Small businesses are facing increasing challenges as the fourth wave of the pandemic looms. New statistics published by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) reports small businesses owe an average of $170,000 and that number almost doubles to $333,174 for businesses in the hospitality sector.
Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of national affairs at CFIB, says repaying this debt will be the next major challenge as businesses head into the uncertainty of the fall. “It’s so incredibly important for consumers to really think about making a purchase at a smaller company rather than through Amazon or Walmart,” adds Ms. Pohlmann. “It’s the small businesses on Main Street that make a place unique.”
Despite the headlines, entrepreneurs have remained resilient during this economic roller coaster brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Keeping contact with customers – seeing them walk in, seeing the impact that you have on your customers and your neighbourhood – keeps us positive and optimistic,” says coffee shop and bakery owner Billy Dertillis, who co-owns Red Rocket Coffee in Toronto with his brother, Ellias.
Mr. Dertillis’ positivity reflects a November, 2020 survey published by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). The organization reports 45 per cent of entrepreneurs feel under control at work and 19 per cent feel all is well, while 7 per cent feel overwhelmed and 29 per cent say their feelings vary from day to day.
“[Small business owners] have been incredibly resilient. The fact that we’re now 17 months into the pandemic and there are some businesses that have been closed for more than 300 days in certain parts of the country, the ability for many of those to still reopen and operate and feel optimistic, is inspiring,” adds Ms. Pohlman.
“Staying connected to other entrepreneurs and sharing their struggles definitely helps. A problem shared is indeed a problem halved,” says Linda Adimora, the owner of Batiqua, a social enterprise based in Chilliwack, B.C. that specializes in artisan textiles from Zimbabwe.
Ms. Adimora has relied on her family, friends and local Business Improvement Association (BIA) to weather the ups and downs of the economy. “Family and community support cannot be emphasized enough. There is a lot of solidarity in the local entrepreneurial network [and] resources available through the local chamber [of commerce], and BIA has been a great support,” she adds.
As the chair of the Danforth BIA in Toronto’s east end, Mr. Dertillis has facilitated neighbourhood businesses by directing them to government resources and making the area more attractive with live music permits, improved bike lanes, and reducing traffic to one lane each way “to slow down traffic and create a move livable, walkable and shoppable retail strip.”
However, when it comes to mental health services, Ms. Pohlman admits resources are lacking. “I don’t think there’s a lot of emotional support. Governments are set up to provide financing and practical things that [small businesses] need to continue to operate their business.”
As he’s facing the fourth wave, Mr. Dertillis stays positive by embracing his neighbourhood roles as a BIA member and business owner. “The focus of a coffee shop is to be the anchor for a neighbourhood. If I think beyond myself and remember my community-driven purpose, it helps me snap out of a negative mindset,” he explains.
Alex Danino is the owner of Rooney, a designer men’s and women’s boutique in Old Montreal. He’s pivoted to e-commerce at rooneyshop.com to overcome future retail disruptions resulting from the pandemic. “Luckily, it appears that with the introduction of the new vaccine passport in Montreal, vaccinated individuals will be free to continue life in a relatively normal capacity and this will in turn help all businesses,” he adds.
When it comes to maintaining his mental health, Mr. Danino relies on the support of his family and employees along with the emotional benefit of daily exercise. “There’s no real substitute for what exercise can do for morale,” he says.
“I prioritize taking care of myself,” adds Ms. Adimora. “As a natural nurturer, running a social enterprise, it’s easy to prioritize others but I have quickly learned that you cannot pour out from an empty cup.”
Dr. Joti Samra, the chief executive officer and founder of MyWorkplaceHealth, a consulting firm with a team of psychological health and safety experts, says self-care is one of many steps entrepreneurs should actively engage in, especially since their job requires being a jack of all trades. “In a small business, the owner-operator is running many roles like manager, payroll and finance. There’s much less cushion with a company of five or 10 people, versus a company of 100, to tolerate change or loss,” she explains.
Dr. Samra has strategic advice to share with small business owners. To help lower stress and anxiety as the pandemic persists, she suggests trying these mood-boosting habits:
- Find a confidant, business leader or mentor to discuss challenges from a mutual place of understanding and lessen feelings of loneliness.
- Be transparent with your team. Let them know the reasons for your business decisions so they understand your feelings as you navigate the crisis.
- Minimize self-medication such as alcohol consumption for stress, anxiety and mood issues.
- Commit to your sleep health. “When stress and anxiety are high, sleep is off,” explains the mental health pro.
- Hit the pause button. At some point of the day, put your phone away and take a physical and mental break for 20 minutes, even if you are going back to work.