Financially, for our small business, the pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time. Our revenue drops like a cliff at the end of December until mid-March when it starts to climb again. Not only is revenue down at that time, but expenses are up as we pay for all our insurance, R&D, trade show expenses, and lots of inventory. In March, our trade show was canceled the day before it started, and our show offered no refund. Then, our shops stopped ordering as restrictions were put in place. Farmers markets were canceled next, which, all told, meant we lost 80% of our business. Increasing the strain, our girls began distance learning.
We qualified for self-employment aid because we couldn’t work our full hours and were teaching our children from home. It was a confusing process (most of all for those in charge of it), but we started getting a supplement. I felt a mixture of embarrassment and relief.
Our only remaining sales channel was our website, which has always been a small, steady trickle. Luckily, we had improvements cued up and began to hustle, working evenings, quitting volunteer responsibilities, and telling our families we would see them “someday.”
“Work on Joy Lane Farm, do yard projects for sanity, teach the kids, repeat.”
My emotions were all over the place, and I started seeing a counselor. We had to lay off our two part-time employees, and Katy cried.
How do you hustle at home with three kids? “Wow, thanks for the quick response!” a customer commented once after I replied in minutes. They didn’t know I had ducked around a corner and into a closet while my kids (who were chasing me) ran past. I was doing customer service in the dark sitting on a bin of the girls’ clothes for next season while Katy manufactured at the mill, because we figured speedy service was one thing we could offer new customers and hopefully keep them.
My brother said we should make hand sanitizer, and we did. My brother in-law said we should upgrade our website, and we did. The extra supplement, well not huge, gave us the financial leeway to rebuild our buffers and experiment as we redesigned and reinvented ourselves from a wholesale company to an ecommerce one. Customers started posting pictures of orders they received and recommending our products. People showed up for curbside pickup. Then, strangers began ordering and reordering.
We watched our revenue grow, and now, we no longer qualify for aid because somehow, against all odds, our business is growing in 2020. It’s not the blockbuster year we anticipated, but it IS growth, and we are deeply thankful.
Thank you to the government employees from either side of the aisle and especially the ones in the trenches working long hours that made our aid possible. There’s a month left in the program, but we won’t be needing it.
Joel and Katy