Many small businesses are hanging by a thread as they wait for another round of federal stimulus money, hoping to keep remaining employees on payroll and pivot to online sales amid further COVID-19 restrictions. But there are resources to help businesses stay afloat.
The Small Business Development Center, located on the University at Albany campus, provides no cost business consulting to small businesses across New York. The program is funded federally and by the state, and used CARES Act funding to hire social media, reopening, and pivoting experts to help businesses as the pandemic progresses. The Albany Center serves 11 counties surrounding the Capital District. Interim Director Kate Baker says they have worked with over 1,200 small businesses since the pandemic began in March.
“And those services can include anything from business planning and financial projection development, identifying sources of capital, market research,” Baker said.
The Center has been around for over 30 years, but Baker says right now their main function is helping small businesses navigate the complexities of COVID-19.
“What that means is we are experts in all the stimulus programs that are out there,” Baker said. “Whether it’s a federal, state, or local/regional program. And we provide assistance to businesses in accessing those programs. Understanding how to utilize any funds that they receive as a participant in a program to make sure that they don’t have problems later on.”
Baker says small businesses are frustrated with the complicated ins and outs of stimulus grants like the Paycheck Protection Program, and what they need most is someone who will explain the rules.
“We work with them one-on-one based on their particular needs,” Baker said. “So although we can’t do their social media for them, we can take a look at their business and help them identify what strategy is going to be best for them and then guide them through that process.”
Baker says they also have a “rollback preparation guide” for businesses, in the event they’re in an orange or red “hot spot” designated by the state. The guide tells businesses what to expect, and also how to reopen if new restrictions are implemented or the state goes back “on pause.”
The Small Business Development Center also does webinar training for businesses looking to convert to an online format amid heightened capacity restrictions and shoppers who are increasingly told to stay home. There are two main series: one on social media marketing and one on general e-commerce. For retail businesses, SBDC has training on how to sell products through Etsy, Shoppify, Square, and placement sites such as Amazon, Walmart, and eBay. And for struggling restaurants:
“We have a live webinar that will be recorded for on demand viewing on a platform called Ritual One which is specifically for restaurants and it is a commission free platform,” Baker said. “So, it operates on a low monthly fee which would be a significant advantage to restaurants that are currently paying 20 to 30% to some of the platforms that are out there.”
Baker says the SBDC is doing what it can, but without stimulus more businesses will shutter permanently.
“We’re concerned if we go back into a pause situation where businesses cannot operate it’s going to have a significant impact,” Baker said.
Baker says those most heavily affected seem to be the micro businesses.
“And those are the small salons, a lot of professional services in the personal care industry, a lot of the tourism or hospitality related businesses are really struggling,” Baker said. “A lot of retail was able to transition a lot of their operations to online and curbside pickup seems to be doing really well but it’s a struggle.”
Baker says the largest burden is paying remaining employees.
“And if you’re at 50% capacity and you’re trying to maintain your payroll it gets really difficult,” Baker said.
Baker says there is a light at the end of the tunnel – the vaccine – but in order to hang on in the meantime, businesses need to start thinking differently.
“As bad as the pandemic is, and as much as it has taken a huge economic hit across the country, we’re trying to get people to realize that there’s also opportunity out there,” Baker said. “And how do you identify your opportunity so that maybe you can grow your business in a time when everyone else is struggling?”
Small Business Development Center Webinars and Training can be found here.