For all of the challenges and uncertainty the coronavirus has generated for business leaders, it’s also produced something powerful: a sense and spirit of community.
Never have I seen entrepreneurs come together like I have during this pandemic. Leaders of neighboring businesses I’ve never met have dropped by my door. Old mentors of mine have reached out online.
We, as small business owners, seem to be reaching out to one another to find some comfort amid the uncertainty and ambiguity — especially now that the plans for phased reopening may be put on pause. But the relationships we’re creating today are changing the profile of the small business community for the future. The shared experience seems to promote pride and solidarity among small business owners, and may change the dynamics of how we work — and compete — even as we emerge from the crisis.
A Sense of Solidarity
Rarely does an economic event affect every company. Usually, tariffs are industry-specific, downturns happen regionally, and labor shortages occur for specific skillsets.
This pandemic has been different. Because no industry or area is immune, it has created a “We’re all this together” feeling that’s brought businesses closer together. Normally, we may have been thinking of each other as competitors — shared stressors, though, may have actually made us more willing to trust and share resources with one another.
That’s exactly what I’ve seen. Much of the sharing has been informational, but I’ve also seen some remarkable acts of generosity.
Crosstalk Is Constant
Nobody talks like entrepreneurs, and for good reason: Whether it’s making investment choices or staffing changes, feeling like you know what’s coming is key to confident decision-making.
Sooner or later, the pandemic will have passed. The question is, will the sharing spirit that emerged in the small-business community remain.
Although some of that’s happening in private channels like email, much of it has been occurring publicly on sites like LinkedIn. Small-business leaders are looking for updates on each other, partner companies and competitors. Both overtly through status updates and indirectly by seeing who’s been laid off by what company, they’re trying to get a sense of whether their business’s experience is unique.
From what I’ve seen, a lot of the information shared has been news and predictions. There’s a lot of speculation going on about how long the pandemic might last, where new hotspots might be, and what the recovery could look like. Every entrepreneur has his or her own favorite pundits, and is eager to share their takes in hopes of starting a discussion that can leave them with a cleaner picture of the crisis.
What if entrepreneurs get wind that someone’s struggling? That’s when I’ve seen above-and-beyond helpfulness happen.
Breaks for the Broke
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how supportive entrepreneurs have been to members of their network who have had financial trouble during the crisis. In multiple cases, I’ve heard of small businesses giving de-facto loans to each other by agreeing to push off payment deadlines. In normal times, payment terms can be a testy topic. These days, a lot of entrepreneurs see them as small beans.
Back to Bartering
Another type of generosity I’ve seen has been service credits and no-cash deals. The pandemic seems to have brought bartering back into style.
A friend of mine has a lawn-mowing business, for example. He’s lost a lot of customers, which has forced him to cut back on his marketing spend. To bring in new business, he’s been mowing for the local radio and TV stations in exchange for airtime.
Pointing to Helping Hands
Although the pandemic has affected every small business, there have been winners and losers. Some of the restaurants near me have shut down altogether, while a lot of the software startups my company works with have done better than ever.
What that means is a lot of staffing shifts. Some entrepreneurs have been scrambling to hire, while others have had to say, “Sorry, you’re out of a job.”
Although I haven’t seen any entrepreneurs say, “Go work for my competitor,” I have heard of them pointing furloughed workers toward related opportunities. After a web designer I know was laid off by an agency, his former boss helped him get a job at a Fortune 500 software company. It’s hard not to be hopeful when you hear stories like that.
A Long-Term Culture Change?
Sooner or later, the pandemic will have passed. The question is, will the sharing spirit that emerged in the small-business community remain?
Entrepreneurs are notoriously competitive. I suspect, though, that a lot of them have learned through this pandemic that cooperation has its place. Just as relationships aren’t built in a day, they don’t disappear in a day. Small-business leaders will remember which vendors gave them a break and who suggested the hire they needed in a crunch.
That’s the shift I’d like to see come out of this crisis: If entrepreneurs get in the habit of helping each other out in small ways, the small-business community will only get stronger.
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