Don’t Panic. Not only is this emblazoned on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it should also be your small business rallying cry during the current coronavirus pandemic. But don’t panic doesn’t mean don’t plan. In fact, planning is the best way to hold off feelings of panic, fear, and anxiety.
From employees to customers to your own health, there’s a lot to think about right now. And a lot of unknowns. Reasonable precautions and planning for your small business will get you through the current health crisis. JoyGenea and Michelle talk about their own plans, how they’re discussing coronavirus with their own staff, and how to keep calm and carry on. With or without toilet paper.
J: Hi this is JoyGenea and I am owner of Solutions by JoyGenea.
M: And I am Michelle and I own…
J: BadCat Digital.
M: That’s right.
J: Yes…. Get off your phone
M: Oh, come on.
J: You can order that later. But what we’re gonna talk about isn’t nearly as upbeat or fun as what we sound like. We just walked in today and we were going to talk about one subject and realized we need to have the conversation about the latest pandemic.
M: The latest pandemic.
J: The latest pandemic. I wasn’t around for the last, any of them, so first pandemic I think in my lifetime maybe…
J: Yeah, I’ve got to google that.
J: Yeah so and Michelle please help me out. Is it a corona virus? Is it corban cibon 19?
M: So I want you to think about it like this and by the way, I am no way, in no way.
J: We are not experts
M: No. We’re not medical experts. We are not doctors and I am in no way saying that the corona virus is as serious as the metaphor I am about to make but I think it’s the most easy way to understand these words that are in the news. The corona virus is a virus like HIV is a virus not a virus like HIV but a virus like HIV is a virus. Covid-19 is a disease caused by that virus like AIDS is a disease caused by HIV. So, if you become infected with the corona virus you develop covid-19.
J: Got it. Thank you. And google has proven to me that the actual last pandemic was in 2009 and it was a flu pandemic.
M: That’s actually pretty common and influenza is kind of a similar thing. So influenza is a disease caused by a virus and one of the reasons that you don’t always like you get the flu shot but it doesn’t always work because-
J: Don’t we all know that.
M: But it doesn’t always work because sometimes the virus that goes around that year is a different virus than the vaccine in the flu shot.
J: Which there’s a fabulous podcast out there by I will think about it and include the link that talks all about how they make those vaccines.
M: It’s actually really cool. And the other thing is that I’m kind of a not really a gambler but obviously we talk about risk a lot when we’re talking about entrepreneurship. You know a 50/50 shot on getting the flu is really better than a 100% shot on getting the flu so I get my flu shot every year.
J: Yes, and I have not committed to that in many years. And I continue to swear each year I’m going to do it and then I don’t know I somehow get lost. It doesn’t get on my schedule. So we’re still debating that one.
J: And it was Radio Lab was the podcast that I listened to. Nice short little 19-minute thing that was very interesting on how they make that happen.
M: So things that people are asking questions about. 1. Nobody knows the infection rate of the corona virus. It’s too new. People are talking about how it’s lower than the flu. It’s higher than the flu. It’s this, it’s that. There’s no information about that.
J: If you go to the CDC, if you go to the World Health Organization, they don’t have answers to that and that’s pretty fine.
M: Therefore, neither does your friend Beth on Facebook. Not that we’re saying anything wrong about people named Beth, but your friends on Facebook don’t have any more facts than the CDC or the World Health Organization.
J: Yes. So I highly recommend you go there. They have a great and humorous page actually about the myths and the World Health Organization does.
M: So the other thing that people talk about a lot, especially this early, is the fatality rate. People are talking about how the flu has a higher fatality rate than the corona virus or covid-19. The challenge with that is when something so new you don’t even really know if people are dying of covid-19 or if they’re not so you have presumptive cases. Different countries are counting it differently. Sometimes fatality rates go up because the health care facilities are over stretched not because the, you know, virus or the disease is that much more fatal in country or another. So here’s the thing — calm down.
J: Fact one.
M: Fact one.
J: Calm down.
