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28/10/2021

Spare a thought for the business owners in Derry coping with impact of the pandemic

Derry News columnist John McGowan reflects on the tough times that entrepreneurs have experienced

Spare a thought for the business owners in Derry coping with impact of the pandemic

Business owners often have to put on a brave face despite all the current difficulties.

What a difficult 10 months it's been for the whole of the world.

Very few have escaped the impact of Covid and we now seem to be in the eye of the storm for the third time.

But hope is on the way with the roll out of the vaccinations and it's looking like some semblance of normality in the second half of 2021.

There have been many heroes throughout this crisis and a light has often be shone on the ordinary people whose input to society normally never gets mentioned.

I'm on about the cleaner on minimum wage who shows up every day at the hospital to clean and avoid Covid spreading.

I'm also on about the carer in a care home doing a double shift (often on low wages) to care for one of our relatives.

There are thousands of examples of these right across society who showed up to work every day and literally kept our way of life functioning.

One group, however, that I feel need a mention and who are often forgot about are the business community.

I am talking here about the self-employed business owner right up to the business owner with a limited company and staff on a payroll.

Navigating this crisis since March 2020 and trying to stay afloat has strained every sinew.

Of course, some of the government schemes like furlough have helped mitigate potential job losses.

However, other schemes have not come close to replacing incomes and profits normally earned in trading.

It has caused huge stress amongst business owners as they try to make ends meet. Insurances, accreditations, inspections, banks loans and many other bills still need paid.

Many businesses I have spoken to have increased their overdrafts and accessed the 'bounce back' loans offered by the government which means they have went deeper into debt.

These loan payments commence 12 months after you draw them down so it's likely some companies will be asked to begin repaying them before this crisis is over.

The government really needs to reconsider this and perhaps change that to 24 months.

We need entrepreneurs in Derry.

We need these risk-takers who make a conscious decision to create wealth and employ people.

The last 10 months is an event which might happen once in 100 years.

There isn't a play book on how to best survive this or a Ted Talk.

It's really seat-of-the-pants stuff by many business owners since this kicked off and many are struggling.

Loading up on debt and watching your business being mothballed with no real idea of when exactly you will recover takes its toll.

I'd say stress levels are off the chart and many are being pressured by anxious partners to walk away before they bankrupt themselves.

The 'business class’ as it was often referred to may not be be on the frontline but it is taking some serious hits.

I'm not recommending a whip-round for the business owner driving the 5 Series BMW, but more of an understanding of their predicament.

That car may actually be on lease and the payments may be three months behind.

That same business owner may not have taken any drawings or dividends from that business in 12 months and is living off their savings.

Many business people who are suffering are keeping up a brave face. It's part of the role as a leader.

You have to ‘walk the walk’ and instil confidence in your staff, suppliers and bankers.

They don't flinch at risks which most ordinary people would run away from.

They really are a separate breed.

And please don't think I'm lobbying for sympathy for the small business sector. Sympathy won't pay bills.

What I am actually asking for is an appreciation for their predicament.

Society needs people starting and growing businesses and creating wealth and employment.

Post-Covid we need even more of them and watching how many businesses have been treated during Covid isn't a great marketing tool.

I was struck a number of weeks ago by a Facebook video by a local entrepreneur.

I won't name him but it went viral. It wasn't a rant but it clearly outlined how difficult this crisis has been on a business owner.

So, when the recovery does begin this year don't just lurch back to your Amazon online habits of 2020.

When it's safe get out there and support local shops and businesses.

Spare a thought for the year they have had and do your bit to replenish their cash reserves.

If you’re an employee and your boss has hung in there, spare a thought for his/her stress levels and hold off for a while on that pay rise request.

I bet that same boss has had many things to keep them awake at night for the last 10 months.

If you’re a banker, stop asking for 'when do you think things will be back to normal' projections.

There isn't one doctor, Prime Minister, President or economist who has been anywhere near right on this, so please cut the business as much slack as you can do to keep them going.

If you’re a politician, think carefully about the economic post-Covid recovery plan.

This means planning it now.

Trust me when I say it's a lot more prudent to support and save the existing business sector that exists than create it from scratch.

On the Bounce Back loan, try to kick out the term of the loan and have it commence 24 months after drawing down rather than 12.

The important thing is not to lumber businesses with more loan payments as they attempt to trade out of this mess.

And for friends, staff and families of business owners, keep an eye on them.

The stress of this past 10 months has been awful on everyone.

Many of us have lost someone or know someone who has died of Covid.

Others have had it and some are battling with the long-term effects.

The lockdowns have tested us all mentally and physically.

But remember business owners are often strong silent types.

They soak up in normal times problems which would overcome many others.

This last 10 months for many owners have offered little respite.

Be supportive and offer to listen.

You might not get much engagement back but knowing that they have your support is very important.

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