For Small-Business Owners, Hard Decisions Become Personal

“One of our biggest deals is we own shopping malls,” he said. “That’s a lot of restaurants, nail shops, fitness centers, and not a lot of rent is going to come in from them.”

His goal is to keep most of his 900 employees employed through April and re-evaluate after that.

Many business owners are struggling with tough decisions on a personal level, said Pierre duPont, a partner at the financial services firm Cerity Partners, where he has many business owners as clients. “It’s just not about the numbers,” he said. “It’s about the people and the relationships that make the business whole.”

Ms. Wecker said Skyline had employed some families that had worked there for many years. “We had a woman who celebrated her 50th year working here,” she said. “Her son and grandson work for us, too.”

Brian Ascher, partner at Venrock, a venture capital firm, recommends pulling off the Band-Aid quickly. “If you have to cut, the goal is to cut once, cut deeply and do it quickly,” he said. “Then you have to treat the remaining troops really well, so they have psychological safety.”

Rent is an area ripe for renegotiation. Mr. Parsons is expecting less rent from his tenants, and Mr. Ascher is encouraging companies he’s invested in to ask for rent reductions. He has seen landlords cut rents by 10 percent to 20 percent but also up to 50 percent.

Another strategy for business owners is to stretch the cash they have. Companies with 18 months of cash are in the best position, and those with 12 months should try to stretch it to 18 months, Mr. Ascher said. Companies with less than 12 months are going to struggle.

But they must spend the cash wisely, said Bob Buchanan, head of business transition planning at Wells Fargo Private Bank.

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