Small Business Development Center helps small businesses during crisis
Being a successful small business owner requires a sizable portfolio of personal assets, including patience, poise and persistence. This is now more true than ever.
Joe Harper, executive director at the Texas State University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), says the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the paradigm by which small businesses survive and prosper, maybe forever.
“Everything is upside down,” Harper says. “Their supply chain is broken, their customer chain is broken, their ability to meet expenses is diminished and I have obviously never seen anything like this … The whole flow of business, from the supply chain all the way to the customer, is completely disrupted.”
Harper and his five-person staff at SBDC provide technical assistance in 12 Central Texas Counties on starting, sustaining and growing a small business. Typically, they mentor small business owners one-on-one on strategies and best practices; conduct seminars and training programs; and teach them how to collaborate with resources to grow their business.
Now they’re simply trying to keep them alive.
“So to say we are overwhelmed is probably an understatement,” Harper says.
“The problem we have now is that we don’t have a ‘normal’ day. We talk to owners about repurposing and you see that with a lot of businesses now who were doing one thing and are now doing something else. It is about assessing your business and understanding your business and what role or purpose it might have that’s different from what you’ve been doing.”
One, its going to make us leaner. We’re going to learn how to operate businesses a little better. Two, we are going to have to shift our business to more technology – if nothing else, just in how we reach our customers. I read some articles that one of the biggest challenges for small businesses in the next 3-5 years would be the adaptation to technology. What we’re seeing now is a rapid adaptation to technology by necessity.
Harper offers these tips to small business owners:
- Take a hard look at your business and what you can do to reduce costs.
- “Lessons learned here are how to run leaner and how to leverage technology to reach your customers, suppliers, employees,” Harper says.
- Balance that cost-cutting with retaining your workforce. Do everything you can.
“As a former entrepreneur I can tell you that once you let them go it is very difficult to get them back,” Harper says. “You thought you had a hard time finding qualified employees prior to this event? Wait until you see what happens when we start making this turnaround.”
- Think of how you can repurpose your business. Brainstorm creatively about what your business offers and how that can tap into new customer bases.
- Improve your greatest asset – you.
- “Invest in yourself, find those webinars that are going to make you a better person, make you a stronger business,” Harper says. “Many times, business owners are so busy within, that they don’t have time to work on themselves. And now is the time to do it.”
- Think of the COVID-19 restrictions not just as a setback, but as an opportunity.
“For years, successful entrepreneurs have found opportunity in chaos,” Harper says. “It’s about observing and seeing where that opportunity is and finding a way to capture that opportunity, because people are trying to find a norm. And if you can provide that norm, then you will have success.”
- Take advantage of government support, including the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which contains an unprecedented $2.2 trillion in financial relief for businesses, public institutions, individuals and other programs.
“I’ve been involved with the SBDC Program for more than 31 years and I have never seen the government push out money as fast with as minimal of restrictions,” Harper says. “As slow as it seems to be for many who are in dire straits, this is relatively quick and it comes with very few restraints.”
The SBDC can help small business owners negotiate the assistance available to them. Harper says the best way to contact the SBDC is through its website, and not through phone calls or emails.
Harper stresses that patience is an important tool in dealing with the times. Because the effects of the COVID-19 restrictions are drastic and unprecedented, owners should not panic if they can’t get help immediately.
“Most natural disasters are usually localized,” Harper says. “So, resources can be shifted from one area in the country to another to fill that capacity gap. But when there is a national emergency, like this, everywhere you go there are no resources to ship so we have to create resources and build new capacity.”
Banks and government agencies will be overwhelmed with requests, and will take time to increase staffing and capacity, because they are built for normal times, Harper says. That includes the SBDC.
“We have to try to understand that everybody is overwhelmed and we all are doing the best to catch up,” Harper says.
Finally, any successful small business depends on a loyal customer base. Harper says it’s important that those customers stay loyal if they want their favorite businesses to survive.
“So much of what we do is limited by what we can do (because of restrictions),” Harper says. “If we all make a conscious effort to support the small businesses around us, try to engage every small business you can, because they’re going to need you to stay afloat.”