Texas Tech researchers and Lubbock community members offer insight on how communities can support their small businesses
With the rise of COVID-19 and steps being taken to prevent its spread have also come hard hits to the economy, especially for small businesses. National and local government guidelines have forced many small businesses to operate differently, with some having to close their doors temporarily. While necessary for public health, these circumstances have created many stressors for small business owners and their employees.
As Texas Tech Hospitality and Retail Management associate professor and department chair Robert Jones, Ph.D., explains, small businesses are the leading employers in the U.S., with many hospitality and retail businesses bearing the brunt of the pain.
"Many small businesses lack the ability to rapidly transition their in-person business to online," Dr. Jones said. "In fact, many provide services which are only in-person such as hotels, salons, spas, fitness centers, etc."
This inability to transition online quickly is also affecting businesses that aren't utilizing social media (paid or organic), email marketing, online stores, or earned media attention. Without help from those resources, many small businesses face an uphill battle to earn consumer dollars, Taylor McAlpine of Local LBK, an online platform dedicated to highlighting and supporting local Lubbock small businesses, adds.
"Business owners are having to quickly change their business models and address new consumer expectations (or government mandates) if they want to continue generating revenue," McAlpine said. "Understanding customer needs, communicating how new systems work, utilizing sales funnels/customer databases, being highly service-oriented, creating new product offerings, offer their products/services in a way that benefits those in need."
Despite the struggle, there are still ways for businesses to get creative and for local communities to do their part in showing their support during this time and in the future once businesses can reopen.
"There is a lot that the public can do to support locally owned and independent businesses at this time," McAlpine said. "Online or remote purchases, buying gift cards, tipping extra, sharing social media content, and leaving positive reviews are all just a few examples of how to help at this time. I would even recommend reaching out to your favorite businesses and asking them directly what the most beneficial way would be to support them."
Though it may be too soon to guess the outcome of current circumstances on small businesses, Jean Evans, Associate Managing Director of the Texas Tech Innovation Hub at Research Park, says that outcomes may be dependent on the lingering effects of COVID-19.
"The future impact is dependent on how long the shelter in place order is directed and the fear of COVID-19 lingers," Evans said. "The businesses that can weather the storm and approach this time strategically and adjust to the new business climate will fare better and possibly come out improved."
Despite the grim outlook, Evans and Dr. Jones offered a list of helpful resources to help businesses withstand these uncertain circumstances:
• Apply for the Small Business Association sources of funding available. Contact your
banker for the latest application process or go to https://covid19relief.sba.gov/.
• Call the Hub City Small Business Triage hotline, (managed by the SBDC of Lubbock), attend the webinars available MWF at 10:30 am to answer questions and provide our citizens with support in their time of need. The number 1-800-992-7232 and the link to the webinar is www.hcsbt.org.
• Call the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) of Lubbock at 1-800-992-7232 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Create an online presence, ordering and delivery system, Facebook/Instagram posts on how your business can serve your customers.
• Team up with services such as Favor to deliver products to homes of consumers.
• Develop consistent and regular marketing methods such as direct mail, email campaigns, and Facebook advertising as an example.
• Offer new product solutions (i.e. salons selling a product instead of services or fitness centers offering online classes)
• Be fiscally smart: Reach out to landlords to receive an abatement on payments. Shut down utilities if you do not need them.
• If you have updates or repairs that have been put off, try to tackle those with your employees to keep them on board.
By utilizing available services while embracing opportunities through technology, both small businesses and the community can join together to ensure their local economy continues to thrive throughout these uncertain times.
"This is a critical time for Lubbock to support our local and independent organizations because, unlike franchises or corporate branches, our community-based organizations don't have access to outside marketing tools, budgets, or higher levels of support," McAlpine said. "So, we see this as an amazing opportunity to share stories, updates, and experiences from the Local LBK community to help generate brand awareness and to create content that puts our community members top of mind for the general public."