The coronavirus pandemic is taking an incredible toll on small businesses across the nation. “About one in three small businesses have closed their doors in Connecticut since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic,” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) writes. Nationwide, the outlook is not much better. On average, one in four small businesses has had no other choice but to close for good.
On December 27, the President signed off on the latest COVID-19 stimulus package. Among other relief initiatives, the bill will revive the Paycheck Protection Program (PP), helping small businesses pay wages to their employees and avoid short-term and even long-term layoffs. Although this is a welcome reprieve, these funds will not last forever — and misattributing these funds and other financial relief from the stimulus package can have dire consequences for small businesses.
That is where student-led groups and nonprofit groups come in. These groups help small businesses manage funds, even during financial hardships. Right now, small businesses need all the help they can get, and many different groups are rising to meet that call. Here are three groups offering free small business consulting services and making a tremendous difference while doing it.
Small Businesses Are In Trouble
Small businesses of all kinds are in trouble. All establishments — from urgent care centers to Bobcat rental services — are struggling to make ends meet, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some of the unique struggles faced in each small business sector.
- Urgent care centers and healthcare providers. You may think that, due to COVID-19, hospitals and urgent care centers are busier than ever before. That is only true up to a point. While the pandemic means there are more people seeking COVID-19 testing, antibody testing, and treatment for COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms, many people are significantly less likely to seek care for routine or not-so-routine healthcare concerns. In fact, many are skipping necessary cancer screenings and previously scheduled medical appointments, and even hesitating to get treatment if and when they are experiencing some serious symptoms, like chest pain or tightness. This not only affects urgent care centers’ bottom line, but it can also pose very real dangers to patients.
- Bobcat rental services, construction equipment, farm equipment, and lawn equipment businesses. Once again, construction and lawn equipment suppliers and rental services — as well as landscaping services — are experiencing the brunt of the pandemic in an unusual way. The demand for landscaping services and equipment rentals is higher than ever. With people stuck at home and doing whatever they can to improve their immediate surroundings, business is booming. However, there isn’t always enough supply to meet that growing demand. Particularly in the first few months of COVID-19, many factories halted all production. As such, there is a shortage of equipment to go around. However, landscaping services and equipment rental services continue to do well — as long as their customers are patient.
- Restaurants. Restaurants are among the businesses most heavily hit by the global pandemic. The headlines speak for themselves: “67 popular N.J. restaurants that closed in 2020,” “10 Berkeley Restaurants That Closed Because Of COVID-19,” and “These St. Louis Restaurants Closed For Good In 2020.” Restaurants are struggling to make ends meet during temporary shutdowns or even when they are operating at a limited capacity. What’s more, many restaurants do not qualify for important relief initiatives, like the PPP.
- Accommodations and hospitality services. “The COVID-19 pandemic shook the lodging industry particularly hard, and turned many hotel businesses upside down,” MarketWatch reports. Many hotels had no other choice than to temporarily close their doors. If and when hotels begin to reopen, they must prioritize cleanliness and technology and be especially forgiving when it comes to their rescheduling and cancellation policies.
Small businesses across the board have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Free small business consulting services can help.
MBA Students In California Offer Free Consulting Services
California Lutheran University’s School of Management, part of its MBA program, is seeking out small, minority-owned businesses to take advantage of their free small business consulting services.
During these consultations, small businesses can get free advice about business marketing, human resources, information technology (IT), and more. Free consults encompass a wide range of financial issues from budgeting and compensation to accounting. For those who listen closely and take full advantage of the students’ free services, it is almost like having a certified personal accountant (CPA) for a time.
“To have students apply all of their MBA experiences to a real-world challenge and hopefully make a local small business better and, in turn, strengthen the foundation of our local economy is so rewarding,” Laura Azzalina Rigali, faulty member, tells Cal Lutheran News.
The initiative corresponds with the MBA program’s Consulting to Business classes. Minority-owned business owners that may benefit from free small business consulting services can apply to take part in the program from now until mid-January.
Boston University Students Offer Practical Advice and PR Pointers
Two Boston University (BU) students changed the world for the better when they established Empath Worldwide. Communications students Geneve Lau and Maya Malekian worked together to create the program — one that provides free public relations consulting to companies in need.
Empath Worldwide’s free small business consulting services run the gamut. Volunteers may help businesses build a new website, craft a social media strategy, and/or foster employees’ personal and professional development. Some of their advice may be surprising to the average person. For example, Empath Worldwide may suggest boosting employee morale by bringing in local cleaning companies to refresh the office, or they may extoll the benefits of coworking for contractors and/or largely remote workers. Coworking involves renting an office space or desk space at least some days of the week to help build a community for workers who might otherwise not have one.
