Eric Karjaluoto

Keep Paddling

TL;DR: Coronavirus presents a threat to many. Some businesses won’t survive it. Yours might if you act decisively, cut costs, and commit to working as hard—and consistently—as ever.

I don’t need to tell you that we’re in a bad spot. You know that Coronavirus presents an existential risk for many. You’re also well aware of the potential economic fallout from all this.

I can’t do much to change that on a larger level—aside from keeping my family holed up (like you probably are). But, I can share my take on this situation, from a business owner’s perspective.

Bad times are inevitable

In 2008, Shelkie and I were in a bad way. We over-invested in a startup that didn’t pan out, after foolishly turning away paying client work. When the bottom fell out of the economy, we were screwed. At the worst point, we had only 2 weeks of cash remaining

It was grim at times, but we didn’t have many options. So, we reduced our costs. We cut our office space to one-third. We eliminated any non-essential expenses. We stopped taking paychecks. We didn’t sugar-coat anything. We were out of hail Mary’s and didn’t expect a quick resolve. We were determined to survive. (We joked that we were cockroaches.)

The rest of the time? We worked—like we always had. We kept servicing the few clients who were still buying. We explored new product ideas. We penned blog articles and wrote a book. We kept pushing.

The toughest days were in early 2009. It was winter, so, it was dark when we arrived at the office each morning—and when we left for the day. When I think back, all I remember is our overstuffed closet-like workspace, the darkness outside, and a sense of everything having ground to a halt.

This too will pass

That was a tough stretch, but it wasn’t the first we’d live through. It won’t be the last, either (especially as evidenced over the past week). That said, for as challenging—and dreary—as that time was, we made it through. With time the bank balance grew. Calls started coming in again. New opportunities arose.

This time will be no different. I realize that some (individuals and businesses) won’t survive it. That said, a great many will. From a probability standpoint, you’re more likely to make it than not. What you do today will play a part in that.

This next part will sound opportunistic, but that makes it no less true: Some will prosper as a result of this pandemic. I don’t mean to suggest that they’ll do anything dubious or unethical. I simply recognize that some will act with the long-term in mind.

Some will reflect on our situation, see how business is changing, and build tools to capitalize on these changes. Others will develop new product lines while their friends are binging on Netflix. A few will watch the market. They’ll double-down on stocks when they hit record lows, and then watch their money multiply.

What you’ll do next

I don’t know how this situation will turn out. What I do know is that uncertain situations often require you to keep acting as you were—even if doing so feels abnormal. Have you ever canoed into big waves? If so, you know that stopping is not the answer (unless you want to flip the canoe). If you want to stay afloat, you keep paddling, just like you did before.

If you run a small business, you must act prudently. That might mean cutting any costs that don’t generate revenue. Beyond that, though, I’d ask you to act with the same clear-headedness that you did before this crisis. Don’t panic. Don’t go into the fetal position. Don’t do anything rash. Pause for a moment, take a breath, and assess the situation.

What must be done today? Get to that first. Then look at what you can do to spur new business. Perhaps it’s a call to existing customers to offer payment relief. Maybe it’s a special offer or some kind of added value to those who’re struggling. You might even ask if there’s a better way to service your customers. (Craft breweries in Vancouver are offering home deliveries—to keep their beer flowing.)

You have some time on your hands. Turn this to your advantage. Tidy your workspace. Work through your task backlog. Revamp your server architecture so it’s up-to-date and efficient. Prototype new products and announce them.

Even more important: Treat people well—be they your staff, customers, or partners. Today is a test of your character. You and your brand will be measured by the way you respond to this threat—and how you take care of your people.


Take 5 minutes to create a daily routine for yourself. It should include time for uninterrupted work, sales/networking, exercise, and rest. Chunk it out in big blocks (hours) and keep it simple. Tomorrow morning, you’ll get up early, and follow this schedule like your life depends on it. You’ll do the same the day after, and the day after that—until doing so feels normal. You’ve got this.

Sign up to receive new articles by email: