Yes, many big and small businesses are suffering from the dramatic effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; my micro company is no exception.
I still remember when news about this virus began to spread and multiply. I was sitting behind my home office desk, going through my daily tasks of writing articles, translating others, following up with my team, and chasing pending invoices. In the background, I could hear the depressing symphony of the morning news, which my visiting dad loves to start his day with. (Luckily, he managed to leave Dubai and go back home before the travel ban.)
"What's with all the exaggeration? Don't they have other gloomy stories to report about?" I caught myself thinking as I listened to the latest statistics about the number of cases and deaths caused by a flu-like virus called novel coronavirus, which is somehow related to bat soup, as it was initially reported. Apparently, this virus is quickly spreading in an animal market in an area called "woo-han" or "wa-han" in China. And now that area is under total lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading, and the residents there show solidarity by singing from their balconies every night.
Wuhan reopened recently.
But I never thought that within a couple of weeks I would be living that same reality, with empty streets and malls in Dubai and clapping neighbors expressing gratitude to frontline workers (or maybe entertaining their bored children) at 8 p.m. every night. It definitely didn't cross my mind that my balcony would be my new gym. Most importantly, I never thought that this virus would have an immense effect on my content and translation solutions business, which I nurtured and grew for the past four years. But it did, as it did to many other new and established companies.
You see, most of my clients are in PR, events, hospitality, and e-commerce sectors; we provide them with creative content solutions and translation services. However, when they don't have work, I don't have work either, as simple as that.
I got angry, cried, contemplated, and even meditated and thought of becoming a yogi. I watched 10 Ways to Get Noticed on LinkedIn on YouTube. I googled "tricks to market your services on social media." I chased unpaid invoices with unprecedented tenacity. I carefully read the UAE government's stimulus plans and failed to know how I can benefit from them.
I got caught up in a swirling vortex of emotions and thoughts.
One minute I was optimistic and ready to take all the free masterclasses, which suddenly became available online. I was prepared to bombard my contacts with a list of our offers in emails that begin with "I hope you are safe" and end with "#stayhome." I was set to seek new opportunities and learn new skills. And in a year's time, I'd be on the TED Talks stage giving the audience an inspiring speech about how I rebuilt my business from scratch after the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
The next minute I was in a scene from a tragic show starring my negative thoughts, empty bank account, dissolved company, the new fat ring around my stomach caused by "pizza, Netflix and cry," and my anxiety, which is doing nonstop hula hooping inside my brain.
The only thing that makes me feel a tiny bit better about this whole scenario is that I'm not the only one going through it. My business isn't suffering because I mismanaged it or because I am a failure, but because of a microscopic entity that is bigger than all of us. There is a calming and grounding feeling in knowing that we are all experiencing the same reality.
Big establishments with massive budgets, oil companies, prestigious fashion brands, famous celebrities bored at home, SMEs, freelancers, independent creatives... and I.
This virus made us equal in our struggle to stay afloat, no matter the size of our business. We're all looking for ways to adapt and rearrange our thoughts, expenses, and priorities so we can reassess our strengths and weaknesses as well as search for new opportunities. In light of these changes, one can't help but wonder, is this virus a blessing in disguise or maybe the reset button we've always admired from the boundaries of our comfort zone but never pressed? Is it the wake-up call we've always snoozed? Or is it a harsh and mandatory invitation to leave our old ways behind and embrace new practices, even if that means downloading TikTok?
We've all heard the cliché "adapt or die"; dinosaurs understood it very well. If there is one thing to learn from the now-extinct creatures and this global crisis, it would be "adapt and limit your losses."
In order to achieve that, as business owners, we must rethink our remote work policy and invest in its tools (if the nature of our business allows it); reconsider the way we do meetings (we've all seen that "this meeting could have been an email" meme); look into all those expensive business flights which can be replaced by Zoom calls (your budget and the environment will thank you); reevaluate our services and products and, if possible, make them downloadable, shareable, and deliverable.
We ought to re-study our customers' behavior in 2020 and ask ourselves:
- Are they old and need help shopping in the store or online, or are they Gen Z VSCO girls only reached by a dance challenge on TikTok?
- Do we have to market our products or services via apps and online subscriptions?
- Is there a need to invest in a modern website and fresh content?
- Are my customers returning to my store after the lockdown or will they keep shopping from my e-store? Is my e-store even ready for that possibility?
- Is my employees' productivity higher now that they are working from home?
- Did working from home decrease my operating cost?
- Can I turn my services into an e-book or an online course to reach a larger number of clients?
It is naïve to think that the COVID-19 crisis won't return under a different name or *ahem* mask. It is also immature to believe that the world pre-coronavirus will be the same post-coronavirus.
We need to be ready for this "new normal" and prepare in advance by gathering or even creating the right tools and skills to face the uncertain future and thrive in it.
This whole experience took us to the extremes of our psychological, mental, physical, and financial abilities. At the same time, it shook us, ignited our creativity, forced us to think ahead, and plan a different future for our businesses. While we are struggling today, this struggle might be the painful price we have to pay to write the next brilliant chapter of our success story. And then, we will all have an inspiring speech to share on the stage of TED Talks.