There are certainly valid reasons why you’re feeling depressed, anxious, and stressed these days. In fact, during late June, the CDC reported that 40% of U.S. adults are struggling with mental health and substance abuse. To be honest, though, that shouldn’t be all that shocking.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been concerned about our health, as well as that of loved ones. We’ve had to overcome quarantines, isolation, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead in the future. As if that weren’t enough, we’ve had financial stressors like not having enough savings, job loss, and inability to pay bills.
If you’re a business owner, you are definitely worried about how your business is going to move forward. So, it should go without saying, that this is a trying and difficult time for you.
“Money is just connected to so much for people’s mental health in a few different ways,” explains Dr. George James, chief innovation officer and senior staff therapist at Council for Relationships. “If people don’t have it, they’re worried about it. Usually, there’s some anxiety if they feel like they’re losing it. And even if they have it, can they maintain that?”
“There’s also just the connection of quality of life and how people might see themselves,” Dr. James adds. “Am I successful? Did I do well? Am I helping my family? All those things that build up internal character and self-esteem can sometimes be connected to how someone sees himself financially.”
If there is a silver lining, however, it’s that there are ways to relieve your stress as a business owner during COVID.
Examine your expenses and reprioritize your spending.
Two of the main COVID-related stressors for business owners right are cash flow shortages and not having enough savings. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to build up an emergency fund when you don’t have money coming into the door. You can, however, stop the bleeding so that it’s not as painful.
The most obvious place to start is to track your spending so that you can create a budget. That may not be on the top of your mind right now. But, it’s essential if you want to improve your survival odds.
Go through all of your expenses and divide them into either fixed or flexible. Fixed expenses would be those that you can’t change, such as a mortgage payment. Flexible expenses would be those that you can, like groceries or subscription services.
You would then compare these numbers with how much you’re bringing in each month. If you’re spending more money then you’re making, then you need to cut out the non-essentials. If you recall, this is successful budgeting 101.
For example, at our office, we have a subscription to Naturebox. But, because of stay-at-home orders, we didn’t want to pause the service. Why? Even though the team wasn’t in the office, I try to drop snacks off to their homes or have them drop by the office and pick something up to keep them going. But in order to budget — we may have to cut back.
Build and utilize a 13-week cash forecast.
Speaking of cash flow, it also would be wise to create a 13-week cash forecast during this distressing time. The reason, according to Martin Gillespie for Cash Analytics, is because of its broad uses.
In this case, it can be used “to identify when and how any potential liquidity shortfalls should hit a company.” As such, it “offers the ability to prepare for, if not rectify, any issues before they occur.”
Another advantage of this model is that it’s “short enough to support agile, tactical decision making,” adds Gillespie. But, it “also takes a long enough view to drive long-term decisions.” Moreover, it’s “sufficient for medium-term and month-to-month cash planning.” And, “it won’t overlap with longer-term plans which can extend years into the future.”
As if that weren’t enough, a 13-week cash forecast can identify any potential liquidity issues. It also provides cash balance visibility. And, because it’s “usually broken down into weekly reporting periods,” it offers “four times greater granularity.”
Meet with your lenders ASAP.
To be honest, this should be an option that everyone should be exploring right now if you’re stressed over money. Why? Well, “if you owe a company money, they want to make sure they get that money rather than run the risk of you going bankrupt, and then they will never see it,” explains Marcus Berkovitz in a previous Due article.
“So, for that reason, lenders are often open to the idea of making it easier for you to repay,” he adds. “Many have a way to restructure debt and help you for the short term, with options such as payment holidays for people who are struggling.”
You may believe “that all lenders are unscrupulous and will not negotiate, but this isn’t the case,” says Marcus. Remember, “they would rather get the money back with minimal hassle, plus some of the restructures of debt can even see them earn more money in the future.”
For example, banks like American Express, Chase, and Captial One are waiving interest and late payment fees. While this is on a case-by-case basis, it’s definitely worth reaching out to see if your business is eligible.
Negotiate temporary rental and/or lease payment reductions.
Just like lenders, if you are renting equipment or property, now is the time to negotiate rent for your small business. After all, between record numbers of unemployment claims, loan defaults, and small business bankruptcies they may be more inclined to work with you as opposed to completely losing this income.
As a result, you could negotiate better terms and rates, payment deferments, or subletting agreements. What’s more, you may be able to have late-payment fees waived or even potentially sell your contact to another business.
When it comes to negotiating though, you prepare strong data points and alternatives in advance. You should also be flexible, polite, and firm. And, most importantly, don’t view the other party as the enemy. Most landlords aren’t against you. They’re actually pulling for you to succeed.
Take advantage of relief programs.
Whether if it’s a federal, state, or local there are programs offering relief to small businesses. One of the most well-known was the PPP and EIDL programs. However, in the case of PPP, that may have come and gone. Thankfully, you can still check out the Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program. And Debt Relief Programs from the SBA.
Beyond the SBA, there’s also the Save Small Business Fund and Main Street Lending Program. Moreover, many states and communities are providing programs to assist with paying utilities or relieving debt. And, don’t rule out private lenders like Huntington Bank and JPMorgan Chase.
Invest in growth opportunities and multiple revenue streams.
Some of you may have more free time on your hands during the pandemic. Maybe you had to temporally cease business operations. Or, you may have had to reduce business hours.
Even if you don’t have more downtime, right now you should be looking at various ways to turn COVID-19 into a viable business. You could achieve this by taking online classes to enhance your existing skills. Other business owners have ventured into new markets or proactively pivoted.
Whatever direction you chose, Dirk G. Schroeder, ScD, MPH, an Associate Professor of Social Entrepreneurship and Global Health at Emory University, the CEO of Updraft Health Innovation Advisors, recommends that you take the following four steps:
- Determine if your innovation is addressing a long-term problem.
- Identify a large and passionate customer base.
- Strategically pivot in order to find alternative ways to grow revenue.
- Map out your business model.
Reset your business strategy.
“As we shift from response to recovery, the key for senior leaders is to make strategic decisions that will lead them to a renewed future state, however paralyzing the uncertain outlook may seem, writes Chris Howard for Gartner.
Specifically, “Garner sees the pandemic response in three phases;” respond, recover, and renew. “The duration of each phase will vary by country, industry, and enterprise — and even by business unit, product or service,” explains Howard.
- Respond. Here you need to focus exclusively on stopping the bleeding.
- Recover. During this stage, the first activity is creating “a plan to restore a scalable state.” The second is identifying the “capabilities you need to strengthen, refactor, reopen, rehire, rebudget, resupply.”
- Renew. Here you need to educate on how to “conduct operations processes and workflows in new, repeatable, scalable ways.” And, “use lessons learned and emergent patterns from prior phases to coalesce around a new foundation and way forward.”
Howard adds that these phases will overlap. He also says that you need to build resilience by determining “exactly where and how the crisis has stretched and broken your existing models — and where the risks and opportunities lie as a result.” And, make sure that you reset for a sustainable future.
Manage your mental health.
Finally, make sure that you manage your mental health. Studies show that there is a relationship between unsecured debt and health. As such, you need to make self-care a priority by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and getting at least 45 minutes of exercise three to five times per week.
Furthermore, spend your leisure time doing the things that you enjoy, like spending time with your family or engaging with a hobby. And, discover healthy coping skills such as breathing exercises, meditation, reading, journaling, or talking to a friend over Zoom.