During this health emergency all our thoughts are with the families who are affected or have suffered because of COVID-19. Also to our amazing health workers who are working tirelessly to support those families and protect the health of us all. This article is intended to focus on supporting small business owners but we should not lose sight of those helping care, support and fight to keep the country safe and moving forward.
What a week - at the time of writing this article its been nearly seven days since UK "lockdown" and when most of the business world stopped. Small businesses up and down the country were either forced to close or business owners made the correct moral decision to close helping to protect the health of their employees and customers as well as helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Every small business owner in the country who has been affected should be proud of their actions and also give themselves a pat on the back for what they have had to go through over the past week.
Many have had to furlough employees and spend many hours and long days on the phone to customers, suppliers and banks.
It’s not been easy and it is unlikely to be any easier over the coming weeks and months. But that does not mean that as a small business owner we just sit back and accept our fate, whether that would be as extreme as business closure or just sitting back, waiting and hoping for normal times to return.
It’s important for our health, our families and our business that we have sacrificed so much for over the years to build up that we do not just let the current situation and events overwhelm us.
There are steps we can take to get us through this, to give us the strength to plan our next moves and to action our way out of this not only as business survivors but also in a much stronger position.
Like nearly every business owner over the past week I've lost sleep, spent many hours on the telephone to a host of different people and organisations and had to make some pretty big and important decisions in recent days that not only affect my own but other peoples life’s. I’ve been running my own business for nearly 24 years now and nothing over that period has prepared me for events of the past week but over those years I've learnt many tactics, routines and plans that have helped me navigate through those many years of small business life.
There's probably going to be no other time in my business life where I need to rely on that arsenal of tools as much than the present time - I'm compiling this list of things primarily for my own benefit as it's so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of news, social media posts, guidance and rules, that I needed to write them down in this article to keep on reminding myself that I have tools to help my wellbeing, to help me focus and to help me plan for the coming weeks, months and years ahead.
Below is a list of 10 tools that I rely on, some every day, some every week and some whenever I require them. The list is not exhaustive but hopefully you will find some of them helpful to not only as small business owners but also as human beings trying to navigate through this turbulent time.
Please comment and share with me your own tactics and tools.
1: Maintain a Routine
Most of our routines are on hold. All normal business activity and meetings have stopped and normal walks at lunchtime and trips to the gym or pub after work are off. Even if there are some of your daily and weekly routines that you can still do then it’s very easy to cast them aside and basically put your life on hold.
But routines are vital just now, whether that is keeping a normal routine going as much as possible or altering or creating routines to adjust to our new way of personal and business life.
One of the most important routines we can have is our morning routine followed by our evening routine. If during normal times you are up and about at 5.30am to exercise, to hydrate properly, to mediate or do yoga, or to plan and prepare for your day ahead then I would recommend that you keep to that schedule and routine as much as possible. Keeping a routine to start and end the day in the right frame of mind will aid to reduce the stress and fear of the current health and business situation.
2: Prioritise Your Actions Each Day
For small business owners there’s just so much to do just now - whether that's because you are making sure HR protocol is followed as employees are furloughed, contacting clients over postponed jobs, speaking to suppliers or working your way through the list of government support packages.
Your To-Do list, and if it’s anything like mine was already a large list before COVID-19, is just going to grow and grow and spiral out of control that it’s going to become a un-useful minefield of tasks that will start to affect your brain and overwhelm you.
Despite there being so many more important tasks than normal to do just now, we do need to get control of our To-Do list and to do that we must STOP - we need to take some time out. Not easy just now I know but we must.
Even if that is just for 2 hours, it's a start as we need to go over the list and we need to do it soon.
I would start by having two categories, one for personal and the other for business. I would separate this new list away from our normal To-Do list - I've created a number of thoughts and lists all to do with the current situation, which helps keep these tasks away from my usual tasks that may not be as important at this present time.
I would then further break those two categories into sections of topics, eg finance, jobs, suppliers, and start to put my tasks into those different topics and also importantly you need to prioritise them.
Choose the correct amount of crucial tasks that you can either start or complete each day, I recommend around 3 crucial tasks depending on how long each one will take. Plan this out over several days and take time to review your list each day and do the same going forward.
There are many different methods and apps to help run an efficient To-Do list and you can pick one to suit your own best needs but even if it is just pen and paper the most important task right now is to start to review and prioritise your To-Do list.
Currently it is permitted to leave your home and exercise once a day as long as you follow social distancing as well as rules regarding groups and families. Government officials are on record recommending you can walk up to 1 hour and run up to 30 minutes as long as you keep to local routes and do not drive to remote or scenic locations for exercise.
Those timescales would allow both of those activities an approximate distance of 3-4 miles and is an ideal time and distance for daily exercise.
Exercise/fitness/sweat is one of the most vital things we can all do just now, not only will it provide physical benefits but the mental benefits from exercise is perhaps even more important during this concerning time.
