I have always wondered when I would reach my limit on Hallmark holiday movies and their very predictable happily ever afters. It turned out to be Dec. 23, about 7:35 in the evening. I could take no more.
So I turned the channel and happened upon the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. If you’ve never heard of Cornley Polytechnic, I hope you’ll check them out. Their plays are hilarious as everything goes wrong, from malfunctioning props and crashing sets to forgotten lines and some of the worst acting the stage has ever seen.
All these mishaps reminded me of the small business world these days. We’d love to go about counting our money like Scrooge. But everything keeps going wrong, from unpredictable supply chains and inventory shortages to a pandemic that just won’t relegate itself to the past.
Like Scrooge, we’re still haunted. This time, by the Ghost of Business Past, that pesky virus that just won’t go away. It’s as if we’re caught in a sordid mashup of A Christmas Carol and Groundhog’s Day. All that’s missing is Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You Babe” as we wake up to face another day of uncertainty, one that looked a lot like the day before.
Business does not exactly flourish on uncertainty. As much as we would love to look forward to a lasting visit from the Ghost of Business Future, we seem to be endlessly stuck in a continuously recycled past; 2021 became 2020: Part Deaux and who knows what 2022 will be like. My only hope is that COVID will finally finish all the lines it has to deliver and exit stage left, never to return. At least Scrooge’s ghosts had the decency to all drop in on a single night.
And yet, there’s a reason why this story of a miserly old humbug – no matter the telling – still resonates with us nearly 180 years after it was first put to paper. Some of its lessons are still as valid today as they were back in Dickens’ time.
Save your money. Scrooge overdid it in the saving department, but he was onto something. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that a crisis is a matter of when, not if. Whether it’s a global pandemic, wildfire or flood, there will always be a potential threat to our businesses and livelihood. As you recover and rebuild, remember to save for that inevitable rainy (or whatever) day.
You are not an island unto yourself. Before COVID, it was easy for a business to be focused on itself and its customers. To survive today, small businesses need to realize they are part of a larger community and dependent on that community to survive and thrive. We’re all part of something much bigger than ourselves. The quality of the communities that surround us is as important as the success of our business. As this pandemic has shown, we depend upon one another more than we know.
Leave the past in the past. Those heady days before COVID are long gone. Wishing for their return is a waste of time and spirit. The trajectory of the global economy has changed, and small businesses must change with it. Consumers have grown used to ordering for pickup or delivery. They’ve learned to love online shopping and outdoor dining. They are more comfortable with the technology that makes it all possible, from Alexa and Siri to grab-and-go checkouts. Embrace the changes and find out how you can capitalize on them. Don’t let the world pass you by.
Be kind to the Cratchits in your world. As we’ve learned all too well during the Great Resignation, workers are becoming more vocal about their working conditions, compensation, security and safety. Continue to examine your work environment to ensure you’re following the latest health guidelines. Yes, it may be a real pain to check the vaccination status of your customers or to test your employees, but it may just be the thing that keeps your overworked staff from quitting with little to no notice.
While you’re at it, you may want to review your compensation and benefits package. That’s not to say that more money is the answer, though few would argue that the lowest-paid strata of the workforce deserve a living wage. Today’s workers also want flexible work schedules, more affordable healthcare plans, the ability to shift work schedules to accommodate family needs and a more appreciative boss who understands that throughout this nightmare, they still showed up, even when their own health was on the line.
Cast away the shackles that bind. We’ve all been through a lot in the last two years with COVID. You may have had to lay off staff, reduce hours, close doors either temporarily or permanently. Your own wages may have taken a hit since you’re usually the last to be paid. You may have remorse, feel guilty or wish you could have done something different.
Start the new year with forgiveness. Forgive yourself first, then forgive others. It’s one of the best gifts we humans have, largely because it’s a gift we give ourselves. No one is perfect. We are all trying to do the best we can in exceptional times. This is new territory for all of us, and the Ghost of Business Past looks like he may be here for a while longer. If you’ve been focused on others all this time, take some time to focus on yourself and your well-being. Even Bob Cratchit got a day off.
Somewhere north of the Emerald City, wondering who is knocking on my door at this hour,