Small Business: Staying Focused in Uncertainty

You’ve heard it over and over again, everyone is ready for this year to be over. It’s even printed on T-shirts. As a small business owner, I am sure you feel the same, however, you have that lingering stress from the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

How will we make it? Will I be able to keep my clients? Will I be able to pay my staff?

Those questions have probably been running through your mind for months on end and I’m sure you feel like you still don’t have the answers.

When everything is still so uncertain, the key is to get real about what you can control and to ensure your focus has more focus.

To start with, don’t hide. While you don’t need to reveal all of your specific worries and concerns, I think it’s certainly fair, to be honest with your team regarding your anxiety. They can probably see the stress and they may even be feeling it if you are having outbursts, are disorganized, or behaving out of character. Instead of bottling up your emotions, make them aware that you are feeling the pressure, and are doing your best to make the right decisions during an uncertain time. Apologize ahead of time for anything that may happen out of character and apologize immediately if you behave poorly. Ultimately though, speak up, don’t hide.

Next, shorten your focus. What I mean is just focus on the near future. For some that just might mean focusing on the current week, for others that might mean looking at the next three months. My point is if you can focus on the near term it helps you to keep putting one foot in front of the other instead of getting overwhelmed because you are thinking long term.

This also means you might have to prioritize and cut tasks or goals. For example, you might have thought you were going to break into 15 new markets in 2021. Maybe it would be prudent to look at fewer markets where you will get the biggest bang for your buck, and keep the rest of the planned expense in the bank or not take out as much credit. Roll slower so there’s less expense, but enough impact so you can still grow.

Then streamline as you’ve never thought you could. Take a good look at everyone’s roles, including yours. Are there tasks that can be dropped, meaning they add little to no value? (You can add them back in later when things are more grounded.) Can tasks be shared or moved to a different person where it makes more sense? Are there things that aren’t being done that should be and how can you roll them in? Get real about your processes. Processes make you efficient and ensure you have excellent customer delivery. Get them done!

Think through options. For those of you who may be facing the fact that you have to let staff go. I am sure you have guilt and sadness wrapped around that, but there is a way to handle it effectively. My suggestions are, to be honest, and tell them early. To my mind, you have two options.

First, ask the entire team if they would be willing to take a percentage pay cut so everyone can stay employed. (It might be best to work out what that percentage increase should be ahead of time.) Give them time to think it through or to talk it over with their family. Then allow everyone to vote anonymously, so if there is a naysayer then they aren’t singled out. Let them know that it must be a situation where they all agree to make the cut. If not, then that’s fine you will move on to option two which is to lay people off.

If the second option is the way you go, then let them know you will help them with their resume and provide the best referral you can. Reassure them that you will help them as much as you can through their transition, however, make sure it’s understood that while earning a paycheck they need to continue to complete their job to a high standard.

Some of you are questioning if you should say anything for fear of them leaving before you are ready.

Let me ask you a question. What is in the best interest of that team member you value so much?

Leaving them caught unaware with only two weeks to find a new job, risking them not being able to pay rent/mortgage or not put food on the table? If they leave before you are ready, you can prioritize the work in the meantime. You want to keep a reputation as a wonderful place to work and a person who values their employees. You never know, they may want to come back when you are ready. Don’t burn your bridges.

Lastly, cut yourself some slack. I know you are feeling the pressure, but you are only one person and if you engage in the activities I’ve described above, then you are doing the right things. There will be days where you crush it. There will be days where you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing. That’s ok. Tomorrow is a new day.

Let me know if I can be of assistance. I’m happy to provide ad-hoc coaching to help you through times of need.