Business Lessons Learned During COVID-19: Part 2
COVID-19 continues to affect our shops, families, and communities. It hasn’t been easy owning a retail shop throughout this pandemic! Thankfully, every hardship is a chance for us to learn and grow as shopkeepers.
In part 1 of this two-part series, I shared the first six lessons I have learned as a shopkeeper during COVID-19. Here are the final five financial lessons I have learned during the pandemic.
Do Your Bookkeeping
This is a critical task for all businesses, but especially retail shops. If I hadn’t kept up on my 2019 bookkeeping, I wouldn’t have been prepared to do my taxes early in 2020. And then, I wouldn’t have had the pertinent information required to apply for disaster grants.
Many shop owners avoid bookkeeping. I get it, dealing with your finances can cause a lot of anxiety! But there are some tell-tale signs that it’s time to hire a bookkeeper:
1. You don’t understand your numbers
2. You cringe at the thought of spending hours reconciling your books
3. Your heart sank when you looked at the loan and grant applications for assistance because you knew you didn’t have any of the numbers prepared
If any of the above is true, it’s time to hire a bookkeeper. You can’t afford to NOT hire one! You need your books to be clear, consistent, and accurate!
When you start looking for a bookkeeper, take the time to find someone you trust. You need someone who will answer questions in addition to doing the work, someone who will help your business GROW. It’s time to put your business bloomers on and find a bookkeeper!
Make sure that your books are reconciled once per month, either by you, your accountant, or your bookkeeper. I have a reminder on my phone to do this on the 15th of every month. I’m not perfect, of course. Sometimes I am one to two months behind. Any more than that, though, and I make myself sit down and do the books.
Have a Reserve or an Emergency Fund
Whenever I mention saving in business, someone will say, “I reinvest everything into my business—how can I possibly save or pay myself?”
Here’s the cold hard truth: if you aren’t paying yourself, you are treating your business like a hobby. And if you don’t have a reserve, you’re risking not having a business at all. Having an emergency fund and paying yourself are habits you MUST teach yourself.
If you go back to episodes one and two of the Savvy Shopkeeper Retail Podcast, I talk about starting small. I’m not telling you to not invest in your business, I’m telling you to start these practices early. Just like paying rent or buying merchandise, having a reserve should be part of your financial routine.
Open a new bank account and transfer 1-3% of your revenue into that account each week/month. You’ll be surprised at how this account grows. When an emergency hits or you want to invest in your business, you’ll be so relieved you started socking this money away.
I want to make it clear that I am not perfect in this area. In my twenties, I was strapped for cash and afraid to start saving in a retirement account. It was the same feeling. I remember thinking, “I can barely afford to pay my bills, how could I possibly invest or save?”
But I did it. I worked past the fear, and because it was automatically done, I didn’t notice it was “missing” from my paycheck. And now I’m so glad I did. I have retirement accounts, I have personal savings to fall back on if/when needed.
I did the same for my business. When COVID-19 hit, of course, I was worried! But I also knew we had funds in our reserve account. At the bare minimum, we would be able to pay our brick and mortar bills for a solid three months if I needed to. I want all shopkeepers to have that same sense of security. That starts with saving just a little bit each month and leaving it untouched for an actual emergency.
Generally, business owners don’t qualify for unemployment. Because of the pandemic, business owners were able to receive unemployment assistance.
Unemployment checks are usually based on your pay. So if you weren’t paying yourself in 2019, you would not have qualified for standard unemployment.
Luckily in some states, business owners are qualifying for the PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance). This is a pre-set $600/week of unemployment that you can collect. If this program hadn’t been implemented, many shopkeepers would have no options for relief as business owners because they don’t pay themselves.
Be as Debt-Free as Possible
Being in debt is a significant weight on anyone’s shoulders. Getting out of debt gives you FREEDOM. As your businesses open and revenue levels start to increase (or if you actually haven’t seen a dip in revenue), I want you to make chipping away at debt a priority.
Personally, if I had debt, I would probably FIRST make debt payments a priority. Then I would start saving a small percentage, and then I would begin to pay myself. I am not a financial coach or an accountant, but this is a practice that I KNOW works.
If your debt weighs heavy on you, you might be rolling your eyes at me and thinking, “easy for you to say!” But it actually isn’t. I was drowning in debt in my twenties, and I didn’t always make sound financial decisions. I chose to educate myself, to make better decisions, and to start living as debt-free as possible.
Trust me, this was not easy, and I still struggle with the money mindset. One thing that brings me peace of mind is not having credit card debt, not having loan payments, and knowing I don’t owe anyone anything.
However, I do owe it to myself to make the best financial decisions I can. Closing my own store AND losing revenue in the Savvy Shopkeeper business was SCARY. It still is. I know that I will be okay because I know my numbers, how much revenue I need to break even, and don’t have debt weighing me down.
Have a Profitable Business
I have two “baby” businesses. By no means am I devaluing these businesses—I am proud of both! I chose to bootstrap each of them, and sometimes this means slow growth. Each business is less than 5 years old, but they are Both legitimate, have proper business filings, bank accounts, and are profitable.
Being profitable means you’re paying yourself. It means you can qualify for unemployment in unusual circumstances, such as a global pandemic. It means you can be eligible for financial assistance, such as grants or loans. Most importantly, it means you treat your business like a business and NOT a hobby.
These show notes are part 2 of the series Business Lessons Learned During COVID-19. Be sure to check out part 1 for the first six lessons I’ve learned.
- Shopkeeper Shoutout: Elisa of Moonstruck CLE Vintage
- Episodes one and two of the Savvy Shopkeeper Retail Podcast
- State by state guide to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
- [1:26] Shopkeeper Shoutout to Elisa of Moonstruck CLE Vintage
- [3:22] Do Your Bookkeeping
- [7:34] Have a Reserve or Emergency Fund
- [12:24] Pay Yourself
- [13:38] Be as Debt-Free as Possible
- [16:27] Have a Profitable Business