One of the most profound impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the loss of connection with others. For a group of small business coaches working in coal transition communities in Central and Eastern Alberta, the sudden end of in-person business visits and close connection with entrepreneurs was an early sign that many new startups and seasoned business owners were beginning to struggle with some of the invisible and often unspoken costs of the global health crisis.
“Recognizing that business owners can experience grief or loss was a crucial step to moving forward,” says Louise Jones, a Community Futures Small Business Advisor in East Central Alberta.
Louise and her colleagues described how small businesses were becoming fragmented and paralyzed. Business planning came to a halt, clients withdrew and stopped wanting to manage their next steps.
“Society doesn’t give us the rituals to honour the loss of an endeavour or a dream,” says Bill Harder, a grief/loss counsellor and educator working with a local hospice society in Camrose, Alberta. “And often, we have not found a way to voice what we are experiencing.”
Understanding Business Loss
According to Bill, working in a small business places people in the position of walking a complicated road of loss and hope. Financial stress can also create a sense of loss – as the tension can isolate people from their close relationships.
The realization that business owners were experiencing a loss of normalcy, economic fears and growing collective grief was a pivotal moment for the team - and one that prompted them to turn their methods of individual and personal business coaching into something wholly different.
Taking the Next Steps
One of the first steps was hosting online entrepreneurial workshops for dozens of small businesses across Alberta exploring the topic of “Loss” in business.
Facilitated by Bill Harder, entrepreneurs shared their experiences and gained insight and validation into a difficult and often-underrepresented aspect of small business ownership.
Since April, the coal transition coaching team has also been inviting one-on-one coaching clients to online group mentorship sessions where the entrepreneurs can have access to a diverse team of small business advisors and their unique expertise.
“When we come together as a group to co-coach clients over virtual ‘Coffee Chats’, it is a hugely beneficial learning opportunity for everyone involved,” says Larae Pierson, a Business Coach working in Hanna, Alberta.
Each coach, she says, brings a different perspective and a different way of asking questions and presenting information in service of a client. In the words of John Green, "We are greater than the sum of our parts". Aside from sharing resources at their fingertips, the team has also connected clients with other like-minded individuals and businesses, which has helped them stay grounded and focused.
“The transformation also lies in knowing that there is a group of people who have your back, are cheering for you, and your information and ideas are safe and confidential. Every business owner, and entrepreneur, needs this right now,” says Larae.
As many have been challenged to adjust to the immense pressures the COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed in our lives, the coaching team has developed a new confidence in adapting by using empathy, relatability and understanding as a common thread between not only local entrepreneurs but all Albertans as we seek to find the next steps in an uncertain future.
Know someone impacted by the coal transition in rural Alberta?
This website can help them navigate their next steps in possible entrepreneurship. https://cfinsider.ca/timeforchange
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We grieve all manner of losses. Naming our loss, accepting the feelings that arise, and leaning into the pain are the way forward to transformation.
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