I can tell you and prove to you that by exercising and improving my own fitness over recent years has been the single most important thing I have done for the wellbeing of not only myself but also for my family life and business life.
4 - Reset
Small business owners are all going to have a lot of extra work hours to do now whether it is dealing with business concerns such contacting customers, suppliers and creditors and also with personal finance worries but I would also seriously have you consider that this downtime is also the ideal situation and time to stop and hit the reset button especially in business.
I've always said that I wish my business could stop for a few weeks so we could all get on top of things and clear our feet - well now most businesses have that time, the phone has stopped ringing and there's no more day to day fire fighting. When I craved for my mythical downtime the ideal situation would be that all of my team would be in the office for us all to work together, what I didn’t expect was that if this downtime ever materialised it would be at a time when no one was allowed in the office.
Yes I know, we have so much other things to do, but what an opportunity we have now to stop, to take a breath, take stock of where we are at and start to plan ahead so we can hit the road running when things start to return to normal.
5 - Plan and Goal Set
As we pause and reset, our thoughts are probably focussed on the short term and how we can navigate our way through this storm. But what we do need to realise is what we do in the short term will probably have a major effect on our mid to longer term plans - so it's vital we still look at our future plans and goals.
Will your long term plans be affected with what we are going through just now, the answer to that will most definitely be yes.
The unknowns of the future are probably even greater now, for one we don't know what extra financial burdens will be placed on businesses further down the line after all the current financial support and it's future implications but even though it is crucial just now that we do spend a lot of time and focus on the short term lets not lose sight of our longer term plans and goals.
6 - Keep a Diary/Take Notes
We are at the start of something none of us have ever experienced or witnessed before. In situations like this I recommend taking notes of what’s been going on in your life.
Whether it’s to record family events that have been cancelled or how the kids and you are coping at home with no school, what you are having to go through and do to keep your business alive or even just to record your everyday thoughts, it is important to find the time to record what’s happening just now.
In months and years to come you can look back on your notes and recall what you, your family and even the world went through but more importantly you can look at your diary and notes and study and learn from what you wrote down.
Can you improve how you dealt with the stress, could you have handled various things better, did you do something that in time proved to be the most crucial decision you made during this time to protect your family and business. There’s so much we can learn from looking back on our own thoughts and actions but to do that we have to find the time to initially record them.
So again stop, take time and record your actions and thoughts - This will bring benefit to you further down the line as as long as you go back, review and learn from them.
7 - Create
Is now the ideal opportunity that you needed to alter your business services, to create and plan new services or even to start a second income stream.
So many businesses are having to alter the way they go about business to cope with the current situation. Examples include restaurants who were forced to close starting to offer a fruit and veg delivery service to manufacturers who have changed their production lines to help the country produce ventilators and personal protective equipment for those on the front line.
We can either allow the current situation to seriously affect our business without putting up a fight or we can choose to fight by creating and innovating to produce a new revenue stream for our business and family.
8 - Do Not Do This Alone
I know that’s a general statement and it may not be easy depending on your circumstances but it’s important we don’t try and get through this period of uncertainty in life and business alone.
If you feel it’s all getting too much and you cannot think straight then by whatever means possible seek help - whether that’s from a neighbour, a work colleague, an estranged member of your family, these are unprecedented times so know matter what’s happened in your past, reach out and seek support. We are all in this together and the love and care shown worldwide since this epidemic began is a true spirit that we are all in this together and we are all looking out for each other.
9 - Support Groups
There are many business support groups out there from official business organisations, trade and industry groups to local business networks. Reach out to some of them right now.
Business owners all over the country are affected by what’s going on and some in a serious way. Get together with them (do it by virtual means just now though), speak to them, give them your concerns, your concerns are probably their concerns as well and the likelihood is that a path to a solution will open up. Now is not the time in business to do all of this alone. Not one single person wants to see any small business suffer so reach out for some support.
It's also not just in business life we may need support, if this is affecting your personal circumstances please reach out to local and national support networks who are waiting and willing to help.
10 - Family and Health
Family and health is the most important thing I can try and protect just now. All of the above tools are things that I can control and use to help me support and provide for my family and also to protect my own and their health.
Stick together, we are all probably in the same 'lockdown' home just now and things will not be easy at times. But presently the love of our immediate family is the most important tool we can all draw strength from.
This list of tools and tactics is certainly not exhaustive. Also please share your own thoughts and ideas either in the comments below or via my social media posts.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, the plan to write down this list of tools was to selfishly help me because I need it just now and in turn I hope it will help other small business owners.
In days and weeks ahead I will require to look back on and read and take on board what I’ve written, it’s not easy being a business owner at any time, never mind just now but if we all stay as calm as we can be, prioritise our actions and next moves and reach out and seek support as and when required then we will slowly but surely start to see the light at the end of tunnel and this journey if navigated properly will have strengthened us and our businesses in the long run.
Get in touch, If you can offer any support or require any support just now then please let me know.
We all need to support each other more than ever at this time so please email me or drop me a message via social media.
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