For a small business owner whose job requires physical contact, functioning during the coronavirus presents a unique challenge.
"There are times when I'm like, 'Wow, what's the future of this?' My whole career is around touching people," says Katie Ray, a chiropractor and founder of the New Day Network Wellness Center in Chicago, Illinois.
Because chiropractors are considered essential health-care workers, Ray's practice can remain open during the coronavirus pandemic despite social distancing restrictions. To maintain safe conditions, Ray and her associate wear masks while doing chiropractic adjustments, clean tables between clients, and are diligent about hand-washing.
Even so, Ray has lost about 80% of her clients over the past month: "A lower percentage are willing to leave their house to do something that many people consider nonessential," she explains.
Here's how Ray is keeping her clients engaged, running her business, and getting by during this challenging time.
Ray usually changes $74 for a single chiropractic adjustment and monthly rates of $560 and $250 for ongoing services for new and existing clients, respectively. Since the outbreak, she has seen a significant portion of her income dry up.
In addition to the loss of her current clients, Ray's avenues for generating new clients, from in-person marketing events to networking happy hours, are now cut off. Referrals from existing clients that help support the practice are gone as well. With only 1 to 2 new clients typically starting chiropractic care each week, Ray says she "can't take for granted that things are going to bounce back" even when social distancing restrictions are lifted.
"People are experiencing so much hardship, and we were experiencing that momentum of having been connected with [clients] constantly, for some of them, for years," she says.
For a business that requires a hands-on approach, quite literally, the future is uncertain: "It's scary because it feels like without that real-life interaction, you wonder if it all falls apart."
For the moment, however, she's taking "the long view" and keeping in mind that "most clients stay with the practice for three months to years on end." The care and the sense of community Ray provides via her practice "is a very regular part of many of [her] clients' lives."
As a first move, Ray applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides $349 billion in aid to small businesses on a first-come, first-serve basis. Businesses can apply for loans equal to 2.5 times their monthly average payroll for 2019, which for Ray came out to $27,000. She found the system difficult to navigate and as of mid-April, her application was still pending.
Ray also reached out to her landlord, who agreed to accept 50% of her $2,000 monthly rent for April on the condition that she pay back the remainder once she receives federal relief.
"It's a little bit scary to think about how long this could be going on, like, 'Wow, now I'm going to have to pay back loans, and pay back my landlord?'" she says.
To sustain her business, Ray cut back on hours for her three employees and canceled access to IT support, which ran her $238 per month. Her tech support person agreed to work for free until Ray can get back on her feet.
Deciding where to cut back required weighing her current financial needs with her future goals, "since this is going to be more of a marathon than a sprint," says Ray. "Things that I have to do in the short-term I don't want to have undercut me in the long term."
Concerned that her business line of credit could be closed in the current economic climate, Ray transferred the remaining balance on her line of credit to a personal account.
As a last resort, she knows she could cash out her IRA, but she'd prefer not to: "That money is about 50% of what it was a month ago, so that would not be very good to take it out now."
Ray lives with her boyfriend, whose job has not been affected by the pandemic, and their dual income gives her some stability as well.
While her practice has slowed down, Ray says the most important thing she's doing is keeping her clients engaged.
"I'm sending out emails and texts and calling people like crazy," says Ray. "That's all time that I used to be spending doing things that were actively bringing income to me and my business. And now, it's really an investment for the future, and keeping us sane in the present."
She's spending "large chunks of the day" communicating with her clients and her team to foster the sense of community she worked hard to create. She considers her job her passion and her practice is a form of self-care for many of her clients, as well as a "gathering place."
"There are times when I'm calling people or sending blogs out and I'm thinking, 'Wow, I feel really connected to them, considering I can't even see them or touch them,' and I'm used to touching them every week."
Ray has already benefited from the goodwill of her client base. A few long-term clients were willing to prepay for three, six, or 12 months of care "in an attempt to help us survive right now," says Ray. She also offered some of her longstanding clients a discount on chiropractic services for next month.
"This is an investment that we need to make in our long-term clients so they know we're here to support them, and we value them, then that's something we need to do," says Ray.
Despite the inherent challenges of sustaining a hands-on business during the coronavirus, Ray sees opportunity in setback: "We believe this crisis is a time to really demonstrate what we are all about."
Ray says she wants her clients to still have the "benefit they receive" from her practice, even if they are not coming in, or if they've ended their care because they lost their jobs, like some already have.
"The whole purpose and vision for our company is that our clients be lifted up higher, and our clients be able to shine brighter for the world as a result of their experience with us," says Ray. In particular, during a period of crisis, "people really need that."
"There are so many questions that are coming out of this, and it's terrifying," says Ray. "But it's also very interesting, and I kind of can't wait to see all that comes out of this."
More from Grow: