Here’s What We’re Learning about How to Survive
by David Kraus
Last week, Jose Alfaro led the CO.STARTERS team in hosting a series of virtual roundtables for entrepreneurs who feel stuck due to the COVID-19 crisis. Each session focused on different industry groups—restaurants and retail, makers and service providers, and lifestyle and consultants.
We asked participants, when signing up, to tell us the biggest concern they had about their business. Answers ranged from “survival” to “setting up an online store,” to “layoffs.” If you own a small business, you can probably relate.
To address those concerns, Jose led participants through the CO.STARTERS Canvas, encouraging them to think about how their customers’ problems are changing and what kinds of creative solutions they can offer to those problems. Afterwards, we held an open Q&A session and bounced different ideas off each other.
“I was having a really hard day not knowing what other action steps to take with my very new business, but after the Zoom call I was inspired, got a fire in my belly, and had action steps!”
We weren’t sure how helpful these sessions would be, but we really wanted to give immediate support to our starters and alumni and help them regroup during this crisis. Thankfully, our approach appeared to have an impact.
One participant, Teresa O’Brien, reached out to thank us, “I was having a really hard day not knowing what other action steps to take with my very new business, but after the Zoom call I was inspired, got a fire in my belly, and had action steps!”
If you’re a small business owner feeling lost, here are some action steps you can take too:
Restaurants & Retail
Get online. If you’re a retail business, you don’t need a fancy website with bells and whistles—just start with social media! Reach out directly to your customers and offer delivery services for an extra fee.
Rethink your offerings. Stock essentials like milk, eggs, and butter that your customers can pick up when they pick up food. If you have a food truck, can you deliver food or groceries for a season? Consider changing your menu to strictly comfort food—the kind of thing your customer wants to stress-eat in sweatpants on their couch.
Makers & Service Providers
Ramp up your digital marketing. It is essential that you have an online presence during this time. If you haven’t already, get on social media. Use new resources available to you. For example, if you sell on Etsy, the company is offering support with ads and help with seller fees right now.
Use what you’re best at. How can you use your skills to make what your customer needs during this unprecedented time? Be creative! Many people are craving connection right now. Maybe you can bundle several of your products to create care packages for them to send to loved ones. Use your talents to help with the current situation. If you sew or 3D print, you can support front-line medical personnel with personal protective equipment like face masks.
Service providers should use the opportunity to get creative. For example, if you cut and style hair and your salon has closed, can you offer hair care kits for sale and tutorials on Instagram Live? Can you bundle services in special gift card offers that customers can buy now and redeem when you’re open again? For example, buy a gift card for a pedicure and get a free eyebrow wax.
If your clients are hesitant to make moves right now, remind them that this is an opportunity. How can using your services now help them be better positioned to grow when everything opens up again?
Lifestyle & Consultants
Be mindful of the current context. For example, most people aren’t thinking about luxury right now. For interior designers, can you focus on locally-owned products or DIY advice?
Keep sharing valuable social media content. If you run a tour business, can you offer weekly virtual tours around your city over social media? Sweeten the pot by entering everyone who comments into a drawing for a gift card for your services.
Reach out to your clients to connect. It doesn’t have to be about work. You could offer industry-based coffee chats or roundtables over Zoom. Don’t worry about having a structured conversation. Just offer a time to chat.
The people and businesses you work with are affected by this crisis, too. Can you offer consulting services to help them navigate it?
All Small Businesses
In almost every town, city, or county, there is at least one organization dedicated to helping small businesses. Many of them are CO.STARTERS members. Find them. They are your best chance of surviving this crisis. They know the local ins and outs of relief funding, digital help, and community support.
If you’re considering applying for an SBA relief loan, check out this step-by-step guide. Don’t forget to check with your local SBA, Chamber of Commerce, or Community Foundation. They’ll have all the knowledge on local support and funding.
Stay up to date on the CO.STARTERS Recovery Guide. We update this curated list of resources every day, so keep checking. It’s even filterable by industry!
Go back to the basics. Your customer has a problem. Use the CO.STARTERS Canvas to think through how you can solve it.
In almost every town, city, or county, there is at least one organization dedicated to helping small businesses. Find them. They are your best chance of surviving this crisis.
What Else is CO.STARTERS Doing?
Straight Talk with Starters: The CO.STARTERS team will continue hosting free roundtables every Wednesday. If you or someone you know runs a small business or was planning to launch one before all this happened, this is a great opportunity to connect with others in similar positions and get that “fire in your belly!”
Refocus Workshop: This new CO.STARTERS offering is a free two-hour workshop offered virtually for any entrepreneur who is stuck due to the COVID-19 crisis. The goal of the workshop is to help you reimagine your business and adapt to the changing circumstances. Look for one offered by your local support organization or sign up for a CO.STARTERS hosted session here.