Navigating a small business through a pandemic. That is a topic I never thought I would be reflecting on, yet that is exactly what the last few months have brought: reflection. Reflection and a lot of adapting, pivoting and changing.
AChallenge to Embrace
As with many others, every aspect of our business has been affected by COVID-19—our two brick-and-mortar stores, the party rooms where customers would celebrate events, our invitation and graphic design division, and of course, the wedding and event planning side. I always thought multiple revenue streams would build our business for the long term. Unfortunately, when each revenue stream relies on bringing people together at a time when that is the exact thing we cannot do, the toll it takes is daunting.
Words I have long held onto became my mantra for this year: “Get better, not bitter.” I posted this to social media the first night of our closure—not only to share my feelings, but to hold myself accountable to embrace its meaning. It was also a challenge to our followers that maybe they too could embrace during this overwhelming season of life.
While I am exhausted by phrases like “pivot,” it is what we’ve spent the better part of the year doing. We leaned in to adapting our sales strategies to move from brick-and-mortar to a solely online experience. Though we had a website long before the shutdown, we never planned on it becoming our sole revenue stream. Virtually overnight, we became exclusively ecommerce-based. We became packing and shipping experts, diving into SEO and website optimization, and figuring out every possible way to serve our customers.
Not knowing how long shelter-in-place would last or what kind of financial future we were in for, I laid off my team. That was, and likely will forever be, the most gut-wrenching business decision I have made. In a blink, I went from a team of 10 incredible women with two brick-and-mortar locations to a team of one working out of the backroom, fighting to keep the businesses afloat. While I worked harder and longer than I did pre-pandemic, I came home at night feeling supported by our customers and our team, who were constantly checking in. One by one, I was able to bring them back until we eventually had our entire team back. That is a privilege that is not lost on me.
Following the Journey
People ask what has gotten us through it all and are surprised when my answer is social media. Social media kept our customers and supporters connected and following the journey. I have always shared openly about the ups and downs of small business, but people were truly invested as we navigated each day of the pandemic. I shared the heavy things—like when a leak in the roof ruined over $1,000 of product when our inventory was already lean. I shared my heartbreak on the day before Mother’s Day, usually one of our biggest days of the year, when we were relegated to curbside pickup only.
I also made sure to share the light moments—silly antics like donning a sunshine costume after selling over 5,000 sunshine cards, a pogo stick after that first chaotic day of curbside pickups, and stories of items being gifted by our customers to their loved ones.
I always enjoy when customers say, “I love how honest you’ve been through all of this!” I smile to myself because I cannot imagine any other way to be. I believe people cannot support you if they don’t know your story, and the only way for them to know it is to tell it in the most authentic way possible.
Here is what I did not see coming: While we were fighting to stay afloat, our customers fought right alongside us. They did this by ordering and spending their money with us, sending care packages to loved ones, writing supportive messages on social media, dropping off little gifts to encourage us, and spreading the word about how we were trying to serve our customers.
In some ways, being shut down for those 79 days strengthened our relationships with our customers, our team and other small businesses. We were all fighting because we wanted the same thing: to reopen and be what we were before. It soon became clear that because of this deepened support, our businesses might just make it out of the pandemic stronger than ever. Not stronger in all ways, but in some very powerful ones.
A Real Gift
Since reopening in June, our customers have continued to support us in whatever way they’re most comfortable—whether in-store shopping, curbside pickups or shipping their orders. We remain committed to serving them in whatever way they want or need. We must take care of those who take care of us.
Our gift as a small business is that it is real. Real people, real stories, real impact, and most importantly, a very real community that rallies around us when we need it most. Another shutdown has been heavy on our minds—and while we certainly are not inviting it, we now know we have a community that is ready and willing to join us in the fight. PM