Since early 2020, small businesses have endured one of the most difficult periods in the nation’s history. COVID-19 has forced many businesses to close permanently. Others are just barely hanging on. Those who survive the pandemic and continue operating for years to come will be stronger businesses because of this experience. With that in mind, here are 5 lessons small business owners can learn from the pandemic to make their businesses stronger. 1. Protecting Yourself Is as Important as Protecting Your Business Like most people, small business owners have been trying to avoid contracting COVID-19. Unlike people with traditional jobs, small business owners don’t enjoy the luxury of paid sick days to help them get through an illness. The virus has made many people sick and unable to work for an extended period. Getting the disease can exacerbate the struggles for small business owners during the pandemic. If they can’t work, they can’t run their businesses and earn an income. One way to avoid this is by protecting your earning power. That’s where disability insurance for the self-employed comes in. Disability insurance replaces the income you lose when you’re unable to work due to injury or illness. If you qualify for benefits, disability insurance pays a monthly benefit based on your pre-disability income. Benefits will last as long as your policy states. For short-term disability policies, you may receive benefits for up to 2 years. Long-term disability insurance can pay for up to 10 years or until age 65. Of course, another way to protect yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond is with adequate health insurance. According to the Mayo Clinic, COVID-19 may lead to long-term damage to a person’s vital organs, causing serious conditions like heart disease or respiratory disorders later in life. Treating serious illnesses gets expensive fast. Health insurance may only cover 80% of those costs. The insured has to pay the remaining 20% out of pocket. If treating a heart attack costs $100,000, the insured would be stuck with a $20,000 bill. Small business owners can plug the holes in their health insurance and protect themselves from enormous medical bills with critical illness insurance. This type of supplemental insurance pays a lump sum cash benefit up to $75,000 if you are diagnosed with a covered illness, such as heart attack, stroke, cancer, or other costly condition. This money can be used to cover costs that your health insurance won’t, such as deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. You can also use the funds to replace lost income and pay your regular bills. 2. Get in the Habit of Making Adjustments Small business owners have been reminded how important it is to make adjustments when needed. That might mean adjusting your marketing strategy, your operations, or even your product or service. During the pandemic, office employees have worked from home. Restaurants and retailers have increased their delivery and carry-out services, as well as online ordering. And while having access to outdoor space for your business is always a plus during the year’s warm months, it very well may have proven to be more valuable in 2020 than ever before. Hopefully, small businesses won’t have to deal with another pandemic after we get through COVID-19. But the reality is that businesses have to make adjustments all the time. Buying habits change. Big box retailers move into town. Businesses lose major customers or vendors all the time and need to replace them. Road construction may make it challenging for customers to get to your business, or a major highway built a few miles away may steal your everyday in-store traffic. (Or, perhaps more appropriate for the digital age, a massive algorithm update by Google may decimate your website traffic.) Adaptability is key to lasting small business success. Be aware of what’s going on and prepare to adjust parts of your business before it’s too late to do so. 3. Learn to Do More With Less The COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual event. What isn’t uncommon in the life of a small business are lean times. The longer you run a business, the more you’re likely going to deal with staying afloat during recessions or other periods of lean means. One thing you don’t want to do is sacrifice what you provide your customers. Even during a pandemic, customers expect the same quality of product and level of service they’re accustomed to. If anything, you may have to step up your game during a recession or pandemic. This is because your potential customer base will shrink, and competitors will be fighting for fewer available dollars. You also don’t want to stop promoting your business. But you may want to focus more on digital marketing instead of advertising via traditional media. Always know where you can cut back—even if temporarily—to get through tough times without compromising on what makes your business unique. 4. Know How to Strategically Use Financing If you’ve relied too much on financing to prop up your business, you may find it challenging to obtain another loan during a pandemic or other tight spot. On the other hand, if you’re strategic about how and when you use borrowed funds, you can get a loan easier when times are tough. Even if you need funds to get through the pandemic, you need a strategy for how you’re going to use those funds. That way, you can get a return from that investment. Perhaps now is a good time to increase your marketing budget, expand your product line, or accelerate the payment of invoices. 5. Realize You Still Have to Rest Small business owners may have to work harder during times like these. But what they can’t do is work around the clock and burn themselves out. It’s critical for small business owners to realize that taking short breaks is not going to hurt their businesses. Spending time completely away from work isn’t going to cause your company to collapse. On the contrary, getting adequate rest can increase your productivity. Prioritize the tasks that need to be completed. Accept that there is plenty of work that can wait until the next day or even the day after. Assessing What You’ve Learned At this point in the year, most small business owners can safely say whether or they were prepared for a catastrophic event of this magnitude. It’s important to recognize that some of the most valuable and long-lasting lessons are learned during the toughest times. For those small business owners who are still pushing forward, these 5 lessons can help sustain you and your business through the rest of the pandemic and beyond.