THE BOTTOM LINE

Business Relationships in Times of Crisis

Thomas DonnellyThomas P. Donnelly, Esquire

Even as science promises a light at the end of the Coronavirus tunnel, the continuing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic add stress to small business operations throughout the country. For many, survival has become the name of the game both for those unfortunate enough to have become infected, but also for small business. Survive and stay afloat until a semblance of normalcy can return. As we briefly experienced locally this summer and fall, customers and clients continue to need products and services and will to an even greater degree when the pandemic is finally past.

While small business may never be the same, it is not dead. We all know the United States economy is driven by small to medium employers no matter the media focus on big industry. Small business survival in difficult times requires a strong forward thinking focus on business relationships. 

Of course, important relationships include both internal and external to the business. Internally, creativity, support and leadership from management are imperative. Assets (meaning people) charged with effectuating policy and implementing change in order to manage the crisis must be supported throughout the leadership tree. Honest, transparent and compassionate communication is key. Future success is dependent upon stability of the work force such that the business can be poised to push forward as conditions improve.  Success should be rewarded. In turn, the business that supports its employees through a frightening time may be rewarded with a loyal, dedicated and stable work force.

The same is true for external business relationships. Honest communication with vendors, many of whom are similarly suffering, facilitates trust; meeting commitments even more so. If a commitment cannot be met, communication as to the reasons why and a proposal or plan to address any deficiency often avoids exacerbation of the unpleasant and the exercise of costly remedies such as litigation. The other side of the business coin is the relationship with the customer. Delivery of the promised service or product notwithstanding the challenges presented by the pandemic may result in even stronger ties giving rise to a long term and solid cooperative. At this point, with so many challenges to face each day, one less thing to worry about is appreciated and remembered.   

In business ownership, a crisis may bring about real opportunity to consolidate through buy out of a partner who wants to take risk, some of which was clearly unforeseen, off the table. Many who see business suffer will seek the relative safety of cash vs. the prospect of future income. The corollary is also true, a well-positioned business in the position to acquire operations or talent may find bargains or opportunities not available in a strong economy. Unfortunately, sometimes crisis exacerbates the flaws in the best laid plans, exposes the chinks in the armor and drives a wedge through what has been a tolerable but less than perfect relationship between business owners. If a close look at the financials has revealed disparity between value and service, financial impropriety or other irreconcilable differences such that your business ownership relationship is no longer working, it may be that the interruption in activity is a call to action. 

Government aid, while appropriate and essential during these unprecedented times, is limited in duration and effect. Small business success remains, as it always has, dependent upon the decisions of the small business person.   

Tom Donnelly is a Partner with Antheil, Maslow & MacMinn, LLP based in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. His practice focuses primarily on commercial litigation and transactions, employment disputes and personal injury. To learn more about the firm or Tom Donnelly, visit www.ammlaw.com.