Pandemic Survival Woman Holding Folders

The First Pandemic Is Incredibly Hard for Business Owners

The first time you do something, it’s usually surprising how hard the thing is. 

This is probably your first run at a pandemic.  There’s no handbook on how to deal with it.  You’re not alone (an observation which is not helpful!).  And, it’s hard.

Chances are, you’re experiencing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that surprise you.  If you own a business, are a parent, are an active member of your community, and have an extended family – your plate is full.  You don’t have the bandwidth to deal with surprises.

So, here’s what you may be going through:

  • Shock, anger, denial
  • Moodiness, sadness, grief
  • Confusion, shame, guilt
  • Frustration, fear, hyper-vigilance
  • Restlessness, fatigue, sleep disturbance
  • Anxiety, eating more (or less)
  • Stomach upset, muscle tension

If you have a family business, your entire family may feel threatened.  If you are a small business, your way of life may be crumbling before your very eyes.  If you are a founder, business owner, or C-Suiter, your responsibilities may have changed dramatically in the last few weeks.  Every action, or abdication of responsibility, may directly impact the well-being of at least one other person.  That’s hard.

It’s hard to know what’s the secret to surviving this world gone sideways.  It’s hard to know where to turn. 

Pandemic Survival Woman Holding Folders

Here’s what I’ve observed: the businesses, and business owners, that survive this have a long term goal that guides them through the panic.  Let me tell you what I’m talking about.

One of my clients, a business owner with a brick and mortar store, had started working with me to make sure that when she was ready to sell her business, she had a business that was worthy of selling.  She had an exit strategy and several new initiatives on the drawing board to add value to the business over time.

Then, the world went to hell in a matter of days.

Here’s what she had to say in an email about 10 days after the pandemic became real to her:

I had to let my staff go so that I could conserve money and continue to pay my bookkeeper who is essential.  I have one staff member who is volunteering her time to help me get kits together to sell online.  I’m sitting in the store during business hours to let customers, one at a time, do virtual shopping with Face Time.  It’s our new normal for the time being, and I wasn’t prepared.  I’m having to make decisions very quickly.

I’m a planner, and I’m struggling with the feelings that I have to have it all together right now! I’m trying to control the panic.  We’ll get through this, right?

This business owner is working incredibly hard. She’s assessing, aligning, acting, and accomplishing. She’s using tactics to achieve her goal of surviving this pandemic.

Other clients are also working hard yet, have gotten stuck in the assessing or aligning stages.  They seem to be fighting through their emotions, are bogged down in their thoughts, and unable to take action.  Some business owners are paralyzed – waiting for rescue, the perfect plan, or to wake up from what must be a nightmare.

But, my client is going to make it!  She’s making the most of each opportunity.  Here is excerpt from her most recent email:

Things are definitely hard.  I’m applying for the SBA loan as soon as my bank puts up the link, and I also applied for a grant through Verizon.  I should hear next week if I’m accepted or not.  We have over 75% of the inventory now online, and I hope we’ll have it all there by the end of next week.  I have two employees helping and they won’t let me pay them.  Their generosity just blows me away.  

We’ll get through this, I know, but I just hope to come out on the other side in pretty good shape.  I want my normal back!

Undoubtedly, EVERYONE wants their normal back.  The question is, how to get there?  Here’s a plan to get started.  I’ve also included resources in my recent blog post you can use to create your own plan to get moving. 

First, assess.  Define the external and internal factors impacting you, your customers, supply chain, employees.

Second, align.  Write down your values, purpose, value proposition, and goals.  Identify how each aligns with the other, or doesn’t.  Use this information to create guardrails around your decisions to take action in the next two steps.  Don’t skip this step.  It’s important.

Third, identify possible actions.  List those that align with your assessments and those that don’t.  Explore the possible consequences of each.  Separate those that bring you closer to your goals, and develop tactics assigned to specific people.  Then, prioritize.  You don’t have unlimited resources and need to act on the ones that are most important.

Fourth, execute the actions and record the accomplishments as well as lessons learned from those that didn’t meet your expectations.


4 Steps to Pandemic Survival

Repeat this process as often as needed until the end of the pandemic.  Ideally, you and your employees (including those that may be off the payroll during this time) will generate the energy needed to create the momentum your business needs to survive.  Then, get ready to do it again during the next wave later this year because it looks like it will be back.

Finally, if you need a jumpstart, I’m offering free coaching to business owners throughout the month of April.  Call me at 804-372-7575 to schedule a free session.  You can also email me at


Strategyzer’s Business Plan canvas Model

Preparing Your Business For a Post-Pandemic World” by Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter, April 10, 2020, HBR.

Wendy Dickinson

About the Author

Wendy Dickinson is the founder of Ascend Coaching Solutions LLC, a coaching firm that specializes in working with business owners and executives who plan to expand their leadership capacity as their business grows.

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