When the pandemic hit, I knew my business was going to be hard hit. I have had a small strategic consulting practice with clients in different parts of the world, and much of my work involved traveling to client sites and meeting face to face. It was a high-touch and personal experience.
And while the type of work I do tends to be directly impacted by the economy, the economic downturn would be localized or regionalized in normal times. So, if I hit a snag in one country, I looked for business in another, unaffected country, and on I went. The pandemic invalidated that strategy in less than three months—now the entire world was in a downturn, and I had nowhere to go.
So, I decided that I needed to strategize for 2021, and that involved spending more time on developing thought leadership and making some small investments to productize my services. While there was no revenue expectation for the rest of the year, I had 6 months of operational expenses in cash reserves. With some odd jobs here and there, I thought I could make it through without asking for any more help. That was March 20, 2020.
Fast forward seven months. I continued to build relationships, presented a bunch of webinars, wrote a handful of articles, got more active in social media, did more pro bono work with multiple organizations than I had in the past, including starting a new one with a handful of my colleagues.
And I managed to get some initial products built—I worked some of my advisory and coaching materials into eLearning courses—although it took about a month longer than I had planned. However, I ran into a challenge: I had nearly burned through my reserves, and I was reluctant to make the last bit of relatively small investment I needed to make because I had no cash. A few revenue projects slated for late this year that I managed to get even during the pandemic got postponed for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. Yet I was still determined not to take on any debt, still hanging on to the idea that I could shave things off here and there and hoping that I would get some small revenue here and there. To me, taking out a loan to finance my business was admitting defeat.
I grew up in Japan, in an environment and culture in which consumer borrowing was a social taboo. Borrowing money equated to not having money and that came with a lot of social stigma. Delinquency was near fatal—at some point, I think debt was the Number One cause of suicide. In fact, for an entirely unrelated internet research I was doing about Japan, I would come across websites of law firms whose front page would say “suicide is not the only answer” referring to the problem of debt. At least when I was growing up, families with debt problems would quite literally pack up overnight and disappear, moving away to an undisclosed location—there is even a specific word in Japanese to denote that phenomenon (“yonige”). I personally knew two classmates whose respective families did yonige during my elementary school years. I think things have changed and it is probably a bit more open to obtaining credit today than when I was growing up, but when I was growing up, borrowing was bad.
Then I had an epiphany during one of my weekday runs.
I am a casual runner. I’m neither elite nor fast by any stretch of imagination, but I like to run, and it helps me mentally declutter. I don’t always have an epiphany during my runs—in fact, rarely do I ever have an epiphany during my runs, as usually it is a chance for me to empty my mind. For that reason, I don’t even listen to music or anything else when I run; instead, I COUNT from 1 to 100 over and over again during the entire run. Believe it or not, I ran an entire marathon that way.
The turning point came during this particular run, when I came to the realization that I was nickeling and diming on the investments I needed to make the pivot happen, which in turn was delaying the time to revenue. I had already lost a month of potential revenue and was looking at more. Yet I was stressing out over a relatively small amount of money in the grand scheme of things, because I was now in the mode of cutting even expenses that were $10. Sure, you get 100 of those expenses and they add up, but that wasn’t the case here. A relatively small amount was keeping me from moving forward.
So, during this three-mile run, I made the decision to take out a loan to improve cash flow so that I can move forward. I had to realize that it wasn’t admitting defeat. And in the process, I learned that, as a small business:
- It is OK to ask for help. I am doing everything I can, but sometimes you can’t do it alone.
- What I believe to be prudent cost saving during hard times can actually keep my business from coming back. Unrealized potential revenue is still no revenue regardless of reason.
And once I embraced these, I felt a lot more at ease even with the prospect of my business being in debt for the first time and was left to think about value because I was no longer constrained to thinking about price.
Here’s hoping to a successful pivot. And many more runs.
Check out C2CB.co if you need a clarifying, no-obligation discussion, or some pro-bono consulting help about how to get any of this done.