Today’s episode is about the simple idea that your business exists not just to support you and your stakeholders, but to support your community.
I’m Illana Burk, CEO of Your Life’s Workshop, coach to entrepreneurs and solopreneurs across dozens of industries and host of Good Business. With nearly 20 years experience helping hundreds of clients create profitable, ethically driven and sustainable businesses based on their life’s work, I’m here to teach you how to do great work, make great money, and make a positive impact without feeling like you need a shower afterwards.
Hi everybody. Today’s episode is going to cover four, not all that shocking big disappointments from this time of crisis. It’s pretty much about the simple idea that your business and a business exists, not just to support you and your stakeholders – but, big shock – it exists to support your fucking community. During this whole bonkers crisis that we find ourselves in, I have been struck by a few really interesting things in the business world. I mean a lot of things actually, but today I want to cover some big ones. First, I’m going to talk about the big banks.
Big banks have no idea how to care for or deal with actual people like human beings, actual human beings. I mean, yes, I get it. The payroll protection thing was hard, and it was fast, and it was complicated to figure out. Still, you have thousands of fucking engineers and customer service people and lawyers to help you, and they can all work remotely. Given all of that, I know from experience Chase took almost a week to get a simple three-page application up. Think about that. I don’t know a single online business person who couldn’t figure out how to create a simple fucking application in under 48 hours. Yes, I know that it’s more complex, and there’s security and all that, but for real, the info pages were useless. The process changed multiple times without notifying customers. Once you applied, there was no one to call and ask about your application even though most bank websites said to call them with questions.
I went through this whole process to try to figure out what my people were going through and to figure out if it was something my business needed. It didn’t right away, thankfully. I wanted to know what I was talking about. I spent three hours on hold just to talk to someone who had zero access to the program info and had no idea what I was talking about because she was in the Philippines. The person I was talking to had no idea what the Payroll Protection Program was even for, let alone having access to it, yet their website told me to call them to ask questions. I heard similar stories about Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and a few others. Now that the program’s tapped out, all of these companies are getting sued for their unbelievable mishandling. I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be appalled, but I am. I’m talking about it because, my God, we have to fucking talk about this.
Yet somehow credit union customers were already getting money. Funny what happens when your organization doesn’t have a financial incentive to leave you hanging? Your organization is designed to help its customers instead of themselves. I read recently that the large banks were inversely incentivized to give loans to larger organizations. That’s what they’re being sued about because they get a commission based on how large the loans were. For the little guys like us that were looking for the five, ten, $15,000 loans, they had no financial incentive to bother to fucking help us. It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane how they thought that this was ever supposed to help small businesses is just beyond me. Probably because it fucking wasn’t. This is the swear heavy episode. Anyway, I could go on and on about banks, but that’s the one big clear one.
Number two, small brick and mortar businesses have no idea how to be responsible members of society when they don’t know how they’re going to pay their rent. I’m talking to you, little guys. This is not all about big business. I mean, good God, don’t ask me to buy fucking gift cards. Don’t lament on Instagram about how much you miss us. Don’t lay off your employees and then beg them to donate to them. Beg us to donate to them. Excuse me. If you laid off your people, they can quite easily get unemployment. If they’re service industry people, that’s going to be pretty damn close to what they were making when they work for you. If we buy gift cards from you, you are not supposed to spend that money until the person redeems the fucking thing, so it does you no good right now. Duh. If you had a fucking accountant, you would know this. Why do you think big companies are not telling you to buy gift cards right now? Because they have accountants who know this! Don’t do that. Okay? Buying a gift card is putting your customers in a position where they don’t even know if you’re going to last that long, so you’re just begging. If you have a social media feed that people pay attention to set an example with it. Use it as a hub for accurate information. Enrich your community in some way. It’s not your community’s job to support you. You have that fucking backward. If you own a store that sells anything non-essential, and you have used words like “help us” in any of your marketing since this started, you deserve to fail.
