Imagine, if you will … a wall of darkness on an otherwise bright and beautiful day, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and advancing, fast. Not just any wall, this one is solid black and encompasses the entire horizon, top to bottom, and goes as far east and west as you can see. It’s a pitch of darkness your eyes cannot penetrate, unlike any approaching storm you’ve experienced before.
In what seemed like no time at all, my little city was engulfed in this thick, tenebrous cloak. The utter fear of the unknown gripped all its citizens, including m2e. I was powerless.
While you may think I’m referring to COVID-19, I am not. I have vivid memories of the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Skamania County, Wash., and how it completely enveloped my hometown of Spokane, Wash., nearly 250 miles away. I had all good intentions for a great and fantastic day, and when the volcano erupted at 12:36 p.m. PDT, my city and I were sent into sheer panic within a matter of hours.
Sound familiar? While COVID-19 and the Mt. St. Helens eruption events are not entirely the same, there are some similarities to consider. Both came out of nowhere (so to speak) and with both, the majority of the public was not prepared. Because of these factors, fear had very few obstacles and it, too, spread with ease.
One thing is different, and in a huge way: While COVID-19 is a wall I cannot see and admittedly can’t control, I can steer my ship — my small business — to calmer waters. I can keep my income steady and mitigate losses. To what degree has yet to be seen, but I’m confident it won’t be catastrophic. I am not powerless during this pandemic.
THE NEW NORMAL
In the interest of safety to all, many companies have wisely moved to exterior-only service. But that’s not exactly helpful with a cockroach or bed bug account. In those instances, we’ve asked for as little human interaction as possible. Customers leave keys and stay outside while we are in their homes, as we do our best to maintain social distancing protocols.
Unfortunately, the real challenge is personal protective equipment (PPE). While the toilet paper aisles were being ransacked, the gloves, masks and hand cleanser shelves were, too. While not visually pleasing, respirators and thick lawn spray gloves will be the call of the day once our stock runs dry. Fortunately, dishwashing soap is not in short supply — and we’ve made sure to have plenty on hand.
One of the most critical steps we have implemented is a no-fear policy. In our communications with our staff and clients, we cite only official information found on either CDC.gov or WHO.int. Allowing anecdotal or far-out conspiracy theories to control the conversation does no good. With science- and fact-based information, we can quell the speculation, and we get very little pushback. As the saying goes, “Facts are stubborn things.”
Fear is a great motivator. However, if fear is allowed to fester, it will paralyze you, freeze your every decision and stifle your every move when speed and clarity are of the essence. To stay nimble, you must separate yourself from gossip and calls of dire scenarios not grounded in truth. Stay vigilant and employ every sensible precaution you can.
Consider the phrase “captain of the ship,” which was coined in 1949 as legal doctrine regarding who’s in charge of an operation. You, as a small business owner, are the captain of your ship. You are in charge. Explore your options; take what you’ve learned and implement it how you see fit. Use this experience to plan for the next business storm. The rudder doesn’t turn unless you command it. Remember, the captain should be the last one to leave the ship at tumultuous times.
Take care, be safe.
Tips from the Pest Cemetery crew
“All employees receive temperature checks before starting each day. The office is sanitized daily. No customer contact is allowed. If inside service is needed, we try to get that information ahead of time, tend to the issue, and the client maintains a safe social distance during treatment.”
— Ben Downard, President, Action Pest Services, Greenville, S.C.
“I’ve transitioned to exterior service-only and use a phone app for work orders and agreements. As for route optimization, it’s been terrific since I no longer have to schedule around clients being there.”
— Aaron Gleeson, Owner, New River Pest Control, Radford, Va.
“My paperwork is all digital, and sent and signed in advance. I now start every treatment with steam rather than vacuum first. This helps knock down viruses on surfaces, and I stay aware of my surroundings.”
— Jeff McChesney, Owner, Pest Preppers, Palm Harbor, Fla.
“I’m texting with my staff daily about safety and their concerns. In April, I began combining routes because of less anticipated work. But all our employees are still being paid while working from home.”
— Dannielle Nieves, President, A&A Pest Control, Portland, Ore.
“We try not to send too much info out and raise concern. We changed our auto-reminder to include our preventive measures and reassuring messages. We also updated our website to include a notice that directs to a dedicated page about our pandemic response, and the fact that we are still open and why.”
— Jerika Zuckerman, Co-owner, Zuckerman’s Pest Management, Pataskala, Ohio
Read more COVID-19 coverage here: MyPMP.net/COVID-19
SCHAPPERT is owner of The Bug Doctor, Ocala, Fla., and administrator for Facebook industry discussion group Pest Cemetery. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.