Small businesses in the COVID-19 era.

By: Rebecca Nicole Laming

Watch the latest #Next20 for tips on how small businesses can thrive during COVID-19.

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Kezia Williams is on a mission to help business owners survive and thrive despite a pandemic threatening their livelihoods and restricting their growth. She is the CEO of The Black Upstart, which provides a lifeline of professional support to black entrepreneurs, and the brilliant mind behind the now-viral #MyBlackReceipt to drive revenue for black-owned businesses.

When asked about the types of businesses that are poised for success, Kezia shared, "Those that remember their purpose but forget their plan."

In the latest installment of #Next20, Kezia joined fellow business visionary Elizabeth Gore, co-founder of Hello Alice, and small business owners Lyndsey Brantley, CEO of Camellia Alise, and Michelle Swittenberg, co-founder of BRWL Studio. Sibile Marcellus from Yahoo Finance hosted the two-part panel on how to help small businesses rebuild and reinvent in the middle of a pandemic, starting with Elizabeth and Kezia exchanging their top tips and observations.

What's at risk

According to the Small Business Administration, there are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S, supporting 1.5 million jobs and generating 64% of new jobs. Small businesses employ nearly half of the private workforce. Early in the pandemic, Goldman Sachs reported more than 50% of owners didn't think they could continue operating for more than three months under the current conditions.

Transform obstacles into opportunities

Despite facing steep obstacles, some owners are using the crisis to get creative and reinvent their offering. Elizabeth was quick to point out that small businesses and entrepreneurs can shift faster than larger corporations, "They pivot every day already, they are versatile, and they have good values."

On top of a much-needed transformation, small businesses are also receiving a groundswell of support from their local community. No one wants to see their beloved neighborhood shops turn into vacant storefronts. "Small business owners are the most innovative people in our country," Elizabeth shared. "For the first time they are getting the credit they deserve when you walk down main street and you go into shock because your favorite restaurant, your childcare facility, where you buy your groceries is closed, I think we all realize the extreme importance and value of small business owners to our everyday lives."

Embrace a new normal

When Michelle opened BRWL Studio in November 2019, she created a haven for locals to build comradery through fitness. Never once did she think a global pandemic would shutter her doors. However, as COVID-19 forced businesses to flip their model overnight, she wasted no time reimagining how to remain connected to her clients. "I was probably one of the last people to get a webcam on Amazon," she said. Going remote for a gym is no easy task, but it allowed Michelle to extend the reach of her classes, fostering a virtual community of like-minded people.

Looking forward, her advice to fellow owners is to stop waiting for things to go back to normal. "We need to assume that this is the new normal, and we have to continue to be creative every day for how we are going to do business going forward."

And while we all wish a trip to the spa was part of quarantine, the beauty and wellness industry was hit hard when shelter-in-place orders took effect. Ever the entrepreneur, Lyndsey went straight into production-mode at Camellia Alise to create hand sanitizer from the aloe she purchased right before the pandemic.

"It was not easy to change things around quickly, but we did it, and our company is still moving forward," she explained. "My advice is to find the need, feed the need. For us, we had to change things because we needed to meet the needs of our clients."

Top tips for surviving and thriving

Now, more than ever, small business owners need guidance on how to move forward. That's why Verizon joined forces with Elizabeth and Hello Alice to provide resources and financial support to help minority-owned businesses adapt their model in an increasingly digital world. This is in addition to Verizon’s Comeback Coach, the first resource hub that brings together a range of valuable tools, services and advice which small businesses can access as they deal with the impact of the pandemic.

After working with clients across industries, Elizabeth offered three key takeaways in preparation for the future: (1) Find creative capital (2) Erase the whiteboard and start again (3) Do not make decisions in isolation. "No matter how awesome your business plan was prior to COVID19, you have to relook at it, rebuild it. The world has changed, customer behavior has changed and cash flow has changed."

When sharing her hope for the future, Kezia said, "My goal is to see the number of black entrepreneurs double, and my goal is to have entrepreneurs also realize that starting a business is one of the smartest and intelligent things that you can do in 2020."

"There are a lot of business owners right now pivoting, they are being innovative, their businesses are growing. And we have so many people supporting minority businesses more so than the past couple of years," added Lyndsey. "The future is bright."

Need to catch up on #Next20?

Don't worry, we've got you covered with the latest episodes:

What is #Next20?

Episode 1: Criminal Justice Reform

Episode 2: Making Every Vote Count

Episode 3: American History 101

Change starts with honest dialogue and recognizing where and how we need to improve so that equality isn't selective. Hosted on BUILD by Yahoo, HuffPost, Up To Speed, In the Know and other Verizon channels, #Next20 will feature young visionaries and groundbreakers to explore the inspiration behind their ideas. This is #Next20—the voices of the future.

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