A close up of a business woman looking to the side

It is impossible to watch the news without a great deal of heartache these days. We see the people on the frontline and the sickest among us. We hear the constant and desperate pleas for help.

Then, there’s Wall Street. And Main Street. Your favorite restauranteur, confidant behind the stylist’s chair, purveyor of retail therapy—shuttered. Furloughed. Laid off. It goes on and on in the name of keeping everyone safe. It is breathtakingly difficult. It is necessary.

Many of the hardest hit businesses are small businesses, especially Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB). Like mine. In the wake of COVID-19, the reality is that WOSB owners are feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in ways that simply add to its complexity in various shades.

Here is the reality that I-and others like me—are living in:

My boutique strategy and design consulting firm, Shark and Minnow (which I started in 2013 with my husband after leaving my 10+ year communications career in Boston), employs 10 full-time employees, all of which I am working tirelessly to keep employed through the crisis. We have a roster of clients that spans the globe, which we have worked hard to secure, work daily to “wow” and are endlessly grateful for.

I am working tirelessly to keep [my team] employed through the crisis.

Because of recent events, some clients will need to defer payments, if they can even pay at all. Others will push the start of work dates into the future, but have committed to keeping contracts in tact—a true sign of their confidence in our work. 

All the while, WOSB-owners like me find themselves—if they have kids—in the position of also watching the kids, educating them and filling their emotional cups while we keep those big kid fears at bay. We cook and keep house. We plan for upcoming holidays, thinking of new ways to make them special. 

Yet and still, we work. We work through breaks, after hours and all night if we have to. We work to keep the lights on. We work to keep salaried jobs in tact for the employees that we care for so deeply.

We work through breaks, after hours and all night if we have to.

The added jobs of kid-minder (though love them, I do!) and educator leave me frazzled, sometimes to the point of tears. I will do anything to keep my firm stable and to keep good paying jobs in my community in the “Rust Belt,” a sector of the country that is no stranger to economic decline. My husband and I are cutting expenses and our own pay to the bare minimum in order to make this possible.

Yet, this health and economic crisis has also given me clarity on certain things:

When things are good, it’s easy to lead, but the best leaders are tested in hard times.

It’s in hard times when true leaders are most essential. My responsibility is to my clients and my team, finding new ways to support them in this time of uncertainty.

Business Owner Action Step: Stay resilient, grateful and keep your eye on the horizon. Add value, regardless of the circumstances.

Innovation “within the box” is just as important as a “blue ocean strategy.”

Our team is always working to build divergent strategies. Using rapid research and development (aka R&D) to pilot these strategies, now that some members have more time to do so, is leading to exciting work. This is not just for this moment, but for the new normal that will follow.

Business Owner Action Step: Shelve tried-and-true tactics, making way for responsive strategies and flexible solutions in the coming weeks and months, helping clients to react and win quickly.

Calibrate decisions.

I often tell my team that every dollar they spend is a “vote” for more of that “thing.” The same goes for business relationships. Are you getting what you want out of the relationship? Does it enrich your business and your life?

We spend far too much time at work not to value who we’re working with. In my world, this means the client-firm relationship. I will say, we work incredibly hard to exceed client expectations and set goals. This remains the core of our model, keeping me motivated.

Business Owner Action Step: Embrace curiosity as a child would, find inspiration in everything and challenge yourself to learn, make believe and invent. This will allow you to translate ideas into action.

While I know this moment will be a challenge for many of us WOSB-owners, I also know it will allow us to rise. Nobody has more on the line. For us, this is our livelihood.

This moment…will allow us to rise.

It’s not a side hustle or a hobby. It is the way I support and ensure a successful future for my family. It’s my name on the door. I’m not about to let myself, my staff or my clients down. Not now, not ever.

Are you a small business facing hard times right now? What are some practical steps you are taking each day?

Image via Emily Blake, Darling Issue No. 17

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