The organization uses virtual avenues to help businesses all over the world. Current patrons are located in Boston, Hong Kong, London, Sao Paulo, and Honolulu.
While businesses may be eager to get down to brass tacks and are always open to free small business consulting services that are budget-oriented, it is important to remember that public relations and marketing are important parts of bringing in revenue, too. PR consulting — like the PR consulting Empath Worldwide offers — can make a tremendous difference and be surprisingly profitable.
California State University Student Interns Partner With College To Provide Free Services
California State University (CSU) boasts several Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). The SBDCs “offer extra support to organizations facing the uncertainty of the current business landscape,” News Wise reports. These centers are supported by the local community, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), and the Small Business Administration (SBA). Their services are in especially high demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For example, CSU offers weekly free small business consulting services through its “Webinar Wednesdays.” Every Wednesday, they cover a different topic. Recent topics include “5 Simple Strategic Planning Secrets for Transforming Small Nonprofits,” “Blueprint for Small Business Success,” and “Restaurant Reopen Strategies.” Webinar attendance shot up to 700 people during their busiest week of the pandemic.
Plus, the pandemic affords them unique opportunities beyond advising small business owners to buy printer products in bulk or consulting engineers. Now, most of their free small business consulting services revolve around helping small businesses take full advantage of available funding, like funds from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) act, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). Once again, their services are in high demand. In just Northern California alone, the SBDCs served 350 businesses last year. This year, they are on track to provide free consulting services to as many as 600 businesses.
Plus, some are taking note of unexpected silver linings during these uncertain times. “Out of crises comes great innovation and we’re certainly starting to see some of that bubble up. And we’re seeing these technologies getting adopted in a much faster way than they would have, had COVID not hit,” economic development director, Judy Mahan, tells News Wire.
Finally, the program benefits all. Not only do students offer free consulting to businesses in need, but students also intern at some of these businesses, gaining necessary, real-life experience. Of course, this year, much of that experience is online only.
What’s more, the SBDCs are going above and beyond. In addition to consulting businesses on the current state of affairs, they are also providing insights about future tax implications of COVID-19 as well as gathering tools and resources to help small businesses plan for future crises.
What Everyone Can Do To Help Small Businesses Stay Afloat
Businesses all across the board are struggling. Thankfully, there are some things everyday people can do to help — and you do not have to have any expertise in free small business consulting services to lend a hand.
Here are just a few things you and I can do to support small businesses now and until the world returns to some sense of normalcy.
- Start with awareness. Did you know that services like Doordash and Grubhub charge restaurants weighty administrative fees? If you want to truly lend your support, know this (and make sure your friends know it, too!). Ordering delivery directly through the restaurant or even driving 10 to 15 minutes to pick up your order can make an incredible difference to local businesses’ bottom line.
- Support your local business community. Similarly, purchase books from your local bookstore — even if bookstores are not open at a limited capacity, many are open for curbside pickup — instead of purchasing from large corporations. Likewise, there is a good chance your local flower shop is struggling. During normal times, floral arrangements for weddings make up 7 to 8% of their total budget. In other words, the average bride and groom would spend nearly $3,000 on flowers! Do your part to bridge gaps in profits by ordering flowers to be delivered to friends and family. It is a nice surprise to let family members at nursing homes or assisted living centers know that you are thinking of them. If you cannot support a local business or coffee shop immediately or directly during these times, purchase a gift card for later use. Every little bit helps.
- Embrace virtual events. Restaurants, breweries, bookshops, and other local businesses are doing what they can to engage customers during this time. Embrace it! If your local winery is offering virtual tastings, support them by taking part. Often, you will sign up ahead of time, receive several bottles of wine, and follow along sampling them with a sommelier. Bookstores may be holding remote book club meetings and offering a discount on any featured books.
- Maintain social distancing. Some businesses can safely operate within social distancing guidelines. For example, a tree care service can easily help you spruce up your lawn without ever coming within six feet of any member of your household. Consultations and pricing can take place entirely over-the-phone or online. Consider what professional services can be done at a safe distance — or which ones can be fully remote — and lend your support to these services.
- Give a glowing review. Few things help boost business as effectively as a glowing review. If you have a great experience with a local business, do your part during this time by telling the world about it. Leave a review on popular sites, like Yelp or Google Reviews, or tag the company and write about your positive experience on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. An overwhelming 76% of all consumers trust reviews just as much as word-of-mouth recommendations, so, by writing a review, you are doing them a big favor.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Doctor Anthony Fauci recently revealed that things may go back to normal around late summer or early fall if Americans widely embrace the vaccine. Until then, small businesses can stay afloat by taking full advantage of free small business consulting services.