By now, most people (at least those in the Northeast) are familiar with the commercials featuring the jingle, “Cause we’re stronger than the storm”. Running on both TV and radio, the driving rythmn of this promotion makes you stop and take note.
The Jersey shore is back as they boast in the commercial – even Governor Chris Christie and his family appear, the state’s biggest cheerleaders, reiterating the jingle – not even a storm can hold back the spirit of the Jersey-ites! But let’s be honest here, stronger? It sounds nice, positive, and downright optimistic. However, for most homeowners, small business owners and people who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time last October, the word “stronger” brings more sarcastic humor to the table than anything else.
My scorecard from Superstorm Sandy?
Three cousins with completely destroyed basements – every momento, appliance, and memory – gone in an instant. One cousin’s house was almost completely destroyed by the Atlantic Ocean. Over one dozen cars, both personal and those used for business – flooded. A 105 year old business flooded – its first and basement floors rendered useless. The business my partner and I put every ounce of our effort into for 20 years, gone along with every piece of equipment. Buildings so damaged that going back down to brick was the only solution.
Now after most of the repairs have been done, let’s talk about how the government sponsored programs have worked for us “victims”.
There was a tremendous amount of money “set aside” by the Federal government for people that were the latest victims of Mother Nature’s wrath. The United States Senate passed a $50.5 billion aid package and a $9.7 billion increase in national flood insurance in early January. Sandy victims were told that $60.2 billion was indeed set aside for them and financial rescue would be on its way. Then the rejection letters started piling in.
Any program, whether on the state level or the Federal level came with it a huge amount of paperwork. Funny how in the first few days, the paperwork was downplayed and every FEMA/SBA worker, every NYCEDC staffer, Congressmen, City Council Members and any other dignitary who was around at that time, reassured the “victims” that they would indeed be “there for all of you”. The money was allocated and once approved, we would be able to come back “stronger than before”, kind of like the jingle says.
People who open a small business are told that most businesses fail within the first year or two. I have watched businesses that were “in business” for 3, 5, 10, 20 years or more struggle over the last few years – from terrorist attacks to economic downturn to the “bubble of the week” that burst and now, a 100 year storm. A good number of these businesses tried every way to get approval from whatever agency would listen. A lot just never reopened. The required paperwork assumes that every person in a small business has enough time in the course of their day to be completely caught up with their record keeping, invoicing and debt totals and the ability to continue a clean-up, the likes of which most people should never have to see in their lifetime’s while trying to maintain their business footing in a very competitive market during “iffy” economic times and corral the required financial paperwork. And to boot, a lot of businesses have all their property on one level – so most paperwork, financials, computers and more were swept out with the tide, making compliance almost impossible. In Coney Island, 98 “micro businesses” came back after the Superstorm – over 75% of those businesses footing their own bill – no help, no loans, no grants (save for a $500 dollar grant from the Alliance for Coney Island).
The point of this article is not to cry over what has happened. The purpose of this article is to warn small and microbusiness owners. The days of the pizza man with his receipts in a shoe box are not ever going to go away – let’s face it, some businesses are just that small and although most people couldn’t live without their computers, there are still many people in business that rely on support staff or other professionals to pull it all together once or twice a year. Even so, accounting software, tax laws, credit applications and government filings are a daunting process. Stay on top of your business’ “business” – know when too much is just that – too much. Small business is a gamble even in the best of times.
Second opinions make sense when dealing with health issues; second opinions should matter where the health of your business is concerned also. Take yearly inventory or your insurance policies – liability, property, general, umbrella and don’t forget Worker’s Compensation and Disability. Make sure employee numbers and equipment purchases are noted and updated whenever they change. Make sure you “self-insure” for those things that are never supposed to happen but do. It may not be a lot that you can put away, but the rainy day can come sooner than you ever expect and 3, 5, 10 or 20 years seem like a blink of the eye.
Regardless of what other community based businesses or organizations tell you, ALWAYS get involved with the community you are in. The particular industry our business has been involved in has always stressed community involvement and activism in order to spread the word about our products and services. Many years ago, we spoke to business owner’s in our community about going to Community Board meetings and Chamber of Commerce meetings – we were told that “those people” were shady and crooked and you “really didn’t want to get involved with that sort of thing”. Funny thing about that is the same people who told us not to get involved with the local groups are now “in tight” with them and (surprisingly, or not) are receiving media attention and (funnier) money. Go to those meetings, network, network, NETWORK!!! It is the key to knowing what is going on, how you can be involved and most importantly, regardless of the size of your business, you will never be “too small to be forgotten” in the eyes of your community.
One question still remains, and that would be where all the Federal Aid promised is going. New programs seem to be cropping up constantly as the money allotted still sits in Federal coffers. Hopefully, the “right thing” will be done (eventually) and sometime before the micro businesses go under for the last time (pardon the pun), help will truly arrive.