Grab a cup of tea and let's have a chat! We are officially 1 month away from when everything came to a standstill for all of us. I'm here to share this side of aisle with you and I truly hope you share your point of view with me.
March 13th was a Friday, we had been given notice that PWCS would shut down to "clean" and would reopen on the Wednesday. I had a seed of hope but knew, I just knew we would never be back to our normal anytime soon; I never imagined it would take this long.
My immediate concern were the staff. How would they pay their bills? How would I pay them if I had no income coming in? Where are all the children going to go? Who is going to watch them? What about our subsidy parents who are shift workers, how are they going to go to work? Who is going to help them? Oh my God how many months reserve do we have? All I had were QUESTIONS.
No one had answers. No one. I called the insurance company, were we covered at all? - They didn't know. I called the landlord, did they have a plan to ease the burden on smaller business? -They didn't know. Days turned into a week and then a second week, I had to act or we were going to sink and fast.
We had to go virtual. I hate technology. I love technology. I am really bad at technology, it doesn't come easy to me and it takes me longer than anyone I know to understand how to change the printer settings so I stop printing worksheets on paychecks and have to have the CPA cancel a bunch of checks yet again in Quickbooks.
I did some research and realized that other larger chains were doing 1/2 tuition to keep income coming but it rubbed me the wrong way to do that if we weren't providing some sort of service or product in return. So I checked my reserves and decided that we had about 4-6 months of savings to float salaries and rent, little else; surely we would be back to normal by then. I trained the teachers on our new whipped up from scratch, with no other models to follow online curriculum and they trained me on Zoom. We started out with more children than we anticipated both a blessing and reason to panic until we discovered break-out rooms.
Panic, complete panic set in when I realized this virus could randomly kill anyone and I could be managing a killing ground. There was not enough information and yet too much information at the same time. I went from kicking myself for not selling AC off when offered several buy outs, to firmly believing we would be the next best thing online, to complete emotional meltdowns in between seeing the groups of children. The unpaid recurring invoices and soon after the RED LINES on our spreadsheets started to bother me in my sleep. It was going to have to be okay because we had been responsible and saved, so in 4-6 months we would be alright.
Then the 6th month came and went, nothing had changed and those RED LINES began to reappear in our financial forecasts because although we qualified for a grant and recieved it, we were not expecting to go past 6-9 months in the "RED" something had to give. I began working independently with families on my weekends and evenings online to subsidize the lack of income. I took a finance class and slashed all but our essential costs, wrote for more grants, became savvy at jumping red tape and became the squeakiest wheel in everyone's wheel house until I got what AC needed. It worked. I worked. Constantly, to this day I pull 16 hour days. I've managed to conduct our little operation in a way that massive loans were forgiven, grants were provided and income was still coming in. We did it. We are in the black again, nowhere near what we were doing before, but we were in the black. I have a very difficult time backsliding and have discovered as long as I'm moving forward, no matter how slowly we will eventually get to the other side. What and where is the other side?
I am only paying half rent. That won't last much longer so black will turn red again and I've got to come up with another plan, a better plan? I've been holding my breath for almost 12 months, watching as other smaller businesses dig themselves deeper into debt as airline carriers and cruise lines and the NFL get bailouts. Recently I received a notice telling me not to sell any of the items inside Animated Child as the bank may need it as collateral against the SBA Loan that was pushed on us. I told them to shove it, I had paid that loan back as soon as I realized that payments were deferred but interest was accruing. I knew those words now and what they meant. It infuriates me that we, the little businesses are encouraged to take on more debt while the airlines for example could get a handout.
I thought of selling my jewelry in the 5th-7th month, I refuse to put this burden on my family. My children slept at Animated Child in the early days so I could work on the books, marketing, curriculum, pre-boxing lunches and deep cleaning. My husband was deployed for the first two years and I alone decided to gamble our home to fund this place, this safe space for all children. I refuse to lose this space, I choose to keep the life we've worked so hard for. I choose to keep my 16 hr days because entrepreneurs really do believe they've found a better way. We are the only people who refuse to work a 40 hr. work week under someone else to work a 60 hr. work week for ourselves.
I am the embodiment of every immigrant's dream. I grew up watching the trains cross the border, with people clutching their family recipes, for the restaurant they'd open soon. Others clutched nicer luggage pieces with diplomas, certificates and books sure that they would be able to practice in "el norte". I had no idea then what I wanted to do, that was over 30 years ago.
Pandemics, they seem insurmountable but only to the hopeless. I have lots of hope and plenty of panic, must of all I have the daily energy surges the interactions with the children give me. It feels like a video game, constantly looking for the next power up tool while avoiding trap doors you can't come out of.