By Cliff Ennico
Normally, at year-end, I do a column on New Year’s resolutions for small-business owners, with simple but practical suggestions such as taking your lawyer and accountant to lunch once a year and asking them to name three things you could be doing better.
But 2020 was a year like no other in our lifetime, and I think it’s more important to talk about some of the megachanges small businesses will be facing as we emerge from the pandemic — hopefully this year, but more probably in 2022. Besides, no one is taking anyone to lunch these days.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit back in March, I was absolutely certain that my law practice was going to crash and burn, and that I would end 2020 working at a UPS Store. After all, who was going to be starting a new business in the middle of a raging pandemic?
Well, guess what? I have never been busier in my 25-plus years of working with small businesses than I was this year. My income is actually up significantly from 2019, and there have been instances I have been so pressed by time-sensitive deals that I had only Saturday night to write this column.
So, what’s going on here? The answer is simple: Necessity is the mother of invention.
Back in the 1980s, when I started giving small-business talks around the country, I used to cite the fact that if you looked at the dates on which the Fortune 500 corporations of that time were incorporated, you would note that most of them were started during the Great Depression or other recessionary times. Well, you know what, folks? It’s happening again.
I cannot tell you how many times this year I’ve been called by someone who has lost their traditional job in corporate America or who was worried that they would be laid off and permanently unemployable due to obsolescence. What can an event planner do to remain relevant when it will likely be years before people will be comfortable gathering in large groups again?
Yet the number of people I have encountered who are willing to tap into their savings — even their tax-deferred retirement funds — to start a new business, launch a new online service or buy a franchise is simply astounding. As one such person bluntly put it, “If I don’t invest in myself now, where else can I invest to get a better return?”
I even had one client who wanted to open a chain of gyms — gyms! — and not just one but several. They will be based on an exercise format that (according to him) encourages social distancing and will give him an advantage over his more traditional competitors, where people sweat and drool all over one another.
I would propose that these courageous people be added to the list of “pandemic heroes” along with hospital and healthcare workers, teachers, long-haul truck drivers and the others who have kept our economy lurching along this year. Their sheer guts in the face of adversity make me proud. I pray every evening for their success, and I will gladly stand aside so they can get the vaccine before I do.
This is going to sound weird, but one of the most positive things to come out of the pandemic is that it is making Americans more aware of adversity and the fragility of human existence. 9/11 was a horrible event, but it only directly impacted a small percentage of the population, and it was only a few months until the shock wore off. This affects all of us. It is likely to last another year or two, and it will make permanent changes in the way we conduct business and live our lives.
From about 1950 until now, Americans have been living in a bubble, with no wars, famine, pestilence or other major challenges. Yes, there was Vietnam, Iraq and the occasional terrorist attack, but the vast majority of us just watched them on television. The really bad stuff always happened overseas in a country far, far away. In the words of 1960s-era folk singer Phil Ochs, “I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.”
Fully three generations of American have grown up not knowing what real deprivation and sacrifice really meant. One neighbor of mine said that when she visited her grocery store in mid-March, it was the first time she had seen empty store shelves since coming to the United States from Soviet Russia 30 years ago.
Adversity is a gift: As the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Having no choice makes it easier for you to take on the entrepreneurial challenge that will make you finally independent, help you get control of your life and (maybe) create a legacy for future generations.
The best advice you will ever get for 2021 is advice I received as a college student from a retired Marine colonel: “If you want something badly enough, you will get it badly enough.”
Get out there, grit your teeth, crash through that wall and get the job done, whatever it is. If I can help, please don’t hesitate to call or email. I always have time for heroes.
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series “Money Hunt
COPYRIGHT 2021 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.
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