No one ever said the entrepreneurial life would be easy, but neither did anyone expect the arrival of an unknown disease that ultimately led to a series of stop-and-start, open-close edicts from a state government fighting to keep Illinoisans healthy.
Big business, small business or whatever classification you can dream up, 2020 has been a strange -- and often difficult -- year. Yet the outlook may be brighter than most casual observers expect, at least in the small business sector.
That's the impression I got last month when I talked to people I know who talk to business owners. And while my more-positive-than-not conversations don't mean you can ignore the rules, they were more positive than I expected (even after 15-plus years of writing about small business issues and activities for the Daily Herald).
My sources, in no particular order: Dave Davenport, president-CEO of Mother Network Guardians, an Itasca-based provider of managed IT services; Tom Caprel, founder of Breakthrough Results Inc., a Wheaton-based consulting firm; and a no-names-please creator of an SBA-approved packager of SBA 504 loans.
SBA 504 loans are a combination of SBA funds (about half of the total loan package); funds from the 504 lender, about 40 percent of the total) and the business owner-borrower funds, roughly 10 percent. Proceeds can be used only to finance real estate or capital equipment.
And while it's true, as the head of an SBA certified company that is a key part of the lending process says, that "No borrower brings bad numbers to a loan approval meeting," even good numbers are carefully reviewed. Indeed, the lender says, our prospective borrowers are "generally upbeat" about their current and coming business data.
Nonetheless, Davenport says, there's still "a great deal of trepidation" about COVID-19 and something of a fear factor among many entrepreneurs. "They're worried, waiting for the other shoe to drop," Davenport says of his IT management clients; consequently, conversations often include discussions of how, and when, demand comes back, even among those clients who have pivoted to products and services more tightly targeted to today's situation.
Although work-at-home programs have kept many people employed, and many businesses alive, "Work at home isn't quite as productive," Davenport says. "People miss the interactions."
Generally, Davenport says, "We can weather the storm, as long as it ends. This is an economic storm that must come to an end, so we (and our clients) can get back to work.
Caprel sees considerable faith among his clients that we all will come out favorably, but, he acknowledges, how we will make that happen is something of a question. "Our clients are positive about now," Caprel said in June when we talked, "but they're cautious about the third and fourth quarters. Still, no one is hiding under the covers."
At the same time, however, "There's a need for some strategic and operational changes," Caprel says. And while that was true last month, the need for entrepreneurs to make adjustments quickly hasn't changed -- and isn't likely to change much as we look ahead.
In the typical entrepreneur's mindset, Caprel says, he or she "will come out of today's situation favorably." What's somewhat less certain, he adds, is "how we will make that happen. How do we get there?"
It's not fair, of course, to pin the country's ultimate recovery from Coved-19 or any other disease that pops up on small businesses. Yet while different groups of people have different feelings and conversations about the state of the nation, it's good to be aware that at least some sectors -- small business, for example -- are carrying on.
© 2020 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.