Last Thursday, April 30th, TK Presley with Groesbeck EDC hosted the first of what may turn into a series of free business web meetings.
The goal of the call was to catch up on the latest COVID-related insight affecting businesses, review the latest guidelines, and to brainstorm what businesses will need, should consider, or take action on to survive this new climate.
The attendees were of an expected mixed bag. Local business owners and their employees, City department heads and a pair of involved citizens listened in.
Contributors on the call included Directors from both Groesbeck and Mexia EDCs, their shared area SBDC Business Analyst, a Groesbeck Chamber director who leads a national marketing and social media team and a Groesbeck native, now owner of Brazoria county’s Market Design Team – an agency specializing in small business growth.
We’re all accustomed to working together but now more than ever, we have (at least) one shared laser focus. Now, we’re all here to help small businesses function in this new environment. Typically, even though we’re here to help, the entrepreneur is on their own roller coaster. We, on the development side of things can usually stand in the wings, see the dips coming and quickly have an idea of how to respond. Current times are a little different. We’re all on this wild, off-road COVID ride together. Group sessions like this webinar help us help each other and communicate to the businesses at the same time.
We’re all having to re-think marketing. Just 2 months ago, no one thought twice about a post or ad reminding people to get out and support businesses. “Now it’s getting mixed feedback,” noted JoAnna Shivers, MEDC Executive Director. Some people are rightfully prioritizing health considerations. Most are paying attention and more aware, but not fanatic. Others are business as usual or couldn’t care less. A segment from each group is online and they’re vocal about it all. It’s jarring at first, but like everything and everyone else right now, we’re having to adapt.
Margarey Valdez, co-owner of Market Design Team reminded us and businesses alike to “…have confidence in those ‘SHOP LOCAL’ messaging. Your intent is to do a good thing. You’re telling people that, ‘If you are going to go out and spend money, support the businesses around you. Support your local vendors.’ That’s not an inherently bad message. The intent is good. Sometimes we have to think about the bigger picture of just getting word out to those who want to do business.”
As more shops, restaurants, salons and “non-essentials” re-open, they may catch similar flack. Lisa Miklojachak is adept at growing the audience for a nationwide corporation but lives, works and supports local. She continued in that direction saying that “We’ve got to think of ways to encourage consumers to shop locally, but safely. In encouraging stores to open up, we have to give them guidance.”
They’re both right.
Most businesses can expect some percentage of customers to be tuned into covid conscious shopping – eyeing sanitizer stations, side-eying the slightest allergy coughs. Others won’t bother. God forbid, but we also have to think of customers who may be careless or attempt to make sport of going against the grain of precaution. No matter how the location owners personally feel about it, they’re all having to adapt to COVID’s economic influence.
For employers, when there is an element in the mix that could seriously effect employee health or associated costs, it’s worth paying attention. Workforce effects production. If a member of a small staff gets sick, there is an immediate strain for the team. If you’re a sole proprietor, you are the team. Employees will have different pre-condition risk profiles. Some will feel safer to face the public than others.
All that aside, there’s still contagion versus reputation. As Miklojachak put it succinctly – “no one wants to be known as the place where everyone got it”. She went on to advise the businesses specifically. “You’ll have to take more marketing responsibility to the let customers know exactly what you’re doing to protect them. A good message is ‘we want to serve you, but we also want to keep you safe’”
For the moment, the big focus is on getting open and keeping up with the changing advisories. Up next, these businesses’ bottom-lines will take maximum focus. Overhead hasn’t reduced but capacity restrictions and shopping behavior have. Because we had a full panel of developers, advisers and marketers, a standout topic was using the internet to communicate, find new exposure and boost revenue through internet sales.
Between phased openings and customer sentiment, foot traffic will trend down. No one knows for how long but we all recognize that it won’t get back to what it was for a while. Amy Freeman, SBDC Business Analyst noted that, “Businesses in Groesbeck, Mexia and Limestone County are going to have to figure out how to reach out…outside of Groesbeck, outside of Mexia, outside of Limestone County…to expand the market. The customer base is going to have to broaden. We’ve been saying that for years but now it’s even more critical.”
Luckily, that hasn’t been just a talking point. In these last few weeks our area EDCs, the Regional Council of Governments and SBDC have all been in communication discussing both short and long term initiatives to make to help adapt to this new business climate. When it became apparent that we all were independently looking at technology use and capacity, we began to see if or how our programs could work together. If not work together, at least not duplicate or needlessly compete. Two agencies are already in talks to bring on additional technical roles. Others are exploring ways of giving local businesses access to the knowledge and technology that’ll help.
One such opportunity may be reworking a previously planned event for an online audience. The April Chamber presentation was scheduled to be a workshop by Lisa Miklojachak. “We don’t know when we might re-schedule it at the Chamber.” she said. The workshop was a Lunch n Learn session covering different ways to use facebook events increase exposure and sales plus bonus tips on business page strategy. It was to be followed by hands-on opportunities to learn more about “every single free tool a local business could use to market themselves online”. The group discussed ways to bring that and similar events online.
There was so much good input that the scheduled hour long meet-up ran over 30 minutes. There were plenty of great takeaways for the business owners but contributors logged off a little more more informed as well. At one point, Freeman, who has been helping directly to process Paycheck Protection Program fund applications gave great insight on how to maximize and spend that relief.
For the next installment, Amy Freeman will join us again to tell us more about the Paycheck Protection Program. Many of our area business owners signed paperwork for a loan to help cover payroll and business expenses amid the shutdown. If certain rules are followed, those loans are forgiven. As those funds are actively rolling out, join us to talk about what to do to make sure you are not having to pay those relief funds back in 6 months.
Look for the upcoming event schedule and access details on the Groesbeck EDC Facebook page.