optimismContributed by Greg DeLine, president and CEO of DeLine Holdings.

COVID-19 was the stealthy rival no one saw coming. As entrepreneurs, we face challenges throughout our careers, but we don’t spend a lot of time planning what we’ll do during and after a global pandemic. Yet here we are.

In recent months, small business leaders around the world have faced the toughest decisions of their careers. Nearly 40 percent of respondents in a National Small Business Association poll said they were worried about staying afloat much longer after losing income and customers due to COVID-19.

I understand their concerns. Nevertheless, I’m a firm believer that this is not just a turning point for businesses, but a learning point, too.

Why the optimism? We’ve been given a chance to learn and grow. We’ve been forced to slow down and notice those bright spots that sometimes get pushed aside. For example, families are staying home together. And that’s been an opportunity to cut out after-school activities and drop the commutes. Parents and children are reconnecting.

Yes, there is an upside—even if it’s balanced by the very real chaos of quarantine and concerns around the virus. 

4 Opportunities for Growth During a Pandemic

No one knows what the next few months will bring. To make bold choices despite the business-related challenges you face, I recommend considering these hopeful (yet pragmatic) opportunities.

1. An opportunity to lead with compassion and set an example.

COVID-19 has made downsizing seem almost normal. It doesn’t have to be.

The best advice for business owners I can give: Listen to your heart. Your employees appreciate when you speak and act from a point of empathy. If you’ve avoided layoffs, don’t start now. I’ve been an employer for 35 years, and the last thing I want to do is furlough talent.

You might think you have no choice but to get rid of workers. When someone tells me that, however, I respond, “Are you sure?” There certainly has to be one more cost you could cut. Under these circumstances, entrepreneurs become focused, intentional and highly creative.

So before issuing pink slips, gather your key players to brainstorm ways to sacrifice elsewhere to save staff positions. Educate yourself on what other companies are doing to hold onto their human resources at all costs. You’ll sleep better—and so will your trusted employees.

2. An opportunity to trim fat from your budget.

Listen to your heart, but make sure your head gets in the game. This is especially critical when talking about finances—one of small business owners’ biggest challenges anyway.

You can affect your business’s bottom line two ways over the coming quarters: by increasing revenue or decreasing expenses. Increasing revenue might be challenging right now, so concentrate your efforts on money management.

This isn’t high-level stuff. If you take more money out than you put in, you’ll go under. Therefore, budget wisely and question everything: Are marketing efforts producing healthy returns? Are your investments smart decisions?

In the U.S., the Federal Reserve indicated in spring that 83 percent of businesses it had surveyed had less than three months’ runway without an infusion of cash. Instead of hoping for a huge bid, imagine clever ways to make do if your incoming revenue remains stagnant.

3. An opportunity to update your safety standards.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s coronavirus protection guidelines are as clear as day. Follow them and play it smart. I understand the importance of keeping the economy chugging along, but the only way to get COVID-19 cases to near-zero is by mitigating the spread of the virus.

Limit your capacity, encourage mask-wearing, practice social distancing, scrub down your offices daily and make hand sanitizer available to employees and customers. Use this time to make your commitment to health and safety a selling point and differentiator in the market.

At the same time, educate nonstop. We’ve posted notices so everyone who enters the building gets a quick refresher on health-related protocol. It sounds silly, but we can all forget the rules. Sometimes, I’ll mindlessly get too close to someone and have to correct myself. We need to retrain ourselves so we all feel more comfortable and secure.

4. An opportunity to join the front lines.

At my company, I’m not just the top dog. I’m the head cook and bottle washer, too. I’m not too proud to do the things that I once thought bosses didn’t do. Not a day goes by that I don’t do multiple things that aren’t on my job description. When your teams see you getting your hands dirty, they respond in kind. This time is a great opportunity to get to know your employees and colleagues in new ways, working side by side.

Think about other front lines: your community and its people. Give whatever you can in whatever amount or form that makes sense. The Bible notes that “God loves a cheerful giver,” and you don’t need to be religious to appreciate that sentiment.

Get into the mindset of being philanthropic—even if that means offering time or talent instead of dollars. Your workers will follow the lead, potentially driving commerce through your acts of compassion and goodwill.

You’re experiencing some of the most unprecedented challenges for small businesses. Learn from them. Find the golden nuggets of wisdom. What you discover will make you a stronger, more competent entrepreneur ready to face leadership in difficult times.

The president and CEO of DeLine Holdings, Greg DeLine is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Greg has started and owned more than a dozen successful companies. He has a passion for relationships and helping others reach their full potential. 

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