• Barbara Corcoran has been an investor on “Shark Tank” since the show’s inaugural season.
  • She has invested in many companies and is also a successful entrepreneur. She’s worked through past recessions while building up her real estate company, The Corcoran group, which she sold in 2001 for about $66 million.
  • Corcoran says to stay engaged with your team, draw down credit lines, and get creative.
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It’s a scary time for small business owners. One month ago, COVID-19 was barely on anyone’s radar and now, the biggest outbreak in the United States is happening in my hometown, New York City. When I leave my apartment for something as simple as food it takes hours of standing in line. Every nonessential business is closed down, and while it’s the responsible decision to make, it has catastrophic consequences for small businesses and our entire economy. 

Small businesses aren’t so small. There are about 30 million small businesses in the United States that employ half of working Americans. They’re in small towns and in big cities, so everyone is affected. In the coming weeks, small business owners will be making impossibly tough decisions, like talking to their staff about cutting hours or being laid off.

Ultimately, we have to believe we’re making these decisions in everyone’s best interests. Here are a few things I’ve been doing with my team and Shark Tank businesses which may be helpful to you.

1. Stay fully engaged with your team

Everyone on my team is working at home but they’re working harder than ever. Now is the time to keep your employees in the loop. We’re scheduling daily and weekly meetings on Zoom, Slack, or Google Hangouts. Why? Because face to face is key to keep people connected, motivated and morale high. Take advantage of conferencing apps and use them to brainstorm with your team on what to focus on, what to do differently, and how to help one another.

2. Be honest with your employees

Clear communication from the boss is so important now. No one wants to reduce pay or lay people off but for many of us, it’s our only option. You need to address the topic square between the eyes because it’s the question on every employee’s mind. Instead of firing people, I’ve encouraged many of my businesses to reduce pay evenly across the board. I’d rather temporarily reduce everyone’s income by 25% than lose a third of my people. And, help is on the way — the $2 trillion stimulus package was approved, and most of it is directed to help small business owners. Emergency loans will be made available to keep your workers on payroll, so you should be on top of the details and share them with your employees and 1099 workers.

3. Get creative

You need to challenge everything that’s worked before because only the most creative companies will survive. How can you do things differently? What can you offer your customer or client that you’ve never done before? The fact is everyone is still shopping and in need of services, but they have to be offered a good deal.

My Shark Tank companies are making me very proud right now. They continue to blow me away with their creativity and dogged efforts to reinvent themselves and change their business models:

  • Cousins Maine Lobsterhas created take-home kits for people to make their own lobster rolls at home and is busy donating meals to hospital staff
  • Grace & Lace is raising funds and donating protective masks from China to people and hospitals in need
  • Nardo’s Naturals Skincare donates Aloe Vera and packaging to help a local distillery produce hand sanitizer
  • Pipsnacks is shipping their yummy popcorn to nonprofits and ERs across the country
  • Boho Camper Vans is discounting their beautiful camper vans all of April for families to escape to the outdoors
  • The Comfy brothers are keeping their customers comfy at home with free shipping and discounted prices
  • Daisy Cakes, the most delicious cakes in America cook up a new cake flavor every week to keep people ordering

Everyone is thinking creatively on how to do more.

4. Draw down your credit line

If you have a credit line now is the time to draw it down and sock it away. Why? Interest rates on credit lines are cheap right now and if you wait until you need the money, the banks will pull the line. I know because I’ve had my credit lines pulled out from under me in the middle of every crisis.

Assess what your cash needs will be over the next 3-6 months if COVID-19 continues to rage on. With little business coming in, it’s important to only draw on your credit line or spend any money when it’s absolutely necessary. Take down your expenses to the bare essentials and only use the credit line cash if you have to.

5. Stay positive

However scary this is for all of us right now, it’s important to remember we always come through. Every business is feeling the strain of COVID-19 so we’re all in it together.

I can distinctly remember the dark days of building my little real estate business in New York City — the stock market crashed in 1987 and 2008, causing the housing crisis. Interest rates hit 18% and no one was buying real estate.

Even after 9/11, people wrote NYC off as a goner, but we came back, and we’ll always come back. It’s important to remember that. The businesses that succeeded after each crisis kept their teams tight, reinvented themselves, stayed positive, and were all pulled through by great leaders.

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