Commercial Currents: Wrapping up 2020 

Craig Olson | Claire Donnelly
Posted 2020-12-23

A Year.

I’ll leave it at that. It’s been “A Year.” You can read whatever you want into it.

Claire Donnelly and I recently sat down to wrap up our current Commercial Currents podcast series, “Business in Uncertain Times.” It’s really a review of our impressions of 2020 for businesses in Maine, successes and failures, and the lessons we’ve learned moving forward.

Listen to the episode here.

At the beginning of what we are now calling a marathon, we had no idea how things were going to shake out when the economy began to shut down, especially when we began to realize that it was going to be more than 2-3 weeks. What struck us most about this year was the word we keep repeating, resiliency. Not in a climate sense, which you hear from us a lot at the Island Institute, but in a “bouncing back from the brink” sense.

Here is what we saw: business owners quickly shifted their businesses in order to deliver products and services in new ways. Curbside delivery became a big thing, as did home delivery. In-person interaction with clients quickly shifted to Zoom and other online meeting platforms, and people fell into the routine pretty quickly. Business owners looked at parts of their business and made hard choices that allowed them to stay in business, although often on a limited basis.

Something we were pushing business owners on constantly prior to the pandemic was the need for keeping good records. Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) funding and other grant programs shined a bright spotlight on that need and clean business records made applications much easier. Many of those with somewhat blurry financials have now sharpened things up considerably. Hand-in-hand with good business records, we always advise business owners to have their business set up as a separate legal entity. Applying for grants and loans at the state and federal levels was a big wakeup call for many that they needed to separate personal from business. We subsequently made it a focus of webinars and our Business Resilience Grant (BRG) funding, helping business owners get information on how their entity should be established and helping to pay for the support to do it.  If the pandemic results in you losing your business, you shouldn’t be worried about creditors coming after your home or retirement funds.

The one thing that bothered us both were the businesses who came to us for grant funding that we couldn’t help. Whether they were out of our funding jurisdiction, or if their business wasn’t shifting enough to be viable during the pandemic, it simply broke our hearts to have to say “no.”

But there is a light in all of this. What we have clung to through the last nine months is the amazing positive attitude we have found in the businesses we work with. Most are looking at the glass as half full, using adversity as an opportunity to learn, and making well considered decisions about their businesses.

Head over to the podcast link for a bit more depth on our annual review, which podcasts we enjoyed the most, and our other thoughts about the past year and the businesses we have the honor to work with along Maine’s coast. Oh, and there’s a bonus at the end of the episode—we play a rousing round of ‘overrated/underrated’ featuring our conflicting opinions about what it means to live on an island in Maine!

From the whole Small Business Team at the Island Institute, we wish you and yours all the best for a vibrant 2021.