M: Calm down. Everybody deep breath. Count to 10. The world is not coming to an end. Nobody is in a vast conspiracy.
M: This is just a problem that we all need to work together to solve.
J: It’s a great excuse for us all to work together.
M: It really is.
J: I like it. That part of it. If we have to make the most of our pandemic which, JoyGenea would find a way to make the most out of a pandemic.
M: I think we just got the title of this podcast. Making the most of the pandemic.
J: Which is definitely working together and as small business owners.
J: I have definitely been having a lot of conversations with other small business owners and how, they’re in a variety of industries, how they’re handling it. How they’re planning for it. I am talking to my friends that are working at hospitals. I had a really weird experience at a clinic this week because of my ear infection. Like it’s been interesting.
M: It’s been interesting. We have clients in the health care field. We have clients in the health care field at the epicenter of some of these things happening in Seattle, in Florida, in New York right now. So we don’t normally do this but I am going to say that right now for us is March 12th. Right now, it’s March 12th in central Minnesota. We do not have any confirmed cases in our immediate area. There are cases in Minnesota. The United States kind of centers are L.A., Seattle, New York. New York state now has more cases than any other state. Confirmed cases. But that’s the state of what’s happening right now.
M: Also, right now it is the day after the announcement about no flights out of Europe except the UK.
M: It is the day after the NBA cancelled the rest of their season. It’s the day after the NCAA made their announcement. There are universities closing. So we’re in a state right now where or in stage right now where there’s a lot of things happening very quickly. People are getting scared. So my concern in the things that I’m thinking about are – is my staff scared?
J: Of course they are.
M: So what can I do?
J: Obviously open a dialogue.
J: Drop in some fact nodules in there. One thing that I’m really trying to keep in mind when talking to people is how compromised is their immune system. Like how strong and healthy are they because that really makes a big difference in how they are hearing this.
M: And how they’re hearing this.
J: And they’re experiencing it for good reasons.
M: And how strong and healthy are the people around them?
M: You know. I mean I’m working with a bunch of people who are 26 to 30. They’re strong. They’re young. They’re healthy. All of these things, but some have babies at home. Some have older adults that they’re caring for. Some have family members, direct family members, who they live with who are in health care fields. All of those things are X factors that make individuals scared at different levels.
J: So what kind of things are you doing to help some of your staff out? I know we’re just opening dialogues at a couple of my clients’ places and we’re talking about levels of sanitization and we definitely laid down recently this morning in fact the conversation was ok if you feel sick stay home.
J: Like that was number one.
M: So we already have in place a stay home if you’re sick, work from home if you’re sick policy, however most of the staff don’t take their laptops home every night so if they are sick and they do want to work from home, they’ll still come in the office to grab their computer or they will decide yeah that’s ok I’m not that sick I will go to the office today. We’re having a staff meeting today where we’re talking about bringing your computers home every night just in case. We’re talking about parameters and being comfortable and knowing the difference between coughing because you just woke up and your throat’s dry and coughing because you’re not feeling well. But having the threshold for staying home when you’re not feeling well would be way, way, way lower. So that they’re not coming to the office sick at all and if they even think they might be sick, they’re not coming in. So we’re doing those things. We’ve ordered extra disinfecting and cleaning supplies. We’ve ordered gloves for the people who clean the office.
J: And will those items come within the next 5 months?
M: You know it’s one of those things that will they come, of course they will come eventually, but just the fact that you’re ordering them. We have plenty of all of these things in the office.
J: Ok got it.
M: It’s one of those things that it just makes people feel better if you’re moving things forward and so…
J: You’re being proactive.
M: I’m trying to recognize and adjust to the different personalities in the office who are going to have different levels of risk, panic. Who’s that personality who’s going to be the most worried and then amp up everybody else? How do I de-escalate that person? One of the ways that I do that with one of those people in my office is to tell her to order extra supplies, whether they ever show up or not, we tried.
J: There we go.
M: And so those are the kinds of things that we’re doing. In addition to that both myself and one other employee are out in the community quite a bit so we – in-person meetings with potential clients, with current clients — so that person and I will be sitting down and going through our calendars for the next few weeks and try to figure out how we can make all of the meetings video conferencing.
