Inside The Head Of A Small Business Owner – During A Pandemic

Jim Blasingame

Here is a running conversation millions of Main Street business owners have every day – mostly with themselves – while operating on the edge of existence during a global pandemic.

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5:15am: A small business owner touches the snooze button on his phone alarm
“Man, I gotta change that obnoxious alarm tone. Big day – should hear from the bank about qualifying for the next round of PPP. We really need it – can’t cut any deeper and stay open.”

6:47am: Rolling. On a call (hands-free, of course) with his remote-working accountant
“Listen, if the PPP money doesn’t happen, and the bank won’t make a gap loan, how tight will cash get next month? Mmmm! Worse than I thought. Okay, we should get a decision on ACME today. If they accept our proposal, that should get us past next month, right? Well, get on those aging receivables. Lemme go. Gotta take this call from James (warehouse manager). It can’t be good at this hour.”

6:54: On the call with James
“Hey, dude. What’s up? Your wife tested positive – how long will you be quarantined? Okay. Keep me posted. Guess I’ll have to take up more slack. Just another day in the ‘Rona’ neighborhood. Damn COVID!”

7:13am: At the office
“Okay, what’s on the schedule that I can get out of? Chamber board meeting this morning at 8:00 – probably not gonna make that. Susie’s game is 7:30 tonight – not gonna miss that. Good – Bill’s on time. Gotta get the Johnson delivery finished before it rains – that C.O.D will cover quarterly taxes.”

7:33am: At his desk, returning emails
“Oh, shoot. That new customer’s at the door and he saw me – can’t make him wait until 8:00. And he’s gonna expect me to wear a mask. Where’d I put it? Better get a clean one. There goes the Chamber meeting.”

Unlocking the front door: “Please, come in, sir.”

8:09am:  Looking out the back window
“Huh? Why does Bill have the hood up on the truck? Is that smoke? Whew! It’s his cigarette – he’s just checking the oil.”

8:15: In the warehouse
“Darn, overhead door stuck again? When the governor shut us down, the maintenance budget was the first coronavirus casualty. Maybe next year. Bill, you know Johnson won’t take delivery in the rain, and they know you’re gonna collect. When you get back, give the check to me.”

9:12am: Back on the counter
“Gotta get that light fixed on the front sign – don’t notice it so much unless it’s ... CLOUDY. Oh, please don’t rain this morning. Yes, ma’am, how can I help you?”

10:02am: Second call with the accountant
“I know there’s a pandemic going on, but you gotta get those receivables in. Sometimes people act like they’re the only ones operating in a shutdown. Send me the info on every account over 60 days. I’ll call them myself. We’re fighting for our life here.”

1:15pm: At the post office
“Bills, bills, bills – no checks.  Payroll’s gonna be close Friday – hope I get paid. We gotta be stricter about collecting receivables – my vendors sure are. Come on bank loan! No! Not another certified from the IRS. I know a computer generated it, and it’s almost always wrong, but it’s still upsetting. Dang! It’s raining – better check on Bill. Dangit! Left my phone in the car.”

1:33pm:  Back in the car, checking his phone
“ACME called – that’s probably good. Bill called – that’s probably bad. The bank called – that could go either way. Which one do I return first?”

1:41pm: Talking to the bank
“It looks like we’ll qualify for the new PPP round, but they don’t have the new loan instructions yet. Could be two more weeks and they need updated financials. Will they forgive both PPP loans? Forgot to eat lunch – again.”

1:52pm: Talking to Bill
“Dangit! It rained on him before he got Johnson delivered. No Johnson check or loan this week. What’s Plan B for the tax deposit?”

2:25pm: Phone-tag with ACME
“Gotta do whatever it takes to get the ACME deal.  If they stall, I may have to cut into my margin. Don’t give it away – you’re not desperate. Who’m I kidding? This year, it’s all about cash.”

3:06pm: Looking at the 60-day aging list
“Better focus on these. Yes, most of them are good customers, but I can’t be their bank. Gotta be diplomatic, but firm. Larry – you gotta handle the counter by yourself.”

5:15pm: Locking the front door behind the last customer
“ ’Preciate the business, Frank. See you next time.”

5:20pm: Turning off the sign
“NOW the rain stops. Good day on the counter. ACME accepted the proposal but had to cut my margin a point. Maybe we’ll recover it with the add-ons.”

5:30pm: Watching the news
“The governor’s threatening another shutdown. If we weren’t ‘essential’ I’d probably be arrested by now. This is killing most restaurants.”

6:12pm: Shutting down
“Thank God three customers said we could pick up checks in the morning – that will cover taxes and payroll. They’re all good customer and they’ve had a tough year, too. But why do I have to call them every time? I got bills, too.”

Texting with Susie: “Game’s still on – she want’s me to take her. On my way, sweetie.”

6:30pm: Headed to the house
“What a roller coaster day. Hell! What a roller coaster year. Would I have started this business if I’d known it was gonna be this hard?  Not if every year was like this one. But most days – and years – I like knowing the challenges I turn into opportunities belong to me. Still, looking forward to not having to struggle – does that ever really happen in a small business?  At least my family’s healthy. Nothing else really matters (a little choked up). I’m hungry.”

5:15am: Next morning 
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“Man, I really gotta change that alarm tone.”

Write this on a rock ... Welcome to the rude world of small business ownership – especially in 2020. Happy New Year.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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