If your inbox looks anything like mine, it’s been inundated with subject lines like “A message for our community” and “What we’re doing about COVID-19”. Every hair salon, dentist, clothing store, restaurant and veterinarian I’ve ever visited has recently emailed me to tell me what they're doing in the face of this crisis.
Some businesses are using this as an opportunity to sell their products (I’m looking at you, CBD companies), but most are using it to disseminate important information. I'd like to try something else: I want to tell you how this crisis has affected Common Era and other small businesses like ours.
I’m not going to say that we’re suffering as terribly as all the bars, restaurants, yoga studios, salons and retail stores that have had to close their doors all around us in NYC. Or the friends that have already lost their jobs (two of mine already have). But we’re a small business, and that makes us incredibly vulnerable to the changes that are happening in our economy right now. While we’re lucky not to have high overheads like retail leases or a large payroll, we also have no financial cushion whatsoever, and all my personal savings have gone towards funding CE. I've gotta say: I picked a truly terrible year to start my own company.
I’m going to be totally transparent: before the crisis hit, we were three months into this new business and not yet breaking even. This was to be expected, because when you launch a new business, the most expensive part is setting it up - stocking inventory, paying legal fees and then getting your name out there. You invest up front to build a brand that will become profitable down the road.
Social media algorithms favor established brands with large followings, so starting with zero followers presents a huge challenge - you have to pay to play. That means boosting and sponsoring posts in order to cut through and get your brand seen. It’s been one of our biggest costs since we launched in December.
Now that retail stores are shutting their doors, they’re shifting their money into digital ad spend, which is crowding the landscape even further and pushing costs so high that they’re out of reach for small companies like ours. In the last week, we’ve seen ad costs spike due to increased competition, our web traffic has dropped by 70%, and we have had almost no sales. I tried to increase revenue with a flash sale earlier this week, but it didn’t work like I had hoped.
So, what now? I’ve cut 90% of our advertising, slashed all the operating costs that I possibly can, I’m holding off on paying large bills and am basically hunkering down for the foreseeable future.
On a personal note, I’ve cancelled my honeymoon, which was planned for April. We’d waited a year after our wedding to save for it, so this stings badly. But you know what? I have friends who’ve had to cancel their weddings, so I really can’t complain.
I'm also an Australian who holds a green card but wants to become a citizen, but the Trump administration has proposed a rule that bans any immigrants who have taken federal aid from becoming citizens. So even if I do go completely bankrupt, I can't file for assistance because I'm too scared I will be denied citizenship when the time comes. Just one more reason to check in on your immigrant friends and remember that they are often left behind in crises like these.
Other small businesses are hurting just as badly, or worse, than CE - especially those that rely on foot traffic. I would encourage you, if you’re going to shop online, to try to support the little guys, not the big box stores. Need a book? Try your local independent bookshop’s online store - mine is still delivering. Want to support your favorite cafe that’s had to close their doors? Buy a gift certificate for yourself to make sure they have some solid income. Looking for a gift? Check out all the beautiful handmade pieces on Etsy.
This is a terrifying time for many of us. Many companies will go out of business in the coming months. Common Era might very well be one of them, but I’m committed to staying open for as long as I possibly can. All our inventory is stocked in a fulfillment center in Dallas, which is constantly sanitizing and abiding by all CDC guidelines. They will continue to ship throughout this crisis. I'll be keeping our community updated through this blog as well as Instagram and Facebook.
Please, take care of yourselves, take care of each other, wash your hands, and stay home if you can.