Small businesses are vital to the Florida economy. They make up 99.8% of all businesses in the state and employ 3.3 million workers, which is about 42.2% of the state's private sector workforce. Or at least, they did.
COVID-19 has taken a horrible toll on Central Florida in particular, hitting Orlando’s travel, entertainment, and retail sectors particularly hard. For the first half of 2020, Florida saw its tourism numbers drop more than 35%. Things are starting to improve a little, with restaurants and retail starting to reopen and Metro Orlando unemployment improving from 15.3% in July to 11% in August. However, of the just under 1,500 small businesses that have closed in Central Florida since March, more than half won’t be coming back.
That does not mean that the situation is entirely hopeless. There is a lot a small business owner can do to keep from going under right now. Here are five things you can do to keep your business’s head above water:
Tighten-up your budget.
This sounds obvious because it is obvious. Six months into the Coronavirus epidemic, if your business is still alive it is probably at least in part because you tightened your belt and cut unnecessary expenditures to the bone.
But did you actually adjust your budget in the process? Probably not. Most businesses have been too busy reacting to the “new normal” to plan. Now is a good time to look at your actual expenses over the last few months and rejigger the budget. Consider where you can permanently cut expenses (like maybe paying rent for space you no longer use), and where you should maybe start spending again (think, “marketing”).
If you want to see Orlando’s economy survive, consider working collaboratively with other local businesses. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say.
Sourcing goods, materials, and services locally can help you cut cost of goods, lower expenses like shipping and storage, and even reduce labor costs. Consider opportunities to work with local co-ops and trade associations.
Additionally, you may find that you don’t need to market that far outside of your own back yard to gain new customers for your business. For example, Florida farmers who once sold their goods to national distributors have found success selling directly to local consumers and grocers.
Whether your business is music, art, yoga instruction, or B2B consulting, you need to be where your customers are. And right now, that means online, 24/7.
If you do not have a website, well, I don’t know how else to say it: get into this century! As a bare minimum, customers expect to find out about your business from your website. A basic site is affordable, and there are tons of web developers in Orlando ready to help. While you are at it, ditch that AOL email address for one linked to your business domain name. Please.
Social media can be an extremely cost-effective way to build loyalty and maintain engagement for businesses. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube charge nothing – nada, zero – to set up a business account on their sites. You don’t have to pay for advertising to build an audience. Just consistently put out new content, let your customers and referral sources know where to find it, and the audience will build organically.
You can still do a ton of face-to-face business and without risking lives in the process. Live streaming and video conferencing platforms are outright game changers! You can monetize live music performance, offer online instruction, and stream your informational seminar to the masses all while wearing pajama pants in your guest room.
Rethink your workspace.
Everyone has figured out how to work from home by now. In fact, it turns out many of us are more productive that way. Now, what to do with that space you rent?
Most businesses – especially in the entertainment and hospitality space – want to keep their premises for when we are doing business in person again. So, consider alternative uses for your space.
Will’s Pub is a great example of this. With bars and entertainment venues closed, Will’s has gotten creative. They retail t-shirts and cocktails-to-go as “Total Will’s,” and rent the stage to local bands who live stream shows from there. They are even working on a collaboration with a local restaurant, Swine & Son’s, to start serving food at the venue.
Look for new funding.
While PPP Loans are a thing of the past, the Small Business Administration is still processing Economic Injury Disaster Loans (“EIDLs”). These are thirty-year low-interest loans directly from the SBA that may just be what you need to tide your business over.
In addition, venture capital is still a thing. Raising private equity for a small business can be a great option if you plan to spend the next six to twelve months developing the next great app, restaurant concept, or service offering. Investors look for ideas to get behind that are likely to yield a high payoff in the long term, and now is a good time to seek out equity partners.
Finally, if you have retirement savings, you might be able to use your IRA or 401(k) to fund your business. Self-directed IRAs and Rollovers for Small Business Start-ups (“ROBS”) are financing plans offered through certain dedicated trust firms, such as Guidant Financial Group, Pensco Trust Company, Trust Administration Services, and Equity Trust Company. When appropriate, these plans may allow you to invest up to 100% of your existing retirement assets into your business.
Carlos Carbonell, CEO, Echo Interaction Group
Rob Henlon, Fierce Entertainment
Michelle Widmer, Founder & Director of Events, The Empress Table
Rodney E. Luke, President, Luke Brothers Custom Homes