COVID-19  August 5, 2020

Small-business owners face dual threats

Small business owners may be facing dual challenges from the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They fear for the futures of their workers, and they fear for the futures of their businesses that might not reopen or stay open.


As described by Chris Berger, CEO of Foundations Counseling LLC in Fort Collins, the business leader often sees his or her role as to be in charge and to take care of the people in their charge. A lot of pressure comes from that.

Berger, along with Megara Kastner, a consultant with the Employers Council, and Mike O’Connell, senior director of the Larimer Small Business Development Center, addressed issues of mental health as they relate to the challenges posed by COVID on small businesses. They were part of a BizWest webinar called “Small Business Interrupted.”

“There’s been a break in our social contract that work is going to take care of us. But that social contract is broken because there’s so much tentativeness,” Kastner said. “There’s so much vulnerability; our brains are not set up to be vulnerable.”

Owning a small business can often be a lonely experience, said O’Connell. With COVID, business owners have lost personal contact with many others and don’t have peers to bounce ideas off, he said. Then, with business disrupted, they don’t have any idea what revenue might look like, and without reasonable revenue projections they can’t plan how to come through the crisis, he said.

Business owners are seeing a “constant reactivity and lack of consistency” in the messaging from governmental leaders, said Berger. That “constant state of human arousal” makes it difficult to plan, and that results in stress, he said.

“We are built to deal with acute stress. Ongoing chronic stress [however] takes a physiological toll, mentally as well as physically,” he said.

In normal times, small business owners operate above the fray of the daily challenges. In times of crisis, however, “letting people know how you are doing, showing your vulnerability,” can help maintain a connection with staff, Kastner said.

Small businesses that are family run, with multiple members of the same family having roles, can be especially challenging during times of crisis, the panelists said.

Berger said it’s important for family run businesses to define roles — what people are responsible for and what they are not responsible for. Setting boundaries is also important so members of the family know where relationships and jobs start and end.

“Families must not let their relationships be only about work. There needs to be relationships outside of that,” he said.

Whether family run or not, small business owners can draw employees into discussions to help share the load. Business owners can share with employees what resources are available, O’Connell said.

Kastner said owners need to be careful when communicating digitally, because it isn’t the same as having conversations around the water cooler. Owners need to be intentional about their communications because it won’t happen naturally as it might in an office setting.

In the end, business owners need to determine “what are the key things I need to run this business,” said O’Connell. Separating out key things from everything else can help focus and separate the important aspects of the business from “the noise, the political noise,” he said. “Taking some action helps you manage the business,” he said.

Said Berger, “Avoid the paralysis of analysis. You’re better off taking some action and course correcting as you go, and not be frozen by fear.”

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