J: I am doing the same thing. I’m shifting people over to video.
M: We’re the weak point in our office because we’re the ones out in the community and so in addition to that, what other events do we not really have to do. There’s a job fair coming up at the local tech college we’re signed up for. Do we go do we not go. Are we anticipating that it gets cancelled? There’s an upcoming chamber event that’s a big conference that were signed up for. Do we go do we not go? Should we just anticipate that it’s going to be cancelled? Those are the kinds of conversations that we’re having. And so as we have those conversations it makes everybody feel better that their boss is thinking about these things and thinking about their safety. And I think that’s all that we can do.
J: When it comes to staff I agree and starting some plans and procedures and processes. There was just a pandemic in 2009 like you know what I mean so here we are again. Doesn’t hurt for your business to have that plan. Creating and drafting that. So staff is part of it and then we move on to our customers. You kind of hinted at what’s kind of, you know, what’s there for them. And so I know for me I look through my customers. You said you did the same thing and went oh the majority of them are not in health.
J: So that right away. Then I’m like then it was who is in hospitality?
M: Yeah. Hospitality is going to be big.
J: Yep and so there was a couple of those so I just opened the door and started conversations. So they felt heard and understood that I am aware that this you know.
M: A problem.
J: Yeah, it’s going to be.
M: What do you mean? Let’s just kind of spell it out for people who aren’t thinking about it the way that we are. The idea that hourly employees, of which there are many in hospitality and retail, are going to have their hours cut. Employees who rely on tips like bars and restaurant, bartenders and servers. There will not be people going to restaurants.
M: There will not be people pleasure shopping at cute little gift stores. So when we look down our client list, we’re looking for those clients who do a lot of volume with the public, hospitality, retail, and recognizing that they’re probably going to get hit pretty hard by this. Not because anybody gets sick but because people are staying home.
J: And so do you just start the conversation now that you’re aware of this fact and then do you recognize that probably down the line you might have to make some deals. You’re going to need to shut off certain services like do you lay out almost a plan for them. Like here’s what I foresee us kind of having to do to keep you operational. Cause don’t ever bail on all of your marketing unless your business is going down. Unless you’re 100% sure you’re closing the doors then fine.
M: You don’t want to bail on your marketing.
J: So don’t go bailing on it but figuring out a plan and strategy will make it a lot easier as you hit. Having gone through the recession last time. As certain numbers you know the month comes to an end and you’re like oh oh ok. You kind of have an idea of where the next steps come from and decisions.
M: Well I think just like any business partner or a an agency that likes to partner with their clients and talk about that. I think opening up the door to the conversation is good but also think that the client really needs to drive that conversation because I don’t want to suggest something that they’re not wanting to do. All I want to do is say look I understand. I empathize. I am here with you and we’re here to help however you want it. So if you want us to get involved in this with you then we’re here. If you want us to take a step back and just wait then we’re here. And if you need to have a conversation that you don’t want to have with us, I want you to understand that I’m here and I hear you and I understand and it’s not anything that I know you would choose. And so that’s kind of the thing is I think proactive communication is good but I also think that the client needs to drive that. I’m not going to walk into somebody’s business and assume that it’s not going well.
J: Right but you know if the conversation starts to happen. So I also know you have a few more people in the health care industry.
J: So when did you start to need to be having more social conversations about that? Like about what’s going on.
M: We started talking internally last week and now we’re starting to present options to clients who are worried about having to close for a couple of weeks. In a health care office. I’m not talking about like a hospital. but in maybe like a dermatology clinic or something. Elective, non-emergent, right. Or a dental office or something like that.
M: A chiropractor. If a staff member is exposed the office will shut down because they are worried about the rest of their staff and their patients.
J: Yeah. Absolutely.
