Business advice with a yogic twist (A new small business owner’s reflections on navigating through covid-19)
In summer of 2019, I made some exciting, big, bold life moves. I left my 30 year career in the corporate world, as a CFO and business consultant for several companies. I left my family, my friends (and my fur babies) and moved solo to a different state in order to purchase a small boutique fitness studio and start a new career in health and wellness, bravely joining the ranks of millions of other small business owners.
It’s the summer of 2020, 6 months into the covid-19 pandemic, and well, here I am, trying to remain excited, trying to be bold, trying to stay brave. As I reflect on what is helping me cope and navigate through these extremely trying times (perhaps call it a reality check or a pep talk), I share a couple themes that apply to both a business as well as personal perspective.
From a business side, protect what you have built. For me, as a new owner, it’s protecting what I purchased and what I am currently building. The client base, my brand, my identity needs to remain strong and solid. When I purchased the studio 11 months ago, the client base didn’t know me, wasn’t sure if they liked me, and sure as heck didn’t trust me yet. Establishing regular communication channels plus personal outreach has gone a long way in preserving these relationships. This was especially important during quarantine/shelter-in-place/safer-at-home times, as I truly wanted to make sure folks were ok. We are all going through this crisis together and I’ve probably leaned on my clients for emotional support just as much as they have leaned on the studio for some sort of normal exercise routine.
Protecting your business also involves conserving cash. Cash is king with any small business. Not only did I try to find ways to cut costs, I was also a fiend researching and applying for relief programs I was qualified and eligible for - PPP, EIDL, FL economic disaster, various grants. You don’t know how long this crisis will last, you may re-open only to close again (which I voluntarily did for a couple weeks when there was a surge here in Florida), there may not be an effective vaccine in the near future, the economy may take longer to recover, etc. Use these programs to help keep operations going and to prop you up while you adjust, strategize, re-calibrate. Much like a squirrel preparing for winter, collect and save your acorns to last you for a while. Just be careful on double-dipping or taking on more debt than you think you can repay once back on your feet.
On the personal side, protect yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Your body is your first line of defense during crisis. Keep it strong and take care of it through regular exercise, a regular sleep schedule, a regular diet – things we can control during these highly irregular times. The longer this pandemic exists, the more anxious, irritable, and depressed we become. At the start, we were in active ‘fight’ mode, but now perhaps we are so over this and have let our defenses down. I know I have experienced waves of various emotions on any given week. How am I coping? Working out, walks around the neighborhood, jigsaw puzzles and the occasional binge watching have been key to keeping up my mental resiliency and finding balance.
From a business side, this refers to knowing where you stand financially and operationally at this present time. For me, this is where my prior corporate experience comes in very handy and I get to sharpen my pencils and put my accounting and finance hat on. Take stock of all your assets - items that have monetary value - as well as all your liabilities. Know where your cash flow stands. Make revenue projections with your best realistic assumptions. Examine your expenses line by line and see if there’s anything you can reduce, eliminate, or defer. (Did you realize how much in fees you pay with your credit card processor?) Review your client list for attrition based on the impact of covid-19 and adjust your sales and marketing strategy. (There have been estimates that around 35-45% of people may not return to gyms or keep their memberships!) Calculating, revealing, and studying these numbers may be the equivalent of getting a root canal, but the more you accurately know where you stand, the more informed and better your decisions will be. You can act with confidence rather than wringing your hands with anxiety or crossing your fingers hoping for a small miracle. My own projections are extremely sobering, but it gives me a very realistic picture of where I stand and how I will need to adjust.
During my yoga teacher training, I remember one of my teachers stressing the importance of being present in whatever you are doing. She said when brushing your teeth, be the best teeth brusher you can possibly be. When driving your car, be the best driver of your car you can possibly be. When walking the dog, enjoy the walk just as much as you know the dog is. We humorously referred to those examples during training but it still resonates with me. Be in the moment. I know it’s tough to not wallow in these ‘covid times’. Try harder to let the crappy stuff go. And when the positive moments appear, let them take center stage in your mind and in your heart.
Stay positive and practice compassion.
There will be setbacks, like it or not. The road to recovery will not be smooth and may take a while. The state of Florida ordered gyms and fitness centers to close mid-March 2020, a devastating blow for me, as a new studio owner who had just taken over 5 months prior and was gaining traction (not to mention that March and April are high revenue producing months in this seasonal location). The studio re-opened on June 1 and business was returning, but the case numbers surged again in July, so I voluntarily closed for a couple weeks. We are open again but with so much uncertainty happening around us, who knows what will transpire over the next several months, but I am pretty confident there will be more bumps in the road.
These setbacks were dis-heartening. I got angry. I was anxious. There were some days I just felt completely defeated. I gave myself permission to acknowledge what I was feeling and experiencing. I indulged my sweet tooth a little more often. But I chose not to feel stuck, not to feel scared. I chose to stay positive. I remembered that we are all suffering. There is no I in We. We are all going through something horrific because of this pandemic. We have lost lives, we have lost jobs, we have lost our sense of security and stability. We’ve had to change our behavior, our routines, and our mindset. Yet the human spirit is strong. The human spirit is resilient. The best way to survive this crisis, or any crisis, must include compassion. We will get through this together. Please take care of yourself and take care of each other.