Let’s be honest, while the CARES Act initially seemed to provide adequately for self-employed people, too many people have not been able to take advantage of the act’s benefits, due to bank limitations or other reasons. This has left many small business owners in dire straits. If you are one of them, I feel for you. The fact is, as the conversation within the country shifts from “stay at home” to opening up, many business owners do not have the option to stay home and ride this out. We have to work and put food on the table!
If we go back to the start of all of this, the purpose of flattening the curve was to spread out people getting infected over time, not necessarily to lower the number of infections and deaths due to infection. It was, and still is, expected that the majority of people will be infected in the next 12 to 18 months. That means the odds are that you will get the coronavirus. Yes, the majority of people who get it are unaffected (or somewhat asymptomatic), but, for the rest, you are in for a few rough weeks, if not worse. My question is, if your business is ready for that?
The point of this is not to fearmonger, or to convince you to stay home. As states open up, that is a personal decision. I completely support people that say, “I can stay home, so I will” and I completely support those who instead say, “I need to put food on the table, so I will work in the most responsible way.” In the best-case scenario, people that do go back to work won’t get sick. But as business owners, we need to plan ahead and be ready for it.
If you don’t believe me about the odds of catching this virus, I recommend checking out https://covid19risk.biosci.gatech.edu/. This is a risk-assessment tool for the likelihood of interacting with a person who is positive for COVID-19. Nationwide, if you work a 100-person wedding, there is about a 40 percent chance of that. Of course this differs per state. In California, it is about 24 percent, whereas in Florida it is 19 percent and it’s 78 percent in New York. Obviously, the more events you attend, the higher your chance of exposure is.
So back to the question: What happens to your business if you do catch it? I recommend sitting down now and considering all the things that need to be taken care of if you are unavailable. And, you have to remember, even if your coronavirus symptoms are not debilitating, you cannot push through being even a little sick. Also keep in mind that you cannot work if a family member is sick (until rapid testing becomes widespread).
Things I would consider:
- Can I easily reschedule my clients to one month later?
- If I cannot reschedule, do I have a trusted network of vendors that can step in for me?
- If I am hospitalized, who can contact my clients?
- Does somebody have emergency access to all your business details in case it is needed?
- What does my contract say regarding my unexpected unavailability? Please note that catching coronavirus in most cases is not an act of God, and you are still responsible for fulfilling your contract.
- If you have employees or use subcontractors, do you have trusted backups in case they become unavailable with late notice?
- How do I assure my clients ahead of time that everything is covered no matter what? This isn’t a fun exercise. And it gets even less fun: If you are in the high-risk group for COVID-19, you should look at your will and make contingency plans in the event you pass away. Yes, that’s morbid. But do you want to leave your family dealing with clients when they should be grieving you?
So, after you answer the above questions, take some time to write the required email templates, update your contracts, and write down your list of backup vendors/employees.
While you’re at it, you should also consider a policy for circumstances where your client gets sick, or, worse, shows up and is clearly not well. Imagine arriving at a wedding and the mother of the bride is clearly showing respiratory symptoms, not social distancing, and repeatedly getting in your face. How do you handle that?
The reality is, in-person services for the next 12 to 18 months will be quite complicated. And for a lot of you, pivoting to an entirely different revenue stream is just not realistic. Protecting yourself will go a long way, but you still need to be prepared for when the worst happens. It’s a business, not a hobby, and you owe it to yourself – and your clients – to have your playbook ready to go. This is a helpful exercise to go through in any case, and it will give you peace of mind. After all, we have enough things to worry about. Don’t let this be one of them.
P.S. If you have not been able to get funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (as part of the CARES Act), I do strongly encourage you to look into your state’s unemployment options. You have worked too hard on your business to see all that undone at no fault of your own.