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Post COVID – Are you Struggling as a Business Owner?

We all have a variety of struggles as business owners, whether it is finding a work/life balance, bringing in customers, paying the bills, or finding decent help. During COVID we faced sudden, unexpected trials that only added to those struggles and threw us into an atmosphere where the only constant was the uncertainty we dealt with daily.

The post COVID era has brought on some new challenges for us to face. What comes to mind, is the “job market” – businesses beginning the hiring process again, and individuals going through the process of seeking employment. There seems to be a tremendous disparity in the number of businesses who are trying desperately to fill vacancies and the number of people seriously looking for work.

I’ve noticed recently, as I go around to the various businesses in our area, that I rarely see a store front without a ‘Help Wanted’ sign posted in a prominent position. I frequently see weary business owners and managers who appear to be struggling to get through the day, since they are probably on their 3rd week in a row without a day off.

Since things have “re-opened,” following COVID, I have talked to restaurant owners who have been forced to close several days a week because they didn’t have enough staff, or they’ve had to cut back on costs by not opening as often. Some fast-food restaurants have had to keep to drive-thru-only service because they do not have enough staff to open the dining room, and with only 3-4 people working (including the manager and assistant manager,) they can barely keep up with the drive-thru orders.

So how do we fix that? I struggle with it myself, having a food-service business. I think I offer decent pay, with the base hourly rate and with the addition of tips that are earned each day. Many other business owners offer comparable wages, but are facing the same difficulties finding reliable employees, so I do not believe that the apparent lack of interest in jobs is merely due to concerns over pay.

While talking to business owners in the area, I ask them what their top priority would be if they could have one problem fixed right now. Most of them say “more staff” or “better staff,” followed closely by “bringing in more customers.” The challenge for all of us, then, is finding a way to solve the staffing issues, that may enable us to solve some of our other pressing issues.

Plenty of people say they want to help support small businesses. Buying their goods and services certainly helps, but perhaps an employee referral would help just as much – or more. If we had enough necessary employees, we as business owners could spend more of our own time addressing the issues of bringing in more customers!

Where do YOU find good employees? What has worked for you in the past, compared to this post-COVID era? (Feel free to answer in the comments below.) I have personally found the best employees through referrals. Many of us, though, have exhausted our “referral pool.” Although it may seem like just one more thing to add to our ever-growing to-do lists, (especially if we are short-staffed) it may end up being worth our time to look for more networking opportunities. Those opportunities are all around us if we look for them. They do not have to be in the format of a formal “meet & greet,” or other scheduled “event.”

I was sitting in a local restaurant the other day, having my morning bagel and iced tea. There was a lone gentleman eating his breakfast at a table across from me. Other than having seen him in the restaurant before, I did not know him, but I knew he was a “regular,” since all the staff knew his name. As we were

eating, he called over to me, “You look familiar.” A connection, struck from the minutest common ground – regularly enjoying breakfast at the same restaurant – sparked the beginning of a conversation. That conversation led to the discovery of other common ground and led to a much-needed referral.

We talked about my Kona business, and he quickly realized that we used to work his son’s football games. (That’s where he had seen me before!) I casually mentioned that my biggest struggle was finding staff. He said his son was in college but was soon coming home for the summer… and that he needed a job. I gave him my business card and asked him to have his son reach out to me. I honestly thought that would be the end of it. I have had a lot of similar conversations, but not a lot of them have led to follow-up calls.

I was shocked, when his son DID call me just a short time later as I was driving to work. He said that he was eagerly looking for a job for the summer and even knew of a friend who might also be interested. What?! Two job-leads just from having breakfast at a local restaurant and being open to connecting with other people! This highlights the importance of networking. Pure networking – making real connections with other people – rather than just a more superficial attendance at a social gathering, that is called ‘networking’ these days, can make a difference. You might find your next customer, or employee, or you might meet the guy who has a son, who has a friend, and both are eagerly looking for work!

Although our individual struggles may differ, we all share one thing in common: we would do anything for the betterment of our businesses. As a Chamber of Commerce, we can’t guarantee that we will help you meet the next person who will buy what you are selling or find that desperately needed employee; But we do offer opportunities to network with others who can help you meet those potential people; and others, like yourselves, with whom you can exchange experiences, ideas, and referrals; and build the relationships that can help grow our business community.

Join the Franklin County Chamber today and let us help you!

Member – Greater Franklin County Chamber Of Commerce (franklin-chamber.org)