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“How are you?” A COVID-19 impact on small business

Due to the COVID-19 impact on small business, many owners have had to adapt and make changes to their operations in order to stay afloat. One of the biggest challenges they face is maintaining a steady cash flow. While also dealing with reduced revenue and increased expenses.

In this article, we will share our experience as a local, family-run catering business in Toowoomba, Australia. Take heart, there is hope!

How are you?

“How are you? … And how is Monkey Business Catering coping with the COVID-19 impact?”

The most common, hardest to answer and the sweetest question we have been asked during the last few weeks is “How are you?”

Now, as anyone who has run across me personally would know, “How are you?” is always hard to answer at the very best of times. When asked it, I am confronted with two options of response: 
Option 1: The socially-expected, pleasant and mindless repetition of often-used phrases with no personal insight; or
Option 2: Complete vulnerability with a depth that is accompanied by that nausea that follows oversharing.

To my horror,  I cannot seem to be able to kick in with a middle ground response. So in answer to the question …
Response 1: We are fine!
Response 2: Well … as this is the faceless interest of an unseen audience let’s attempt vulnerability and hopefully avoid the nausea side effects.

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs …”

After Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement on 13 March restricting large group gatherings, we knew that we would be immediately and directly affected as a family business and as individuals. After all, catering is essentially about looking after groups of people. 

Kristina (my business partner, mother and all-around wonderful person) and I sat down the next day to plan. By God’s grace this gave enough time to call staff with warnings. Pull together information for our staff meeting the Thursday following. Put into play additional cleaning measures. Create a single-serve menu. Contact clients with a statement, and gracefully plan for what has now hit the rest of our community.

My heart goes out to those businesses that did not have the same luxury of time.

As expected, we have just come through two weeks of nearly complete event cancelations for March, April and May. Yes, it is and was incredibly sad to see so much work wiped out in one hit. Take heart, our plan of action is in full swing. 

”If you can wait and not be tired of waiting …

So what is this awesome plan? It is summarised as wait, pray and take the quiet time as a gift. 

We are fortunate to have low overheads, so our focus has shifted from food production to business development. We will be ready to take up food production again once the government gives the all-clear.

The business development is about everything (that can be done remotely) that I have been saying “I don’t have time for that” or “I am just too tired”. This business has been a five-year journey, and it has been busy, intense, consuming and something that has met with success because of the driven focus. 

With time being freed all those things that I have been sidelining as “important but not critical” can have their chance in the spotlight.

As a business:

  • Leave is being taken
  • Our casuals will be supported through training with RPL (recognition for prior learning), upskilling and job skills
  • Our other people are also looking at qualifications and other training
  • General menu overhaul is happening
  • Menu items are being re-priced
  • Christmas planning is in the air
  • New product lines are being developed

As a person:

  • I am looking into taking the MBA (Master of Business Administration) plunge years earlier than I thought
  • Updating my qualifications (completing a new TAE aka Training and Assessing unit) so that I can teach again
  • Planting an autumn garden
  • And my favourite … wearing NAIL POLISH. I haven’t worn it regularly on my hands since I was 15 years old as nail polish is a big NO for anyone involved in food preparation.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same …”

The grieving that goes behind the loss of something we thought certain is hard … and even harder as it has been enforced on us. Even with our planning, it has taken me two weeks to work around to a calm acceptance of our current circumstances and to see the blessings in the darkness.

To encourage you all, one of my people is a Syrian refugee. When we ran through everything in our staff meeting he put this situation in perspective: We are not looking at six months with no power, no electricity, issues with water and rockets going off every couple of minutes during the day time accompanied with not knowing if we or our loved ones will be alive tomorrow.

We are (mostly) physically safe and healthy, have some sort of savings and/or government assistance options and a future on the other side of this. It is not what we thought, not what we planned and not what we wanted. But time is one of the greatest blessings and quiet time so very rare in modern life. 

So this is my prayer and hope for you

  • May you take it as a gift
  • May you see that is merely a hibernation, not a complete disaster
  • And may you have the heart, will and courage to come out the other side of this ready for the next adventure.

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’ …

– Rudyard Kipling, If

The gorgeous poem that runs through this post is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. It is one of my favourites and so very apt for such a time as this. For a full version check out Sir Micahel Caine’s reading and how the poem has been an anthem for his life.

P.S. I am not feeling nauseated!

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