“This will taint your reputation.” - She promised.
Tomorrow will mark three weeks since my business closed. I’ve gone through what I can understand for myself as “stages of quarantine.” These are my stages, the last one is what the title of this blog is about.
On March 12th (a week before closure) I emailed my team on my growing concern with the latest developments in regards to COVID-19. The World Health Organization had declared it a “pandemic”. In my communication to my them, I expressed all the ways in which we needed to ensure the safety of ourselves as well as our clients and I offered to them the option to stay home. These working women are tremendous, and I was not surprised everyone felt strongly about staying on.
Fast forward to March 16th, the governor required a Statewide closure of all (NEs - as I like to call the bunch of us) non-essential businesses. While I expected it, it was still shocking to hear it, read it and LIVE IT. I remember texting Rico (my husband) “Is this it?” then going on to having what I could only describe as a panic or anxiety attack. I’m the type of person who wants answers yesterday and certainty about everything around me.
[Inhale] Shut-down-mode is no joke. Call, text and/or email every client, let the staff know of the latest updates, set the alarm, close the door, make sure nothing is left “on” or connected. The first stay-at-home order set the timeline to two weeks. Reach out to insurance agent and accountant; what do we do next? Lay off your team so that they can apply for Unemployment Benefits. Contact team. Hope for the best, deep breaths, then finally think of home, my son… school is closed, does my husband still have a job?
[Exhale] It’ll be fine, it’s only two weeks, (“We’re being dramatic”) I should be able to make next week’s payroll. The highlight of those two weeks were watching and later celebrating one of my best friends get married remotely. I teared up when both her and her dad danced by themselves in their respective homes, alone-but-together. Love transcends adversity in ways we sometimes find impossible to comprehend. One of my brothers had a birthday and we took up long-distance-walking!
I can only explain weeks one and two as a blur, going through the motions, sleeping in a bit later, wondering if my son would be able to handle the new normal, but somewhat excited to “catch-up” on HBO’s The Wire and learn how to play Mah-Jongg. Then two weeks turned into three and a new order from the State determined that all NEs were to remain closed through April 30th.
My business can sure survive two to three weeks of this but an additional month? HOLY SH*T! That’s when it really hit, after all, I am responsible not only as a mom and wife at home, but also as a business owner of a company that employs six other individuals. Set up individual meetings with my team, lay it all out. Transparency has always been important to me, let them know where the business is at, suggest possible outcomes, some of them ask hard questions, hard answers break me down but the truth is key during hard times.
I’ve never been much of a pessimist but the third week allowed me to see a clear picture of the threat that COVID-19 possess to my business of nine years, the threat to my livelihood, and most importantly the threat to our collective health. Emotionally I feel like I’m in a downward spiral, I recognize that I’m feeling depressed and I try to practice the tools I once helped my son learn when he was first diagnosed with generalized anxiety; What can you hear, what can you see, what can you touch, what can you smell, what can you feel. Repeat!
As some may or may not know, the reality of a contractor, or a small business owner is one that differs from an employee, yes, we are all struggling but, access to funds is different. Initially, the help that comes to us is in the form of loans, not Unemployment, going into more debt is not the same as receiving Unemployment Benefits. Accept that reality, then call business creditors and service providers and see if and where expenses can be lowered and/or cut altogether. The answer I’m getting from all of them is consistent across the board, deposits that have been made cannot be returned, inventory cannot be sent back, liability insurance cannot be lowered, services like internet, POS and security cannot be canceled without having to pay a hefty fine. Student loans and business line of credit will defer but not forgive payments or lower interest rates. Calling any and all of my service providers with my head bowed and my fingers crossed is what I’ve been left with over the past week. Waking up to the reality of the world, makes me aware of how much everything is changing and while I’m hopeful, I’m learning to keep my expectations low and the new realities I, along with everyone else, will have to face daily.
This past Friday I went back to my business, it was therapeutic, we cleaned. The cleaning was done alongside my mother whom I have not kissed or hugged in three weeks. I miss her so much! That same day I also received a text message from a long-time client. In it she asked to “confirm how reimbursement would be issued for the 1/2 used membership in the month of March” the response she was given was one that was neither prepared in haste nor by impulse. In it I explained that the unused portion of her membership could not be refunded, that our business had gone through dramatic and unprecedented changes in a short period of time. However, we were eager and looking forward to fulfilling our end of the bargain and will no-doubt honor her unused appointment in the future.
Because I’m not blind to the fact that many of our patrons could be many of the 6.6 million Americans who filed for unemployment over the past three weeks, I realize that perhaps the last thing on their minds is getting their lashes, nails or hair done. With that in mind, I offered for her to use the remainder on any retail product at any time, without expiration.
Her reply to my email is one that I will always carry with me, because it has been invaluable in this stage: “This will taint your reputation” - it was a promise!
Trust me, as a business owner I’ve been on the side of anger a handful of times over the past 9 years, this however, has hurt differently. Perhaps it’s because I’m low on defenses, or because my business has dwindled to virtually nothing over the past three weeks. I realize that it hurt different because the past few weeks have been transformative. No! I have not done any of what Gwyneth Paltrow suggested we do now that we’re in quarantine, like learn a new language or take a free online course, or exercise or attend webinars on lash extension applications or God knows what else. I have ZERO motivation to do any of that! I’m not spending time trying to capitalize on COVID-19, or curb-side a certain aspect of my business. I’m spending time on myself, my mental health, my inner-strength, my appreciation of home, my husband, my family in Europe, Australia and South America, I’ve had enough time to picture myself without both: my family and my business. There’s only one of those I couldn’t live without.
More and more I remember how I started my business, the essential job I left as a bilingual intake worker at the Office of Public Welfare, how it all began, how that was a time of personal growth more than anything else. Starting my business gave me purpose, I’m finding purpose anew.
My client’s promise of a tainted reputation during the most horrific and also most formative time of my life and perhaps all of our lives collectively, is a promise I take as a challenge, a challenge in which no picture needs to be posted, no tag needs to be added, no post needs to be shared. It’s rather a challenge in humility, patience, empathy and love. Love for one another, and empathy for the fact that we are all going through a complicated, shitty, challenging, hectic, stressful, depressing time and that some may have it worse than others. I choose to sympathize with my aggressor, I agree with her, that it seems unfair and unreasonable and disgusting. I refuse to agree however, with the idea that the reason most of us feel like we’re not being given “a break” during such desperate times, is because people want to do us harm. I want to believe that people are good by nature and that we are being tested as a community of citizens of the world. If my response to her request (which mirrors responses from businesses around the world) is one that will taint my reputation during this unbelievable time, then I accept it. I hope it doesn’t! but truth be told, it’s character, not reputation what’s been building since March 12th, 2020.
If you’re a small business owner, one of the 6.6 million people on unemployment, or worse yet, one of the many affected by Covid-19. Anger, disbelief, and uncertainty are shared by almost everyone around you. Be kind to one another, judge less, choose love, friendship and understanding during this time. I think it’s safe to say that our collective experience over the past few weeks has shown us how fragile we are. Death is the equalizer. The challenge for us all I believe, is to move forward despite that understanding.
Be safe and stay healthy everyone!