M: And so communicating that in a positive way that doesn’t scare people. That helps people understand what’s going to happen. So we’re writing really what amounts to kind of PR language, public relations language and developing kind of sketched out plan to put this on your Facebook page. You communicate this way through Instagram. How do you want patients to communicate with your staff? Is there a skeleton staff answering phones from home? What is the plan and a lot of health care people have that in the books already they just need the language filled in. So that’s what we’re doing but we’re asking them if they have that ready to go.
J: And then how you can help them.
M: And then how can we help.
J: Ok. That’s outstanding.
M: Well it’s something and it is the kind of a template for those of our clients who aren’t in health care who might want to do that.
J: That’s kind of why I’m asking. I mean the health care is just on the front end of this because this is a health crisis. This isn’t a housing crisis. This isn’t you know other things. This is your health.
J: And a wellness thing. I do want to point out that is my number one concern is health. The health of the staff. The health of my customers.
M: And I would be horrified if I infected somebody in vulnerable position myself.
J: Well and let’s talk about our own health. Like ok we’re the business owners, we don’t need to be hospitalized with an extreme respiratory issue and be the person that brings that in and does those kind of things.
M: So I think that, just like an hourly employee who feels like they can’t not work because they’re not gonna get paid as business owners we feel like we have to keep our hand in and keep but sometimes the best thing you can do is not show up.
J: It is and understanding when that time comes. It is challenging as a sole proprietor.
J: For me to even consider like starting to really cancel meetings — and like I said I moved things to virtual but that’s not you know I don’t know how long that will be the best plan.
M: Well and that’s the big thing and I think that’s why people are so scared. Because I hear anxiety. I hear fear and I think the reason is because nobody knows when this is going to end.
J: But judging by and I try to remind myself judging from other countries once its isolated. Once those types of things happen it actually starts to you know it really does decrease. It levels off. And just understanding that with a small amount I believe with a small amount of time science will have this figured out fairly quickly. Like they will have an understanding of the timelines and those types of things. I don’t know if I believe it will be quite in time for us to apply the knowledge. It will be post factor.
M: It will be post.
J: But it will appear and we have been able to learn a gleam of knowledge.
J: From other things.
M: The reasonable things that the World Health Organization and the CDC are asking – lessen your time around other people. Don’t get into large crowds unless you absolutely have to. Don’t travel unnecessarily. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.
J: I saw the best sign.
M: Which you should be doing anyways.
J: I know but super wash your hands and your cuticles. But I saw the best sign it was somewhere on social media and it says wash your hands like you just cut jalapenos and you are going to take contacts out of your eyes. And if anybody has done that I instantly was like yes that is how you wash your hands cause oh it hurts so bad. It burns. All I have to say is it burns.
M: Well and for those of you out there buying all the rubbing alcohol off the shelves washing your hands for 20 seconds is way more effective than hand sanitizers. So wash your hands.
J: So I unfortunately acquired an ear infection. I am an adult and I’m like yanking my ear like no wonder kids yank at their ear it hurts. It does. You can’t diagnose that over the phone.
J: So I had to go to the clinic. And I know exactly I was like oh I’m going in. And I went in and I barely sat on the seat.
M: Yup and you don’t touch anything
J: No, you don’t touch anything. And the gal hands me a press board clip board.
J: And so I’m holding it with one you know the two finger squeeze. I got it like this and she looks at me and then she went to hand me a pen from the cup.
J: And I leaned over and got the foam spray sanitizer stuff. Had this big old foam spray thing and I placed it in front of her pen in there. And she just looked at me and I’m like oh 100%. Then I go back to my seat and I wipe it down. I really was like I don’t need to leave here sicker then when I entered.
J: And I got my antibiotics and I got out of there. And I was still surprised by a few things. I surprised how I noticed them and cared.
J: You know normally I would come in and sit down be like maybe grab a magazine. No there’s no magazine touching here.
M: I won’t even touch the arm rest.
J: I know I’m just like I’ll just be here on my little phone because that’s my own germs.
M: I need to put my hands in a muff so I don’t touch my face and I don’t touch anything else. Cause the minute you say don’t touch your face your nose immediately starts itching.
J: I know.
