Has your business been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

It's been a rough few months for many businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating consequences on our society and affected nearly every aspect of our lives. The new normal of lockdown procedures, social distancing, mask regulations, widespread unemployment and economic uncertainty can be overwhelming, especially for business owners.

In our home region of Kern County and the San Joaquin Valley, the situation is particularly challenging. High unemployment rates are expected to last for two or more years. Recent research from McKinsey & Co. on the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region has revealed some sobering facts such as:

  • Kern County’s unemployment rate is currently 18.6%
  • Experts say the numbers are probably closer to 22.4% because more than 16,000 people have stopped looking for work.
  • 50% of jobs in food service are at risk, while 41% in arts/entertainment sector, and 17% in the retail industry
  • Government planning agencies have projected an unemployment rate of nearly 20% this year for six regions including Los Angeles, Imperial, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties
  • Government revenues are expected to drop by at least $264 billion until 2021

These statistics are worrying. The situation is troubling for many of us, but especially for small business owners. The economic hit of losing a small business can be devastating, but there are steps you can take to weather the storm. These strategies may help.

  • How you react and grow matters. While clearing and cleaning shelves and purchasing protective equipment, such as extra steering wheel covers, masks and latex gloves, comes at a significant cost, there are also rewards as a result of these efforts in the form of customer perception (and loyalty). Make the time to ensure your business is safe for all and communicate changes to your employees and customers.
  • Remember, you are not alone. No one is immune to the effects of this pandemic, and every business is hurting in some way. If you feel overwhelmed or require help, reach out to your fellow small business owners or your local business association. There is strength in numbers, and other business owners may have ideas to help or even just understand what you are going through.
  • Communicate clearly with your employees. Employees are fearful for their health right now. As a business owner, it’s your job to communicate the steps you are taking to protect their health. Communicate the safety steps you are taking to keep employees safe and practice social distancing. Many are also worried about losing their jobs or facing reduced wages. Make a plan to communicate how your company will handle the economic strain of the pandemic. If you must impose wage cuts or layoffs, be transparent with your team. Poorly informed ideas or rumors can cause resentment and anger.
  • Reduce waste. It’s time to tighten your business belt. Take a good look at your budget and look for extraneous expenses you can cut or reduce. Look for budget cuts that will help your business run more efficiently, and that will have the least effect on your employees.
  • Look for opportunities. It might not seem like it, but there may be opportunities for your business to grow if you are willing to pursue them. Brainstorm with your team for ideas on how you can pivot your business model or take advantage of current market trends. For example, many independent breweries have found success in producing alcohol-based hand sanitizers to fill the shortage. Unexpected opportunities like this have been an excellent way for independent breweries to help the community and make up some of the deficits they are experiencing during the pandemic. Companies that are willing to adapt to the extraordinary circumstances and take advantage of market trends will most likely survive this crisis.
  • Watch your competition. Your competitors are in the same boat that you are. What are they doing to weather the storm? They may have thought of ideas that you haven’t. Pay attention to the promotions and risks your competitors are taking. You may see opportunities to pursue or mistakes to avoid.
  • Take advantage of your downtime. Unfortunately, you may still suffer some reduced hours or pay. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, use this time to improve yourself and your business. Pursue education or business upgrades. Complete maintenance work or jobs that you have been avoiding. Or, like Bill Floyd of Lucas Oil Centers, use your extra time to be proactive in promoting your “business, staff, and customers through this time.” If you use your time wisely, you and your business could come out of this situation stronger than you were before.
  • Take care of yourself. Small business owners are under a lot of pressure, and this situation only makes it worse. So much of what we are going through right now is out of our control. Make sure to take care of yourself, mentally and physically. If you don’t, you may begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Rates of depression and anxiety are skyrocketing during this crisis, so it’s more important than ever to seek help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to medical professionals if you need it.

Things may be starting to open up, but the pandemic is far from over. We know that this situation is stressful, and our hearts go out to those who are suffering. Our community has met tough circumstances before, and together we can make it through this pandemic.