The storm clouds of a global pandemic are hovering over us as I write this. All the long-range plans of businesses large and small have gone out the window as a once-bustling economy unexpectedly ground to a halt just six short weeks ago.

Which leads us to wonder: Where do we go from here?

The near-term answer is we’re not exactly sure. The economy doesn’t have a switch you turn on and off. It’s more like a dial that you turn slowly. The good news is that some construction and outdoor recreation activities are restarting now and other industries are in the queue.

Social distancing will become the new norm for most businesses. Stores, restaurants and shop floors will need to adopt new standards of cleanliness. Small establishments may have to restrict traffic, metering the number of people allowed to shop, eat or drink at a time.

All of us will have to learn to become more resilient, especially if there’s a second or even third wave. Businesses will not only need to find new ways to grow and prosper in the midst of an uncertain future, but find ways to emerge on the other side, smarter and more agile.

This requires small business owners to learn new skill sets, adopt new ways of thinking, teach employees a new way to work, and learn how to walk that fine line between making a buck and saving for the next rainy day.

As hard as things seem now, they may get even harder down the road. As more data becomes available, we may struggle through hardships that we could never have imagined just a few months ago. Our mettle as business people, employers and entrepreneurs will be tested at every turn.

During the 20 years that I ran my own business, I’ve battled cutthroat competition, seismic shifts in the marketplace, the ups and downs of two recessions, and sleepless nights and weeks when I didn’ know where the next dollar was going to come from.

Still, I persevered. Even today, I can’t help but think about where the next business opportunities will be as we conquer this virus. I’ve been blessed (or cursed) with the heart and soul of an entrepreneur.

As we grapple with this new normal, business owners and leaders need to tap into the spirit of entrepreneurship and drive that caused them to go into business in the first place. As we all know, small businesses are the engine that drives this nation, fuels innovation and creates jobs. The state’s economy – and the future of workers in communities large and small – depends on small businesses to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and reimagine and rebuild again.

If your business is no longer viable, it’s time to create a new endeavor, one that fits the new world are entering. If you can restart, it’s time to rethink the way you are doing business to accommodate the shifting marketplace and changing customer expectations.

To help you embark on this journey, we have developed several programs and online resources to spur ideation for new enterprises, get you back on track once you’re given the green light to open and increase the resiliency of your business.

Back to Work Planner

To help you reopen your business after you’ve been cleared to do so, we’ve put together a helpful series of checklists that you can use before and during your reopening cycle. We’re also hard at work on a second planner that prepares you for the possibility of having to reduce or close operations down the road if another wave strikes, hopefully with less pain and anguish.

ScaleUp: The COVID Edition

Geared toward “mom and pop” businesses that have revenues over $100,000, ScaleUp is an online series that focuses on finances, business systems, marketing and operations in a pandemic world. The virtual classroom is a combination of training sessions, roundtables and small group discussions for up to 100 business owners. It is based on the Thurston Center for Business Innovation’s highly successful ScaleUp program, but with an emphasis on resiliency, especially in light of COVID-19. Registration opens Thursday, April 30 at 10 a.m.

Washington Peerspectives®

This new pilot program is designed for mid-size, second-stage companies that face similar challenges in a pandemic-afflicted economy. CEOs can share ideas, best practices and perspectives in a private, open forum limited to 15 decision-makers. Developed in partnership with the Edward Lowe Foundation, the three two-hour video conferences offer business leaders the chance to connect on issues that are affecting resiliency and growth strategies.

The Business Startup Playbook

If you’re starting over or starting a business for the first time, our Playbook will walk you through all the steps, complete with helpful tips and hints that will help you open an run a successful business, all in a lively sports-themed format, complete with your own coach.


Commerce’s Rural, Small Business & Marketing Programs unit is working on two other small business programs, one focused on decision-making in times of crisis and one that teaches entrepreneurship to workers who are starting over.

Thriving in Challenging Times is a lead-in program to Thrive!, designed to help second-stage companies achieve exponential growth. In this roundtable, business leaders learn about the brain’s instinctual response to a crisis and how to use it to improve decision-making, move beyond the crisis stage and re-energize and refocus the organization to turn challenges into new opportunities. The two-hour online sessions are conducted over the course of three days by experts from the Edward Lowe Foundation. When it’s ready to go, you’ll find it on our Startup Roundtable page.

Our Entrepreneurship Masterclass, So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur, is designed to teach the basics of how to start a business in Washington State. When launched this summer, it will feature informative sessions with successful entrepreneurs, a lesson-by-lesson workbook, quizzes and virtual networking opportunities with classmates. The self-guided online coursework will provide you with invaluable insights, tips and secrets about being a successful entrepreneur in Washington State.

All of these programs can be accessed on Commerce’s site for small businesses and entrepreneurs – and are free.

Somewhere in Washington State, helping our small businesses succeed in difficult times. Stay safe! Stay healthy!

  • Robb