Notes from a small business: The not so new normal

  • 06 Aug 2020

By Guy Browning

A global pandemic was not part of the agenda for 2020 but it did shine a light on the joys – or otherwise – of home working.

At the beginning of the year, most small business owners like to do a bit of planning. We think about where we’re going to get our business from, how we’re going to improve what we do and, hopefully, how we’re going to make a little bit more money.   

Not many of us will have included a global pandemic in our planning. If you did, there is a good chance that your small business is now a large one. Congratulations. For the rest of us, the year hasn’t turn out quite how we planned. 

 

It was bad, but it wasn’t all bad. One of the tiny fringe benefits of the lockdown was that the rest of the working world got a little eye-opener into the world of the SME and the one-person operation.

A few people may have been under the impression that WFH (working from home) was some kind of easy option. What those people have now learned the hard way is that a big office with lots of meetings actually protects you from work. There is no escape at home – it’s just you, the work and the customer.  

The other thing people who work in big businesses now appreciate is the fact that there are no children at their workplace (obviously lots of people in offices act like children, but that’s a different story). WFH when you’ve also got KAH (kids at home) requires a level of self-discipline rarely required in a large office. I predict that Bring Your Kids

To Work days will be a lot less popular from now on. People will realise that it’s as crazy as a Bring Your Boss Home day. 

Lockdown put a lot of strain on relationships (according to my now ex-wife). The same was true for a lot of small businesses. We found that some relationships with key customers weren’t as intimate and loving as we thought.

 

We found big businesses that ‘value their partners’ in their mission statements dropped us like a hot brick when times got tough. We now know which of our ‘partners’ are relationships worth keeping. The rest we can deal with like we deal with ex-partners – coolly and through lawyers. 

One thing many SMEs had to experiment with was having our wages paid for by the government. Most of us long ago swore we’d never do that, which is why we set up our own businesses in the first place.

On the bright side, now we’ve seen the benefit, we might feel better about paying business rates and corporation tax in the future. Unless, that is, we took our accountant’s advice on paying ourselves via dividends and thus neatly disqualified ourselves from state aid.

That’ll make for interesting conversations with them at the year-end – if we make it that far.  

Just like its impact on humans, coronavirus had markedly different impacts on business. Some businesses breezed through unscathed, although you can count them on two hands and a foot. Others were fatally infected and are no longer with us. It pains me to think of all those hopes and dreams and years of effort wiped out. 

However, hope springs eternal in the hearts and minds of the entrepreneurial. We’ll do what we’ve always done: adapt to survive. It’s worth remembering that the Black Death brought about the end of feudalism.

 

Maybe there will be a silver lining to this modern plague. Especially if you’re a company that saw it coming and now makes silver linings.

Guy Browning runs the design agency Smokehouse.
 

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