Starting Your Business During a Pandemic

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As a small business owner myself, I know that—for anyone feeling crushed by the day-to-day of an aimless office job—the dream of quitting and becoming their own boss can be downright tantalizing. When I finally decided to leave my own dead-end situation more than half a decade ago, the hope that I’d someday be in control of my own life kept me pushing forward, even when the road felt long and impassable. Finally, after years of hard work, the obstacles dissolved, and I sprinted headlong down a fulfilling career path for the first time. More years passed, and I built my client base enough to develop my business—a small, private gym that provided personal training, nutrition coaching, and a holistic approach to health—into the successful venture I’d always envisioned for myself. That all came to a screeching halt at the outset of the pandemic, but I was able to quickly adapt all of my company’s services to an entirely online platform. I’m working hard to keep my business up and running, even while my physical gym location remains rightfully closed. However—having learned that my business can flourish online even during these uncertain times—would I ever have risked starting up my business during the pandemic? For my peers out there who have always dreamed of letting their entrepreneurial spirits run wild, is now the time to seize the day?

A Cautionary Tale

Although I have no direct experience in opening a business during a worldwide pandemic (thankfully, I got mine going a good five years prior), I do have a tangential perspective of the “flipside” of a newfound business venture in the midst of madness: not too long ago, my brother was in the process of selling his business to a hopeful entrepreneur and retiring with his wife at the end of March. Yes, this March.

Someone was interested in buying his business lock, stock, and URL, and was in agreement with his terms. In every respect, this was the dream retirement plan—my brother had been very dedicated to his customers, and he owned the premiere shop of its kind in the Southwest; the sale would have allowed his former customers to be served seamlessly under the business’ new management—as a sign of the utmost respect for what my brother had built (and to make sure that the new owner kept all of my brother’s former clients), the purchaser was even going to keep the original business name. He hired a professional company to grant them a business valuation that ensured that they’d be selling at a fair price that reflected the company’s true value.

Unfortunately, in this current climate, the sale evaporated. The purchaser can no longer get a small business loan under the current terms because they do not currently have a small business—they were instead trying to start one. By the time that the economy comes back into full-swing (sometime by the end of the year, or perhaps even later), his purchaser will probably have given up on the idea of owning a small business: my brother is under the impression that moving forward, he will have to completely dissolve the business—piece by piece—and sell the building that housed it at a reduced price. The only bright light at the end of that tunnel is that my brother started selling off his inventory before the virus struck, and he was able to accumulate enough cash to last for this year, and possibly the next. Thankfully, he had accumulated his inventory on a “pay as you go” basis and so everything he sold—no matter how reduced—ended up as pure profit.

Should You Go For It?

The point of my brother’s sad tale is two-fold: although it’s unfortunate that the sale did not go through, he was running a specific kind of company: the type that required a brick-and-mortar building, plenty of manufacturing equipment, and products to sell to keep in business. I think it’s fair to say that the type of business that needs that sort of infrastructure in place to succeed might not be viable at the moment. However, for my own personal training business, I’ve been able to adapt to the modern moment. If you’ve got a business in mind that can meet the needs of its customers through a simplistic, online format, then there might not be any time like the socially-distanced present to get started.

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