Air Date

August 12, 2020

Featured Guests

Ilan Jacobs
Director of Government Affairs and ESG Policy Specialist, Citi

David Henry Doyle
Head of Government Affairs & Public Policy, EMEA, S&P Global


Jeanette Mulvey
Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, CO—


Small businesses have been hit especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have had to change their business model entirely while others have had to ultimately shut down or cease normal business operations. Others have taken their business in an entirely different direction, focusing on trust and change for their customers.

CO— spoke with a panel of small business owners and experts on starting a new business or pivoting an existing business to deal with the pandemic. If you’re a new business owner or just looking to change your existing one in light of the pandemic, check out these four tips.

Shift Your Small Business Offerings Based on Consumer Need

As a small business owner, you may have noticed that what you were offering before the pandemic has become less relevant in the recent months. It’s important to ask yourself what parts of your business you’re able to shift into to assist your current consumers’ needs.

For example, Netresh Rege, president and CEO of International Wheel and Tire, changed his business model from making automotive mechanisms to creating machines that make personal protective equipment.

“We said ‘what does the market really need right now?’ [and] we took that opportunity to pivot,” said Rege.

Tom Mueller, owner of Broadway Baker, opened his brick-and-mortar store just as the pandemic started; but he sensed that customers were hesitant to come in. To accommodate them, he posted a digital menu so they could place their orders online and pick them up contact-free.

“We're all kind of facing the same monster right now,” added Will Adams, VP of GM Small Business Services for Upnetic. “And it's a monster of uncertainty. The biggest strength that we all have and are, in my opinion, one of the most competitive advantages that we have, is our ability to be nimble, to be fast, to change and pivot quickly.”

Utilize Your Current Consumer Base and Network Efficiently

As the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down, many people are taking refuge in their own homes, making it difficult to find new customers. Strengthening relationships with your current consumers and expanding your reach through your current base will help to retain and entice new customers.

“For me, it's [about] building your network,” said Mueller. “It's leveraging your local chambers, the economic development groups within your state or county, as well as connecting with other businesses.”

Focus on Building Trust Within Your Consumers

Businesses are more likely to frequent places they feel are transparent in their policies and practices during the pandemic. By effectively communicating your protocols to your audience, you’ll build more trust within your consumers.

“Don't forget to lead and include your messages around your brand and your reasons to believe in what you do and why you do it, as opposed to just asking people to buy,” explained Drew Patrick, Owner of Michigan Fields and CEO of Skidmore Studio.

“I would say good will was also something that made a huge difference for us because people believed in what we were doing,” added Yvette Johnson, founder of Love Travels Imports.

Find Creative Ways to Communicate With Your Customers

With almost everything communicated virtually these days, it may be refreshing to come up with creative ways of getting in touch with your consumers. For instance, Patrick since many are facing “screen fatigue” right now, many digital marketing efforts are not as effective as they may have been pre-pandemic. Instead, his company has seen more success with traditional marketing tactics like direct mail and public relations. Additionally, Johnson said his business sends out email blasts and newsletters to keep in contact with his customers.

“I frequently feed [customers] information about the things that I'm doing, the email blasts that I'm sending out,” she said. “We have about five or six very active community organizations, [and] all of these organizations have a newsletter, which is either an electronic or hard copy.”

From the Series

CO— Blueprint