This column is written by Scott Crockatt, Vice President of Alberta’s Business Council.
When the 2013 flood hit Alberta, it forced more than 7,000 businesses in the area to shut down, ruined millions of inventory and property, and sucked hard-earned income down the sewer.
The history of similar disasters around the world painted a very frightening picture for these small businesses. Statistics from the US told us that 40 percent would not survive.
It was unacceptable to the people watching the disaster in southern Alberta.
I was fortunate to be part of a task force made up of more than a dozen community organizations tasked with reversing this. I spoke to second-hand clothing stores, postage stamp makers, and art galleries.
They told me heartbreaking stories about the love, sweat, and tears they had poured into their businesses for years. It was overwhelming to see her on the verge of failure.
Over the past two weeks we’ve heard eerily similar stories from business owners who aren’t sure what to do or if their businesses can survive. I’m here to say that the lessons we learned from the flood and subsequent disasters can help your businesses recover.
If you are one of these business owners, there is hope and this is for you.
To get started, there are three calls every small business should make: to your banker, to your landlord, and to your insurance company.
I will break everyone down.
Know that your bank wants to help you. They have been given specific tools and instructions from the government to help you out. Every banker I’ve spoken to says they really want your call. They want to use every tool in their toolbox to help your company stay in business. Do it. It’s going to be a lot better than you think.
After wages, rent is often the second largest cost factor for a company. Your landlord wants to hear from you too. It is beneficial for your landlord to give you a few months of free or deferred rent. This is a low cost compared to an open position in this market. I hear from landlords that they get the call too often too late – only after the closed sign has opened.
Your insurance company
I admit, when I ran a small business, the first and last time I looked at our corporate insurance was the day we bought it. Dust off your policy and give your insurance company a call. You may be entitled to compensation for some of your losses, especially if you have business interruption insurance.
It might not be a flood, but the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could be just as devastating for Calgary business owners. But there is hope. In the case of the floods, the expected failure rate was reduced from 40 percent to one percent. (Jim Brown / CBC)
Next I want to focus on mental health.
What we learned was that for business owners, worrying about their mental health was the last thing they worried about, but the first requirement was to be ready to do the difficult things they needed to run their business to keep alive.
It’s okay to be sad, distressed, or angry. This crisis was unexpected and not your fault. If it feels like a Herculean task answering these three calls above, speak to a counselor. It’s okay not to be okay.
Now let’s talk about the government programs that lit up your screens over the past week.
If you get lost in the sea of announcements, you are not alone. Every day seems to bring a new announcement or a new plan.
Most small and medium-sized businesses don’t spend a lot of time thinking about government. For most business owners, here are the three I want to look at:
Wage subsidy – On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a 75 percent wage subsidy for employees that you can keep. This can help you keep more people running, bring others back, and get back to business faster. For the first time, as a business owner, you qualify for employment insurance. When you need it, apply for it, even if you never expected to use EI.
Emergency Loan – A new Canadian Emergency Business Account Benefit has just been announced, providing up to $ 40,000 in interest-free loans for a year. Details on how it can be accessed are still to be released.
Delay Payments – You can now delay a wide variety of payments including your corporate taxes, GST, utilities, and WCB payments. This can help you keep some working capital to make it through this time.
After all, every company should ask itself: “How can I turn my business model?”
I’ve seen breweries make hand sanitizer, photographers took portraits of the street, gyms took virtual classes or rented their equipment for home use, and online conferences, classes, concerts, and jam sessions.
There is hope. In the case of the floods, the expected failure rate was reduced from 40 percent to one percent.
You have a great business. Get to work
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