Friday, March 13, 2020 was quite possibly one of the hardest days in my 14-year existence as a small business owner. I had to act quickly and decisively to make sure that at the end of the day, JP Catering would still exist to be able to service its customers and to be a great place for our employees to work.
On the morning of March 13th, the government of Canada made the sweeping announcement that they would be closing schools for an extra two weeks after the March Break, for a total of three weeks. This was the start of their efforts to curb the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the country. I had been monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and I knew now was the time to get some expert advice from my accountant Michael Kaplan and business coach Ray Pons. During the weeks leading up to this moment our clients were getting more and more concerned about their gatherings. Slowly one-by-one the events started to cancel. One after the next our schedule went from robust… to completely empty. Leaving a pit in my stomach and the question of “how are we going to pay the bills”? That afternoon while driving an order to a client’s office the decision was made that I was going to temporarily layoff my entire workforce.
The feeling of utter despair crept over me, while I held back the tears as best I could, driving back to the shop. The FaceTime meeting with my team was heartbreaking. Seeing their faces as I delivered the news will haunt me for the rest of my life. I might be being a bit over-dramatic, but the pain was real as my team had become my family. I was/am their fearless leader guiding them thought their careers at my company.
That afternoon as the office emptied the emotion flooded me and I stood in my office crying. My eyes are welling up as I type this as it was truly the hardest decision I have ever had to make. Was it the right decision? Will this be the end? What have I done? How will I continue?
After taking the weekend and speaking with Full Scoop Marketing my marketing gurus, a small plan was taking shape. Now I’m not one to sit back and do nothing, I am a business leader who will fight tooth and nail to survive. The plan was and is simple and easy to start, the hardest part was just starting.
What have I learnt so far?
First of all, it’s so important to create a kick ass culture! A culture where people want to come to work, where they will turn to you and say things like “I want to retire here one day”. A place where people have the freedom to do as they need while also having accountability based on their actions. A place where people will have your back in the hard times, and the good. The response I got from my team after that hard Friday the 13th proved that the culture I have created is a culture of loyalty. I will forever be grateful to Ray for helping me to create that culture not by accident, but by design.
The second thing that I have learned is that you have to be able to pivot and change direction at a moment’s notice. As a small business we are lucky that things don’t have red tape and corporate bureaucracy to go through to make changes. As things got real here I had to act quickly and put together a program of meal deliveries that will help my community but more importantly help me create work that I will be able to give back to my employees.
The last lesson I have gathered so far is to start acting… and start now. It’s hard and the actions you take might not be perfect, in fact they will not be perfect at all. Just by taking the actions, any actions, you are winning.
As time goes by more lessons and learnings will take place and I hope to share those with you. Keep safe everyone and stay healthy during these trying times. Together we will come out of this, and together we will be stronger.
Chef Jonathan Preskow