I’m sorry, but there are a bazillion ways you could be helping right now. Many of which are win-wins. You could be donating your product and getting a tax deduction. You could be laying off your staff so they get unemployment and will survive. You can get a business loan that doesn’t fall under all of these qualifications, just like everyone else because money is cheap right now. Getting it and using it wisely could mean you get to expand when this is over or, better yet, use the money to convert your operations into something that can thrive in new conditions. Use what you have to do what you can. You do not deserve help because of your years of service selling overpriced bath products to rich ladies. Yes, I got a “help us” email from a bath product store. Seriously, a fucking “help us” email from a fancy bath product store, and you know who needs help right now? Sick people. Sick people and their families, healthcare workers, people who are already experiencing poverty before this started. Your lack of planning for a rainy day is not the current emergency.
So what should you do? Bath product stores should have bagged up all their stock and taken it to a healthcare worker relief organization. Then send out an email to their people, letting them know what they did, and asking if anyone wants to sponsor a bag. Cafe owner, make food for hospital workers, and take it to the hospital. Ask your community to sponsor meals, which I know some people are doing. Do more. Dressmakers, make masks, and sell it for cost, and I have seen this one. There’s a fabulous little boutique in Portland that’s doing this, and I know a lot of other big designers are doing it too, but the point is to help first. Find a way.
Number three, car companies are surprisingly in touch with what their people need right now. GM is doing 0% financing for 120 months. Their commercials are empathetic and well created. I even saw one for Lincoln, where they outlined that they will bring the car right to you. You know, very expensive, super fancy door with zero physical contact. While the whole idea makes me kind of want to hurl from all the privilege of it, I have to applaud their marketing creation. They took what they have and found a clean way to sell to their audience. I loathe that car companies are doing things better on social than small businesses right now, but I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. They’re getting something right, and there’s a lot of us little guys that are not. Take a cue from some of the big ones that are. Figure out how you can help and still survive. Figure out what your specific people need. Now Lincoln, they have specific people; they have rich people who can afford to have rich people cars delivered to their rich people homes. Congratulations, you figured out a way to satisfy your customer. You can do that too. No matter what you do, I promise there’s a way.
Number four. I am really, really ashamed of how a lot of my favorite businesses have handled this crisis. For this one, I’ll use a story about Etsy sellers to make my point. I have been trying to come up with things to buy right now from Etsy. I live to support small business owners. I mean, duh, that’s what I fucking do all day. Almost none of the shops say anything about shipping precautions or packing precautions or what they are doing to protect their customers. I went back to Amazon for a couple of things because I can’t reasonably sanitize a leather journal, and I have no idea what the health of the sender might be, and Amazon’s are at least shrink-wrapped.
Now, I kind of hate myself for that, but it’s the truth because the health of my family is more important than the livelihoods of a small business owner. That’s just the way it is, and pretending it’s any other way doesn’t do anybody any good. So pretty please. Tell us, your customers, exactly what you’re doing to make me, your customer, the person giving you money in the middle of a global pandemic, safe. If you want me to buy anything, trust is still the baseline.
To sum up, serve first, help first. Remember that it’s your responsibility to help your people. It’s your responsibility to make them feel safe and valued. Your business is not more important than community safety. It just isn’t. Make peace with that, and find a way to thrive.
All right. Thanks, everybody. I know I kinda got a little bossy there. I hope I didn’t make it sound easier than it is cause I know it’s really fucking hard right now. I want you all to know that I’m with you, and I’ve got your back, however I can. The way that I’m doing this, I’m making all of my programs currently sliding scale, and I’ve started a Facebook group to support people. If you would like to be a part of either of those things, please email me. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You guys all have a really good day and stay safe out there, and I look forward to hearing from you
Thanks so much for hanging out with me today. For more information, visit www.thegood business.co or www.yourlifesworkshop.com.
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