I’m the owner of a small advertising company that specializes in helping companies attract online subscribers and manage SEO needs and social media content.
My wife and I started the company 10 years ago this October and we’ve worked hard to get our business where it is today. Three years ago we reached an important milestone: a full year in which we didn’t have to seek out any new clients. One hundred percent of our business that year came from returning clients and referrals. Ditto for the following year. And last year we were so busy that we were turning new clients away.
After nearly a decade of constant effort, I felt our work was finally paying off. We were just starting to get a taste of what it meant to live the American dream.
That all ended the moment the coronavirus wave came crashing down.
The day after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency, our first client asked to cancel their service agreement with us. “Advertising just isn’t a luxury I can afford right now,” they said. The next day the same request came from two more clients. The following week we lost our second-biggest client. The hits kept coming and by last week, nearly half the income my family depends on had evaporated completely. Ten years of blood, sweat and tears lost in a matter of eight weeks.
And still I know the worst is probably yet to come.
I used to get excited every time the business phone would ring because it almost always meant a new customer or a new sales order. Now I dread the sound. Today it invariably means another client is calling to bid adieu.
I don’t blame our clients, of course ― they’re almost all business owners themselves and are facing unprecedented circumstances of their own. One CEO told me he even had to let his brother go. But knowing our clients are justified in leaving doesn’t make the bitter pill any easier to swallow.
Perhaps the hardest part of watching our company crumble is feeling helpless to prevent it from collapsing further. I’m normally a proactive person and when something is broken, I’m quick to jump in with a fix. In this case, I’m not even sure where or when to begin. My go-to method of putting my head down and pushing forward isn’t working this time because replacing old clients with new ones has proven nearly impossible. Most companies aren’t looking for new advertising opportunities at a time like this ― and those that are lack the requisite finances to do so.
“I’m trying to keep as many balls in the air as possible while giving my all to the clients we have left. I’m also spending more time than ever on my knees.”
Of course, I know my business woes are relatively insignificant against the backdrop of so much devastation. And I don’t mean to trivialize the destruction this virus has caused throughout the world by lamenting dollars and cents. Shuttered businesses mean little compared to the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to COVID-19. But providing for my family still matters to me and I feel compelled to speak out about the toll this virus has taken on businesses as well as individuals.
Especially because I know I’m not alone. With U.S. unemployment numbers reaching the highest rate since the Great Depression, I know I’m just one of many facing the same ― or much worse ― economic conditions. I feel for business owners who’ve had to confront the additional emotional burden of letting employees go and know it weighs heavily on their minds.
I worry even more for their former employees. Our teams generally consist of independent contractors, so officially we haven’t had to let anyone go or sever any partnerships during this crisis. But we know that many of our contractors are receiving far fewer assignments and we’ve worked especially hard to keep any opportunities on the table that we can.
The truth is I feel resigned to this temporary existence. I’m trying to keep as many balls in the air as possible while giving my all to the clients we have left. I’m also spending more time than ever on my knees.
And yet, there are silver linings. It’s true that you often don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Even though I feel the losses of my company, this situation has reminded me to hold onto what I have with deeper appreciation. That I can still wrap my arms around my wife and children matters so much more in the end. And being able to spend additional time with them these days is a blessing I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. Our four children are all under age 10 and these are indeed precious years that I feel grateful to witness more of.
But I also have to admit that sometimes when I see their faces looking up at me, I feel a pang of worry and concern about what our future holds. The reality is that I don’t know where my company will be when all this is over or if we’ll have any livelihood left at all.
In the meantime, the least I can do is share my experience of loss with others. I believe that no matter what battle each of us is fighting, it helps to know we’re not fighting alone.
Daryl Austin is a small business owner and writer based in Utah. His byline has previously appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, Business Insider, NBC News and Newsweek.
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