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Living vs Surviving - The COVID-19 Small Business Disruption

Apr 23, 2020

Numbers Don’t Lie

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a numbers guy. Every time a new political policy emerges, or a business situation needs to be digested, I go to the numbers. I tend not to trust most of what I hear or read in the news. I always, ask, “Do the numbers back up the rhetoric?”

Death is Scary

If I told you that an epidemic in our country would cost the citizens in our country roughly 650,000 deaths in a single year, what should we do about it? What if another epidemic resulted in the loss of 170,000 lives? Still another cost us 600,000 lives?

Let’s give a little more context to these numbers. The 650,000 is the amount of deaths caused by heart disease in 2019. 170,000 were deaths in 2019 from accidents. The 600,000 were deaths from cancer in 2019. In total, 2,813,503 Americans died in 2019.

Sadly, death is inevitable. If you don’t die from a heart attack, you may die from cancer, or a car accident, or a bad case of the flu. While, death is inevitable, we’ve done our best to extend the length and quality of life as much as we possibly can. In 1950, the average life expectancy of a U.S. citizen was 68 years old and as of 2019, it is 78 years old.


As you started reading this blog post, you probably guessed where I was going with all of this. In the U.S., the projected death rate of COVID-19 deaths is 60,000. While the CDC has, to date, confirmed 21,050 of 47,500 COVID-19 deaths, I’ll give the news reporting agencies the benefit of the doubt at 60,000.

The 60,000 COVID-19 deaths is comparable to the 55,700 deaths recorded in the 2018-19 flu season.

Let’s dig into this 60,000 number a little deeper. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 80% of these deaths were people over the age of 65-years old. Over 70% of these elderly deaths were people over the average life-expectancy age of 78-years old.

Many of the elderly who got infected resided in nursing homes or their own homes where stay-at-home orders have no effect.

Most workers in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 and 65. If you’re in this age class, you have a 0.35% chance of dying this year. You have a 0.03% chance of dying from COVID-19. Incidentally, this is same odds you have of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime. If you are over the age of 65, you have a 4.5% change of dying this year, and a 0.42% chance of dying from COVID-19.

Lives are More Important than Money

If you’ve managed to read this far, you’re probably saying, “Jeff, saving human life is much more important than money.” This argument bothers me and here’s why.

What most mean when they say this is that “survival” is more important than “living”. If this is true, we should not have an economy at all. Did you know that we can save more lives by permanently shutting down the entire economy? That’s right. It’s a proven fact that the overall mortality rate (at least temporarily) goes down during recessions.

When you don’t drive to work, you won’t get in a fatal car accident. If you don’t work, you won’t have a work-related accident that could kill you. If you stop working, you’ll have less stress which will improve your chances against fatal ailments like cancer and heart disease. If you have no money, you won’t buy sugary drinks or candy; or the cigarettes or alcohol that are ultimately fatal. You won’t have money to buy harmful drugs or go hang-gliding or whatever other unsafe things you can do.

You can stay at home, collect your government check, and binge-watch Ozark, or Breaking Bad.  Or you can eat Cheetos and drink beer… and watching CNN or FoxNews for the latest update on COVID-19 deaths… Or, YOU CAN LIVE YOUR LIFE.

Life vs Surviving

Us humans were not made to simply survive… We were designed to LIVE LIFE. If you’re afraid of dying, you'll most likely NEVER LIVE. As I shared with you at the first part of this blog, there are all sorts of ways that you can die. Frankly, COVID-19 is the least your worries. And, if you're one who is waiting for a vaccine for COVID-19 before you walk outside your front door, it may help you to know that the 55,700 flu deaths reported in the 2018-19 flu season happened when a flu vaccine was fully available to all.

The Small Business Owner

As a small business coach, I am especially concerned about our small business owners. It is my experience that small business owners have a penchant for life and are slightly exhilarated by taking calculated risks. Because of this, small business owners will be especially discouraged in our current situation.

Our federal government joined most state governments in closing most activity in the economy except for government, healthcare, grocery, big-box stores, trucking, and online retailers.

While these select industries will do well in this shut down, most small businesses and their owners will struggle. There are five common losses that most small business owners will experience with this shutdown:

Loss of Customers

This is probably the obvious one, but it’s also one of the biggest impacts. Different industries are experiencing different impacts on their revenue from the shutdowns. Most retailers, restaurant owners, massage therapists, salons, and others who directly serve their customers are experiencing the biggest hit.

Loss of Employees

If you’ve ever owned a business, you know how hard it is to find good employees. Now, the government is forcing you to lay them off, and pay them not to work. This causes havoc with healthcare benefits, retirement programs and basic salary.  Not to mention getting them back to work when you reopen your business.

Loss of Sanity

If you want government grants or low interest loans, you first must walk through the gauntlet of paperwork, applications, and discussions with life-long bureaucrats. Even then, you may not get the financial relief you’ve been promised. This means you spend countless hours that no one pays you for to chase down a small stipend that you most likely will have to pay back with interest. If you get it at all.

Loss of Momentum

This is the biggest loss of all. As a small business owner, you tweak and you try different marketing tactics, you navigate government regulations, processes and procedures and you work hard to get your company to make a profit. Just as you get your act together, the rug gets pulled out from under your feet. Not only are you immediately short on cash, zealous government officials tell you, it could be several months before you can re-open your business. With all this uncertainty, it’s nearly impossible to plan for success. Even if the government graciously allows you to do business, your customers are so scared, you’ll be luck to get back to normal within the next few years, if you last that long.

Loss to Large Competitors

Ironically, or not, the companies that have not shut down are the big-box stores, large grocery store chains and gigantic online retailers. It’s hard enough for the local merchants to compete with these behemoths, and the government just made it much harder by selectively allowing large merchants to open while small merchants must close.

What Should We Do?

We are Americans… and we DO have a choice. You can encourage your leaders to force every citizen into obedience, and dramatically expand government spending in the hopes that it will curtail the affects of a new virus; or you can decide to live life on your own terms.

I never thought I would say this, but I envy what Sweden has done. They have decided to continue living while they educate the public on the nature of the COVID-19 virus. Yes, people are dying of COVID-19 in Sweden, particularly in their elderly population. However, their small business economy is continuing, and their economy will spring back to life quickly.

I think that the elderly and those with at risk immune systems should voluntarily stay at home, wear masks, or do whatever they feel necessary to protect themselves. The healthy who can be carriers of this virus should intentionally avoid infecting these vulnerable in our population.

Death & Taxes

Benjamin Franklin was prophetic when he claimed, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.”  If we continue down our current path of business shutdowns, death will be delayed slightly for those living in their sunset years and income tax rates will surely grow for the rest of us.

What if instead, we all get back to the passion of making life worth living once again!


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