M: Immediately. Like mine’s itching right now cause I said don’t touch your face.
J: Don’t think about it. So taking care of ourselves. Eating properly. Let’s get back down to it. It’s eating properly, drinking your water, getting your rest in particular.
M: I’m giving you the evil eye right now. I don’t do any of those things normally. But the other thing really –
J: For me I have to or I will catch crap.
M: And stay home if you are sick.
J: Oh please, yes.
M: Acknowledge and stay home. Like there’s nothing that I have to do that is so important that I need to put other people in danger.
J: It’s true.
M: So whether or not I’m in active danger is not my concern. I either am or I’m not.
M: But for me to put other people in danger because I think I’m that important is just not how I think.
M: And I don’t want to act that way.
J: Well and part of being community is recognizing and acknowledging all of the other people within your community.
M: Well and this is why we say this is something we all need to participate in. The way that the infection rate goes down is when we all participate in very reasonable measures.
M: I mean nobody is shutting anything down in your face. Nobody’s telling you that you’re not allowed to drive across state lines. Nobody’s telling you that you can’t eat at a restaurant or have a conversation or meet with somebody in person. Nobody’s telling you not to hug any people or kiss your friends. With consent. That’s the other thing that happened this week. We will talk about that later. No no no. I was talking about the sentencing of Mr. Weinstein. not an employee.
J: Oh yes.
M: Anyway, not a personal experience.
J: No no.
M: Yeah, these reasonable precautions are things that it’s basically good hygiene, just 10% better. And it’s basically care for the person around you just with a little bit more mindfulness. And it’s basically please stop buying all the toilet paper. I called my husband last night and I was like we’re actually almost out and if we wait till Saturday this could be a problem.
J: Oh, it could be huge. Definitely. Have a few spare rolls.
M: But all of these things are none of them are huge. None of them are impactful to the point of you’re not allowed to live your life and none of them are insane. Just common sense times .5%
J: And more than likely there temporary.
J: So we shift.
M: Although let’s keep the handwashing thing.
J: I know wouldn’t that be awesome.
M: Do you see the meme going around about parents panic buying supplies and then there’s this little girl licking a hand rail.
J: That’s awesome. I love it. You know one more thing with business is the budget.
J: Um, so I’ve already sketched out, I actually had a really good friend and my executive dialog that was the question of the month, not knowing that this was coming.
M: I know. I’m in a different executive group but led by the same person.
J: Yes and her question. She mapped that out a year ago almost. These questions and so…
M: She’s Kreskin.
J: I know the way it lined up I’m like woman! It was great because it caused me to just look at my budget and instantly be like there are some things I could just trim right now.
J: And then it was like ok having gone through the recession in 2008 I’m like I do know how this could go and this is gonna have to go and then this will go and then these things will be cut back. You know these subscriptions aren’t necessary.
J: Like them but they’re not necessary. And definitely saw how I could trim this down to a fraction of what it has to run.
M: Yeah and the business would still run.
J: It would be running and functionable but I’m very concerned. Not anxious but concerned about how small businesses will weather this.
J: Because for little solopreneurs like me this could do it.
J: We’re barely on as it is.
M: And part of the announcement last night from the president was additional – I think was an authorization if I remember the wording correctly – for additional funding for the small business association for loans and lines of credit. But the thing that people have to understand is that loan is still a loan. It has to get paid back and there are several of us in an industry where when costs go out the door they’re not necessarily increased revenue later that would compensate for them. So if I took out a loan as a gap to cover 2 or 3 months of maybe a 20% drop in my operating revenue. I wouldn’t necessarily get that back fast enough to pay back a loan so understanding your budget, projecting things, looking at you know which of my clients do I think are going to get hit the hardest. Which ones do I think are going to call me and say this is gone and then coming up a way to find that money by cutting expenses. That’s the reasonable rational thing to be thinking right now.
J: I have one client, a smaller business they only have 4 employees. They’ve already had the conversation and the employees self-figured out who would actually lay themselves off.
M: Oh my gosh.
