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As business owners, our day-to-day existence is often characterized by putting out dozens of minor fires, with a few major issues popping up (to the point that I often joke that I feel less like a CEO and more like a juggling octopus some days). Those of us who are more seasoned entrepreneurs have generally accepted that this is the life we signed up for. But what happens when our businesses are threatened by outside forces that we could not have anticipated or prepared for?

In business parlance, a “black swan” is a catastrophic market event that nobody saw coming. Investopedia defines a black swan as having three defining factors:

  • Extreme rarity
  • Severe impact
  • Widespread insistence that it was obvious in hindsight

The emerging global Coronavirus pandemic is shaping up to be a black swan event. And while of course the imminent concern is for everyone’s immediate physical health and safety, preparing for the lingering economic effects (with life-and-death consequences that will likely be just as, if not more, dire) must also be of paramount importance. Make no mistake that we are in for the long haul here, and that humans will recover from this virus long before the global economy does.

As a small business owner, you have two choices right now: you can panic about what is about to happen to your business (or worse, freak out and give up), or you can buckle down and prepare to ride out this storm. If you’re choosing the latter  – and I hope you are! – here are some places to start.

  • Gather as many facts as possible, then assess your situation rationally. “Data, not drama” is one of the mottos around our office, because there is benefit to making up stories and getting upset about things that may or may not be true. Likewise, if you allow your fear to overcome you to the point that you’re sticking your head in the sand, you will miss critical pieces of information and lose valuable time. Face the reality of what is likely to happen in your specific case, and plan for or pivot around that.
  • Stay other-focused (and keep perspective). Part of being remaining rational is realizing that if you are an American small business owner, most other people on earth are in a vastly more precarious situation than you are, and that time spent feeling sorry for or worrying about yourself is absolutely wasted. Keep in mind that as a leader, other people are taking their cues from you. Your expressions of feelings are contagious, and your panic will exacerbate and escalate negative consequences. Keep yourself busy by thinking of ways to be helpful to the people who need you instead.
  • Focus on TODAY. As CEOs, our job is to live in the future, and we get into the habit of thinking that way. But during a black swan event, the uncertainty of what that future holds can be strong enough to paralyze us if we let it. The reality is that any future we experience is a result of the cumulative actions we take on a day-to-day basis. If you feel yourself starting to freeze up, ask yourself what you can accomplish in the next 24 hours that will make things marginally better. Then do that again tomorrow.
  • Above all, don’t lose hope. Life is never black-and-white. Even in the midst of great tragedy, there is always learning and opportunity. If this event has shaken you out of complacency and you are starting to think about things differently, good! Take this time to listen and be open to new ideas and strategies. This could be your time to really step up and be amazing.

Small businesses WILL survive (and thrive!) during this time. Now is the time to ask yourself if you’re prepared to do what it takes to make sure that yours is among them.

Michelle Coyle is the Founder and CEO of BGSD Strategies.