Who tied my shoelaces together?

It’s been over a month since I received the first notice that courts were suspending activity. Since then, I have watched my otherwise busy law practice slow tremendously. While the unexpected breather has been nice (and expensive), I am ready to get back at it.

While I can stand, the current restrictions, and the ones I expect to stay in place into the foreseeable future, have me stumbling forward. It’s like I sat down on a bench for a breather and someone tied my shoes together.

Planning failure?

Having started my business after the Great Recession, in 2010, I’ve always been mindful about diversification and what I’d do in down times. None of my contingency plans or what-if’s involved a scenario where the courts were reduced to a crawl. For me to do my job, I have to have the courts. Slowing them down was like delivering a paralytic to the central nervous system of my law practice.

As an owner and employer, this has been a tough fact to accept. On some level I feel as though I failed. I should have seen this coming. I should have had alternatives available and sailed through this pandemic effortlessly. The experience has been tough and alienating.

No matter how alone I may feel, I know I’m not. As I look out my third floor window to the corner of State and Main the only businesses that have any business are the pharmacy, the restaurants, and the construction workers providing Uptown Westerville with a facelift. But as this pandemic has stretched on, even the number of patrons at the pharmacy and restaurants have slowed.

Short of making PPE or being a grocery store, I think it would be near impossible to go through this experience without feeling some sort of financial impact.

Frustration and Anxiety

It’s scary. I’d be lying to say I didn’t have a little bit of frustration and anxiety about it. I think that’s normal. Businesses across the country are desperate for the economy to open back up.

Some are targeting the anger and frustration at our elected officials. Claiming deprivation of rights, making accusations of being subjected to a military state, and worse.

As a lawyer, I think these arguments fail and find this vein of dialogue to be unproductive. This is not to say I am happy about our situation. I hate it. However, I would not want to trade places with my elected officials right now. The worst of the financial problems is yet to be truly realized as tax revenue for the past month has dropped while dollars for aid has increased, exponentially. The stimulus was supposed to tide us over until the end of July. We’ll find out if it was enough.

For myself, I’m trying to stay out of the melee. Thus far, I’ve been very pleased with how DeWine has handled everything. He has consistently shown himself to be a smooth leader. His decisions are thoughtful and based in logic. He communicates information regularly and clearly. While I hate the situation, I don’t think he could have played this any better.

Temper Expectations

While I think we are all excited to get back out there, business owners and entrepreneurs need to take stock of expectations. We aren’t returning to normal, not anytime soon. Social distancing, lowered capacity, and consciousness of new risk have changed behavior patterns. A great deal of Americans, close to 13%, are unemployed. This impacts consumer confidence and decision making tremendously.

Many have had to go without for the first time. For myself, I know my own spending has gone down. Mostly in discretionary and variable expenses, but my mind’s eye is currently focused on cutting back and saving, not spending. And I don’t think I’m unique in this mindset.

I was listening to a podcast and one of the hosts was talking about how much her day-to-day has changed. She can no longer go out to get coffee on her way to work. As a result, for the first time, she bought a coffee maker and learned to make her own. Coffee wasn’t the only discretionary expense she planned to cut. She was spending $200-300 a month on training sessions and gym memberships. During the stay-at-home, she’s been working out with apps and fitness videos on YouTube. She shared the savings has been informative about her old lifestyle and spending habits. For now, she doesn’t intend to go back to her old ways.

The New Normal

There is no going back, not immediately, not until we have a vaccine. Until then, I do not see the economy firing on all cylinders. The world has been made aware of humanity’s relative fragility. The lasting changes are still unknown. No different than 9/11 changed the way we travel, gather intelligence, and took us to two wars, the lasting effects of the Coronavirus are still unknown.

I’ve already heard from a number of employers that the success of working from home may result in a change to the office environment. Not all of the change will be bad, it will just be… different.

What can I do?

For any business, I think now is the time to lighten your load from unnecessary expenditures. Look at expenses in terms of necessity, value, and your goals. If it isn’t needed or it isn’t a value, get rid of it. The businesses that are going to do best are those that remain agile and adapt to customers and clients.

Be mindful. I’ve sat through… I don’t know how many calls where what I’m hearing is emotion and frustration. That isn’t a necessarily a bad thing. You gotta get it out. I encourage a good purge from time to time. However, make sure you aren’t pulling the trigger on a major decision while purging anger and frustration.

Some of the worst decisions are made when folks are emotional or frustrated. Write down your goal. Measure your major decisions against that goal. Does this decision get you closer? If not, put it down and think more about it.

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