J: They actually like they worked it out and they’re like the business keeps running and we have a job to come back to if this person is for sure here forever.
J: And then this one, boy if we lose this one. And they worked it backwards from there and said you know what if I have to step away and you know then I will be the first one and then I’ll be the second one. You know like they actually mapped out how they would do that for her.
M: That’s a healthy team.
J: It is a really healthy team.
M: And a mature team.
J: But she went to them and said this you know I’ve been through the recession before.
J: There was just one. We’re going to have to figure this out. Do you want me to do it or should we talk about it? And they were like at first no and by the next day they all came back and they’re like let’s talk about it.
J: We get it. Like this this this. It helps them have just a clear understanding of what may or may not lie ahead so the anxiety. I can just tell at their office it was different.
M: Yeah, it’s a different level because they know there is a plan.
J: Absolutely and they know it’s that deep and rich. And the point is to keep the business alive so that they have jobs to come back to as it will come back without them having to take out loans because that was exactly what they said. They’re like I can keep you on payroll but I’m going to have to take out a loan and I don’t know if we will survive that.
J: So instead this makes you know like we’ve figured this out. And I was really impressed. Like that’s a healthy conversation.
M: It’s a healthy conversation and it takes a healthy team to have that conversation.
J: It really does.
M: So if you don’t already have that I think there are other models and other things to consider. There are things to consider like taking salaried employees to hourly and then changing their hour rate. Not the rate but the number of hours that they work. They’re conversations to be had around community engagement. Giving. You know advertising, and neither one of us are going to say that you need to cut your advertising budget, that’s true, but we are going to say that there are some things that are gonna be more effective than others in this environment so rely on your marketing partners and listen to what they have to say.
J: Well and let’s think about what our customers will be doing or our customers’ customers will be doing. If they’re on a two week quarantine I can tell you social media is going to be hit hard.
M: Right. Which means they’re going to need our help.
J: Right. They’re going to want to be on those platforms because if I have 2 weeks of being at home binge-watching I am half online doing a million other things.
M: That’s part of the plan that we’re putting together for our clients in health care. Here are the 6 questions we anticipate that are going to come the most often and here is the pre-approved answer that we have to be able to answer them on your behalf and then here’s our procedure for if there’s a question comes in or a comment comes in that doesn’t fall into one of those buckets. Because that’s exactly what happens.
J: Oh yeah.
M: Everybody’s going to ask the same question about well what about my appointment it was scheduled for this date. All appointments will be rescheduled once the office is open. Thank you so much for your patience. Blah blah blah blah. But 30 people are going to ask some version of that question.
J: Oh at least.
M: So rather than a procedure where I have to bother the client every time that happens, have an answer ready to go.
J: And before we go we just want to remind you don’t panic.
J: Take a deep breath.
J: Continue the flow of money which means it’s coming in and it’s going out.
M: Your business is operational.
J: And that needs to continue because that continues to help support other businesses. I hire a lot of other contractors. I work with a lot of businesses so this just continues that flow and that’s necessary.
M: Absolutely. And one other thing as a member of the business community, you recognize and understand what your fellow business owners are going through. Cut them some slack. They’re going through exactly what you’re going through and for those people out there who eat out for lunch every day and grab a cup of coffee through the drive every day and go to the movies on the weekends twice a month and grab a drink after work with their friends and order in dinner. You need to keep doing at least some of those things and maybe you can order take out instead of sitting at the restaurant and maybe you can, you know, run through the drive thru instead of walking in to get your coffee and maybe there’s a way to reduce your social exposure while supporting your favorite businesses. Those businesses are going to get hit the hardest. And the chains will find a way but our local friends with small businesses this is a rough, rough, rough gig for them and their employees. Tip a little bit extra. This is the time to say, you know what I can toss an extra dollar in that pot because it means way, way, way more for the person who’s getting it than it does to me.
J: That’s a perfect way to end this. Thank you. We wish everybody health and safety, wellness and the great pandemic.
M: Thank you everybody. Thanks for listening to If These Heels Could Talk. Enjoy the rest of your day.