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The pandemic's toll on small business owners and easing their burden – Crain's Detroit Business

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The odds are against you when you start a new business. It is grueling to build an enterprise from an idea to a success. Entrepreneurs commonly put everything on the line to make it work—all their heart, money, assets and time. There are no words to adequately express the risk and concentrated pressure that comes with being a small business owner—not to mention the wear and tear on that owner’s mental health. And that is during good economic times.

The pandemic has brought additional, extraordinary challenges and extreme uncertainty to all small business owners, but especially those in industries most directly impacted by closure orders. From last spring’s broad lockdowns to extended closures finally relenting now, this pandemic has taken an emotional and mental toll on the men and women who own and operate Michigan’s small businesses.

When a business fails, a business owner doesn’t just lose a job—they usually have their whole net worth invested in the business. They personally guarantee the debt and often use their home as collateral. When a business goes under, a business owner loses everything.

But even those who make it through to the other side of this pandemic are suffering.

Over the last 10 months I’ve talked with hundreds of small business owners. I’ve seen famous pivots and heroic transformations. I’ve seen some businesses bounce right back from the economic meltdown in the spring. But I’ve also seen those who made the gut-wrenching decision to lay off employees, use the last of the equity in their home, cash in IRAs and go months without paying themselves to keep paying their employees.

While trying to save their business, sometimes barely holding it together 
with little more than the sheer will to survive, business owners have had a slew of new challenges thrown at them with little or no warning:

  • Transitioning to a remote workforce overnight.
  • Purchasing and incorporating new technology to accommodate remote work.
  • Watching closures push their customers toward multinational corporations and pivoting to new, virtual business models on the fly to try to win those customers back.
  • Interpreting complicated and ever-changing government orders and regulatory language.
  • Competing with the federal and state unemployment system for their employees.
  • Managing both employees with grave concerns about the virus and those who resist safety measures.
  • Operating under a microscope with customers and even competitors looking to catch them doing something wrong.
  • Dealing with angry and sometimes violent customers who refuse to comply with face mask requirements.

I could go on and on. Small business owners know how to work hard. They know how to give. They treat their customers and employees like family. The communities they work in are the communities they live in.

Having a strong small business community is not just a luxury, it is a necessity for our economy.

The personal investment and dedication required of small business owners is enormously taxing, emotionally as well as financially. Small business owners are hurting and need support.

And yet, the second round draws of the Paycheck Protection Program are lagging, in part because many business owners do not feel right about receiving support despite unprecedented challenges. They are givers. It is not natural for them to ask anything of anyone. So I will ask for them.

  1. Go out of your way to support local businesses. Take a moment to consider whether you could purchase an item closer to home. There are local options with online fulfillment and curbside pickup.
  2. Don’t give staff a hard time when they enforce the safety rules. They’re just doing their job.
  3. Support businesses that want to reopen and stay open. All businesses deserve an opportunity to be open when they follow the rules.

The very character of our communities is built on a foundation provided by small businesses. Doing what we can to widen the lane to their survival is well worth the effort.

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