A challenge to small business owners: what are we made of?

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Every business owner is feeling the pinch from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pinch is hard and for some, seems unbearable. For us, small business owners, the pinch could even be deadly, suffocating our businesses, pushing some to close permanently.

In Indonesia, the nation’s semi-lockdown has stretched more than four weeks now and will continue for at least another two weeks or more. For most of us, it feels like a life-time. Majority of businesses are unable to open shops, yet have to pay salaries of their staff, rent and utilities’ bills, not to mention the soon-THR (religious holiday allowance) season. This devastating reality begs the question “How long can our business survive?”

As a business owner who has been around for more than three years, this is not the first time we are being tested, nonetheless, this COVID-19 disruption might just be our Achilles’ heel.

Looking back to when we first opened our daycare, we hardly had any visitor for the first couple of months. At that time, we had to wreck our brain to develop another revenue stream with the ultimate goal to introduce potential leads to our daycare. We then came up with the idea of weekend class, where we organised sensory classes for babies and toddlers on Saturdays, so new parents would come, visit and enjoy our facilities. After a few classes, our daycare membership began to grow as people began to taste the high quality of teaching we’re offering. That experience had also proven that our resilience, the core fabric of entrepreneurship, was the saviour of our business, but now, our resilience is being stretched thin.

This pandemic is challenging us to dig deep into our values’ system to determine what we are made of. Are we going to cave in and surrender, or are we going to fight and come back stronger after this seemingly-apocalypse?

For now, we choose to fight. In this fight, we hold on to three key principles.

  1. This too shall pass.

This Persian philosophical belief speaks truth to our thinking. Our daycare has now been closed for almost two months and the closure would most likely continue until further notice, leaving us with very limited income. Yet, as a business servicing mostly working parents, we believe that our line of work is an essential business that will stand the test of time. With several years of experience under our belt, we are convinced we will be able to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic and survive this.

During difficult time such as this, as a business owner, you need to ask yourself, is this the business that you are going to hone in on for long term or is it just a fad? Is this truly your passion or just a means to meet ends? Ask this difficult question to determine whether you are going to stick around to work on your cashflow or calling it quit to salvage the remaining of your profit. Look at your major costs and find ways to close the gap. If you are renting and unable to open for one or two months ahead, talk to your landlord/building owner to discuss the possibility of getting discounts or reduction on certain fees. This is the time to ask favours and work out some sort of arrangements with your key stakeholders. If you are unable to pay your staffs’ salaries in full, discuss with them some terms that will allow your business to weather through this period.

2. When life gives you lemon, make lemonade.

During the early 17th century when the plague hit the theatre scenes in Britain causing a total of 78 months closures of most theatres, the greatest works of William Shakespeare were born*. As the plague outbreaks continued, Shakespeare took the time to sit at home, read and write, when his most important works and poems were created. Sometimes, a crisis pushes us to re-evaluate our business and find creative ways for other sources of revenue stream to keep our business afloat. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, one of our partners had suggested to explore online learning for early childhood education. Yet, caught up with the busy-ness of our daily activities, we did not follow through with the idea. Now, as our physical daycare is closed, we are finding new and innovative ways to provide online learning to our children. This new progression is now being offered to one of our corporate clients to service their staff’s young children around Indonesia. Fingers crossed that we’re going to see a light of hope in the end of the tunnel on this deal.

3. Never burn your bridges

Another principle is to make sure that we do not burn our bridges or conduct drastic measures that we might not be able turn back from. No matter how difficult it is to hold onto your business, it is crucial as an entrepreneur not to choose the easy way out. Crisis is there to teach us a lesson and as long as your business is your passion and you’ve got a strong determination to make it work, your business will survive. Look at your key stakeholders right now and ask yourself “what can I do for them?” instead of “how can I benefit from them?”. By changing your perspective, you are changing your attitude and approach on how you are going to run your business moving forward. For us, laying off our staff is our last resort. Staffs are our most important assets and we will try our mightiest to keep them, even if we have to sacrifice our hard-earned revenue from before the pandemic.

Our customers are also our key stakeholders that we want to maintain. You need to understand that your customers are examining your ethics during such crisis. Are you the hit-and-run type of businessperson or are you here to stay? If you only want to make a quick buck, you will not care about the repercussions of your actions towards your customers. However, if you really care about your customers, you will try to put yourselves into their shoes and find a win-win solution for both sides. One of our win-win solutions is to provide our customers with the opportunity to pick between two payment schemes, which give them the flexibility to adjust it to their timing and preference. That’s how you create loyalty to your brand. You have to think beyond and after the pandemic. Let your customers know that you are here to stay and you will help them overcome this unprecedented period.

In the meantime, our staffs are also seeking new technologies to induce into our online learning routine. It is the right time to squeeze the creativity juice out of you and your team. Now is not the time to give up.

As someone who gave up a comfortable seat in the corporate world three years ago, I have considered myself privileged to be an entrepreneur, albeit a small and relatively new one. I feel privileged to be able to help put food on the tables for our staff these past years. I feel privileged to play a part in our daycare’s children education and upbringing. I feel privileged to work with some incredible minds in early childhood education. I feel privileged to work, brainstorm and envision with my three partners in building and growing our business. These privileges come with responsibilities and now, more than ever, is the time to take responsibilities of our business and exhibit what we are made of to help our staff, our children, our customers and our country triumph over this crisis.

www.thestage.co.uk: “From pandemics to puritans: when theatre shut down through history and how it recovered”

Written by:

Marta Yuliana (Co-founder of Mika Daycare & Playgroup)

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