Small businesses around the country recently tuned into a webinar presented by Spectrum Reach to help entrepreneurs respond to challenges posed by COVID-19.
Moderator Annika Pergament, of NY 1, asked panelists about current economic conditions and asked them to provide practical suggestions for business owners to help them get to the other side.
The webinar, called “Looking beyond: What’s next to help local businesses succeed,” featured David Asman, a host on the Fox Business Network; Mark Langford, director of the North Texas SBDC (Small Business Development Center); and Bridget Weston, acting director of SCORE.
Local chambers of commerce, including the North Tampa Bay Chamber and The Greater Pasco Chamber, put out the word about the webinar, to give local businesses a chance to benefit from the panelists’ knowledge.
A quick poll taken at the front end of the session revealed that most businesses have reopened or are reopening gradually.
Besides providing advice, the panelists offered words of support to business owners.
Bridget Weston, acting CEO of SCORE, put it like this: “What I want all small businesses to know — whether you are completely open, opening slowly, or still struggling — is that there are resources out there to help you make the best decision for your business. You do not have to go through this alone.”
SCORE, which is a nationwide network of volunteer business mentors, is there “to help you figure out what the next right step is for you and your business. You, as entrepreneurs, are resilient. We know you can get through this, and we are here to help,” she said.
Asman said it’s no secret that “it’s an awful, awful moment.”
The unemployment rate, at 30%, is worse than at the worst time in the Great Depression, when unemployment hit 25%, he said.
But, he added: “I think there is, believe it or not, more good news to tell you than bad news. The bad news has already been cooked in.”
Asman said people “want to work and they want to be able to take care of their family, and they want to buy things, as well.”
But, Pergament noted, “as more states begin to open, that is the big question that lingers —how they will do, as economies and stores and businesses start to open their doors, whether there will be a resurgence.”
Mark Langford, director of the North Texas SBDC (Small Business Development Center), said Texas has begun its reopening process.
“From an observational standpoint, I would say the first week, the demand was not as strong as people thought,” Langford said. “People want to get out there, but they also have to balance it with, ‘Is it safe to be out there?’
“Last week, again, from an observational standpoint, a lot more traffic in the businesses than there was the week before,” he said.
People are interested in seeing if the rates spike with the COVID virus in the next couple of weeks, what those numbers look like, he added.
“Their nature is to want to get things back to the way they were. The only thing holding them back, I think, are the safety concerns,” Langford said.
Pergament said business owners are asking for advice on how to pivot their business in this changing environment.
Weston said SCORE said companies need to stay connected with their clients.
She said it’s a good time to promote “the why behind your company.
“Connect your customers to your mission. Build that brand loyalty now,” she added.
It’s also a good time for companies to think of current needs in the market and consider whether they can adapt to meet any of those needs, she said.
Companies also can communicate with clients about steps they are taking to be safe for their customers.
Be prepared to pivot
Companies need to be thinking about how they can respond to opportunities that lie within the current crisis, Langford said.
“This is your opportunity as a small business owner to react quickly to the marketplace and take advantage of that,” Langford said.
Small businesses, he said, are “being forced to think of ways to do business that they never have before and never even quite frankly considered.
Asman said the pandemic has revealed breakdowns in the supply chain and has created new opportunities for smaller operations to compete with the giants.
For instance, small businesses that couldn’t compete with Tyson and other big corporations are getting a chance to do so now, he said.
He also observed that as more employees work from home, it could cause disruption for corporate real estate, in Manhattan, for example.
“Big office buildings may have some serious problems,” Asman said.
When it comes to making big expenditures, he advises businesses to take a wait-and-see approach.
“Focus on cutting back to the bare minimum of what you need to stay in business, and then, if you have any resources left over, save them for a moment when you sense there is an opportunity opening up,” Asman said.
Langford said businesses need to know their revenues, their expenses, their margins, and their costs for goods and labor.
He advised businesses: “Have a short-term plan; a mid-term plan; a long-term plan, so that you’re prepared.
“It’s a whole lot easier to make decisions when you have the facts in front of you that show you, ‘Well, if I adjust this, if I change my labor here, if we streamline our menu, I can make it another 30 days; another 60 days.
“Now, is the time to really drill down on those numbers,” Langford said.
Here are some tips that may help small business owners, in response to COVID-19:
- Make a plan based on what you are trying to accomplish with your mission, your values and your business objectives — considering the current environment — then talk to an expert about that plan
- Put your plan to paper and adapt, as new information becomes available
- Check with SCORE and SBDC (both free resources) to learn more about loans, grants, training, free seminars and so forth, to help you consider your options
- Seek help from mentors to prioritize your budget
- Keep lines of communication open with existing clients; if you haven’t been in touch lately, get in touch
- Make sure you have a social media presence, if you don’t have one; if you have one, see if it’s time to refresh it.
Sources: SCORE and North Texas SBDC
Published June 03, 2020