate reality, with rules that seemed to control every aspect of our lives, we were offered a reprieve. The rules and regulations that had been woven into our personal lives and incorporated into our business operations were lifted almost as quickly as they were implemented. One day we had all these rules, and the next we were left wondering, “Are we allowed to do this or that?” Despite this quick retreat of regulations, employees were still fearful, customers were still not fully engaged, supply chains were still disrupted and vendors still clung to the mantras of “due to COVID” or “in response to the pandemic.”
So now what?
We are facing the realities that we must alter our lifestyles and workstyles as much as we did in March 2020. As small business owners, we have to manage our exit from COVID-19 as aggressively and creatively as we entered into the pandemic in the days following the first lockdown.
At the start of the pandemic, many of us pivoted our operations to stay afloat or to take advantage of new opportunities. It’s time to pivot again. We have to re-engage our customers. In some cases, we may need to rebuild customer relationships, or create new ones as new faces may have replaced familiar ones.
We need to actively manage our relationships with our vendors, and perhaps foster new relationships to get the services and products we need. We need to balance our patience of the mantras of, “due to COVID” or “in response to the pandemic” with our steadfast determination to service our customers at a profitable level. We have to reinvigorate our employees as the pace of work in the days ahead will be different than during the pandemic.
We need to find new ways to securely and safely work at the office or from home. We need to balance our actions to account for those employees who remain fearful of the virus and those who have lost all patience with the mere topic of the pandemic. We need to take a fresh look, beyond wages, at what our employees may need from us in order to succeed.
Despite our fears or worries, just as one might after a car accident, it’s time to begin anew—it’s time to climb behind the wheel and start driving again.
David Rhoa is a serial entrepreneur, owning four businesses that serve customers around the world. He is past Chair of the Small Business Association of Michigan and its Political Action Committee, currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Small Business Resource Center and the Small Business Council of America and has been a part-time faculty member in the Department of Economics and Business at Kalamazoo College since 2014.