Small business ownership during a crisis

This blog will be slightly different than some of our usual blogs; sort of a more personal reflection on the state of this new reality we find ourselves in, and what that may mean for me as a business owner.

I have been at the helm of Shade Tree Meteorology since the end of 2016, and I had the good fortune and privilege to learn from a great mentor, my former boss and the former owner of this company, Dick Westergard. I will be the first to admit that learning how to run a successful business means more than just having the skills you need to be successful in your field (meteorology, in my case). For three years prior to assuming ownership of this company, I was able to develop my skills as a meteorologist and educator in the context of working in the private sector, versus in academia where I worked exclusively before. However, working closely with Dick for three years also allowed me great insight into the ‘business administration’ side of this work. I learned a lot about the rules and regulations that must be followed, marketing techniques, how to deal with clients and potential clients, and other important skills. While this is all material which is possible to learn from a book (or e-book!), learning by doing in the context of a mentorship is, in my mind, one of the best ways.

That being said, I can’t honestly say I felt 100% prepared when I finally did take the reins of the company just over three years ago. I don’t know if anyone feels prepared! Watching and learning is very different than actually having the success of the company depend on your decisions! Over the past three years, my focus has been on taking the skills I learned, staying up-to-date by listening to reputable podcasts, reading books, and networking with others who are more experienced than I so that I can continue to have the skills I need to grow my small business.

Enter, COVID-19

Until a few weeks ago, I felt that things were on a really good pace. Business has grown, we have added a regular subcontractor and have a few as-needed subcontractors, and incoming requests for work continued to grow at a steady rate. I felt as though I was finally finding my footing as a business owner, entering a stride, and entering a new phase of entrepreneurship which involved looking at research and development to expand the types of meteorological consulting services which our company offers.

Until mid-March.

Now, I find myself in a very different role as small business owner, one which I don’t know if ANY amount of learning or mentorship could have prepared me for. My role now is to successfully navigate this business through what could be a historic economic downturn, while at the same time continuing to provide the quality services that our clients depend on. While we are fortunate not to see the immediate effects of this event in the way that, say, restaurant owners, hair salons, and others have, the reality is that I don’t know what the long term impacts on business will be that result from this global pandemic. My heart absolutely aches for friends and members of my community who now find themselves and their valued employees in dire situations as a result of their small businesses being shuttered indefinitely. My current situation is not nearly so extreme, but there are so many unknowns right now that it is hard not to feel unmoored to some degree. I find that in times of crisis, it is always good to go back to the basics, and for me that means three things:

Return to your foundation

For me, this means reviewing and refreshing what I have learned over the years in terms of marketing this business and providing the services we know have brought success in the past. At Shade Tree, that is high quality meteorology explained in an easy-to-understand format. At this time, most of what we do is in the field of forensics, but our core service is essentially making science accessible and applicable to a lay person who needs it. The skills we have as meteorologists will continue to be needed in the future, and so we continue to focus on making sure we are providing the absolute best quality product to our clients.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

I know, we sometimes sound like broken records. We are ALWAYS talking about preparing for weather-related incidents. Knowing what to do in an emergency situation is half the battle when it comes to keeping yourself and your loved ones safe. The same is true here (although in a very different context) as a business owner in a vastly different global landscape than we had last week. I am doing everything I can to stay abreast of changes, listening to webinars, consulting resources such as the U.S. Small Business Association, local chambers of commerce, and other trusted business owners in my field. While I cannot pretend to know the long-term impacts of this situation on my business, I am taking steps now (and have already in the past) to ensure that the business is able to continue providing our services, connect with our clients, and remain steady in the midst of this storm.

Communication is key

Given how rapidly this situation has been changing, it has been necessary to make some changes to our schedule. While Kelly and I already work at home, we have had to accommodate new situations which include home-schoolers and significant others working on premises, and numerous changes to schedules that we could not have anticipated just a few weeks ago. We are making sure to remain in close touch with any clients whom this directly impacted, and we continue to communicate regularly through this blog, our newsletter, and our Facebook page. While ‘business as usual’ is not an option right now, staying in touch with our clients through our usual channels has become more important than ever so that they know that we are still able to do our jobs despite the madness going on around us.

All this being said, we are hopeful that we as a society, and especially those small businesses whose very existence is at stake, will weather this global storm and come out resilient and stronger on the other side.

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