6 Tips for Small Business Owners Struggling Through the Pandemic

Lead Photo: Overhead view of project meeting. Getty Images.
Overhead view of project meeting. Getty Images.
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The impact of the coronavirus outbreak is hitting small businesses hard, with many being forced to quickly adapt, scale back, or shutter completely.

As of March, more than 50% of small business owners in the U.S. said they would only be able to keep operating for up to three months under the current conditions, according to this survey. Now, about a month into state-sanctioned quarantine, it’s becoming clear that no one was truly prepared for this, and the results for small business owners have been chaotic. The Government had originally stepped in to support through its Small Business Administration’s rescue loan program, which is advertised as a “loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis” but as of Thursday, April 16th, the nearly $350 billion fund seems to have been tapped out. Leaving many to wonder—what now?

Katalina Mayorga, founder, and CEO of El Camino Travel, a boutique travel company that specializes in small group travel, is one of those small business owners. Over the last few weeks, she’s been put through the wringer, having to quickly jump into action in support of her business and her team. Being in the travel industry, which was one of the first impacted by Coronavirus, Katalina has been living this reality a bit longer than most small business owners due to travel restrictions that began as early as January 2020.

Katalina Mayorga. Photo by Jennifer Young. Courtesy of Mayorga.
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Here are her top tips on how to make it through this hurdle:

Ask for help

We’re only going to get through this if we support one another. Luckily, there are a lot of resources popping up every day for various grants and loans. Do your research and see what’s available to you on the federate, state and local levels. There are many industry-specific grants popping up every day too. Here’s a list of resources to get you started:

The demand for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was so high that many of the major banks were not able to secure funding due to the sheer volume of applicants. We recommend considering applying through a smaller local bank or credit lender, as there have been reports of that helping move the application process along. The status of additional PPP funding is currently in flux, but Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi is optimistic that a resolution will be made “very soon” so make sure you have everything in order on your end to apply as soon as additional funding is announced. Learn more about the PPP requirements and application process here

Get intimate with your finances

It’s perhaps more important than ever for you to understand what’s happening with your finances. So, take the time to build out a financial model that accounts for COVID-19.

Ask yourself: what are your fixed costs? What are your variable costs? How can you bring your costs down? How long do you/experts predict your industry will be impacted by coronavirus? Once you’ve answered those questions, take the time to project how long it will take for you to bounce back once sanctions are lifted. And, of course, don’t forget to think about your customers. How have they been impacted by COVID? How will their behaviors have changed as a result? 

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate


Once you’ve established what your fixed costs are, try to renegotiate with vendors. Can you defer payments for 30, 60, 90 days? Are there any terms that they can be flexible on? 

Software vendors and credit card companies are a great place to start. Many credit card companies are offering deferrals, reduced interest and/or waived late fees. Take the time to call your respective credit card to see what you may qualify for. The 10-minute call could end up saving you, and your business, hundreds of dollars over the next few months [and no, this isn’t a Geico commercial]. Remember, it’s best to reach out to your credit card company before you miss a payment to see how they might be able to work with you.


Not sure where to start? Forbes compiled a comprehensive list of various offerings to help you get the conversation started with your bank.

Be honest & transparent

These are uncertain times for everyone, so a little honesty and transparency can go a long way in keeping your customers happy and invested in you and what you are building. At El Camino, Katalina and the team told their travel community early on how coronavirus was going to impact our collective 2020 travel plans and how we could support each other along the way.

“We were incredibly transparent, sharing the impacts of refunds, not only on our business but also, on the local economies of the communities we work in and travel to,” Katalina said. “We asked our community, that if they could, to defer their trips to 2021 and quickly worked with our vendors to guarantee the same rates and quality experiences. We shared with our community how we’ve always been thoughtful with who we partnered with, and how now the whole world is at a critical point where we are voting with our dollars, for what we want to exist after coronavirus.”

Stay relevant (but, read the room)

Take what you’re passionate about and think about how to make it relevant to what’s happening now. El Camino, for example, is using this time to build community through a virtual Culture Pa La Gente series that brings the magic of meeting interesting new people to life, in a safe and virtually accessible way. It kicked off last week, led by Xiomara, founder of Up Nicaragua, a non-profit that empowers young girls through education. The conversation was focused on resiliency, and she shared what she had learned during the 2018 Nicaragua Political Crisis as well as how we can apply some of those lessons to the current situation. 41 travelers joined and it allowed for a bit of the travel magic of meeting new people to life. 


Unprecedented times call for unprecedented creativity–so don’t be afraid to pivot and explore a new part of your business. Whatever you do, make sure it represents your brand the way you want to and don’t pivot for the sake of pivoting. Below are some brands that have pivoted into new territories for inspiration. 

Sweet Farm, an animal sanctuary in Half Moon Bay, California, is offering people all over the world the opportunity to invite a llama, goat, cow or other farm animals to make a cameo appearance on a live video call.

Multiple restaurants around the country are offering meal kits for you to make your favorite dish from the safety of your home.