Reflections on a Challenging Year

 By: Brad Swanson, Business Advisor

For many small businesses, 2020 was a year that started with promise and great potential for continued growth and success. As we reflect on the year, it is very easy to get caught up in thoughts about the world health crisis that swept into our lives in March. In particular, the specter of COVID-19 has shocked and staggered our small business economy here in Maine. It is impossible to ignore the struggles that this pandemic has brought to so many. None of us has endured a time like this, where all aspects of our communities are so impacted, so challenged.

From our desks at home, the SBDC talks with business owners daily. We hear their concerns and questions about the difficulties and challenges. Sales are down, cash is tight, they can no longer retain their valued employees. They struggle to pay the rent or their mortgage.

As business advisors, it is our job to listen and coach each person based on their circumstances and to consider the outcomes of the decisions and actions they take. It is our job to provide guidance despite the uncertainly. It is our job to find ways to help business owners survive and reclaim their financial balance.

Among these heavy conversations, we hear something more. Something more hopeful. We hear resolve, delivered strong and clear. And, it fills us with pride and admiration. We hear courage, resilience, creativity, and determination from people in dire situations, whose livelihoods are threatened. And we are encouraged by their forward-thinking and their drive to work through even these most trying of times. Small businesses (and their owners) are truly inspiring.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., renowned Civil rights leader, and minister once said, “The ultimate measure of an individual is not where he stands in the moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge.”

We can be proud and thankful for our Maine small businesspeople, for they are the economic backbone of our communities, and they are tough, hardworking, and determined to stand strong in the face of the current adversity.

In the face of fear, they have decided to focus on what they can do to create a positive future.

They have reached out to others for help and accepted it, as needed.

They have continued to share and offer their help to others, as always.

They have created safe spaces to keep the public and their employees out of harm’s way.

They have rebuilt their business models, showing creativity and eagerness to serve their customers, recognizing that to survive everyone needs to be safe, healthy, and in this together.

They have provided critical leadership to their employees, giving guidance and support to those who depend on them for their paychecks, to keep them safe, healthy, and working.

They have set new, realistic, and achievable goals to create a path toward success so each of us will continue to have more of the locally provided products and services we depend on. With clear intentions and ceaseless efforts, they will continue to be here for us.

While the virus continues its on-going disruption, what we have really taken away from this the heroic response of small business owners and their employees to navigate the pandemic and to survive.

Small business owners are heroes, and we hope that each of you takes a moment to recognize and celebrate their incredible feats.