Most people don’t launch their careers by starting a new business in a small town. More often, new college grads look forward to landing their first job in a big city. But Abby Griffin wasn’t like most college kids.
While attending school for fashion design in Atlanta, she took a job in nearby Opelika, a small town in Alabama. Abby describes it as a sustainable hub for small businesses. There she fell in love with the community and the group of small businesses that supported it.
“When I graduated in 2018, I had to either move somewhere else where I could get a job or stick it out, put down some roots and start a business,” she says. By the end of that year, she’d opened her shop. During her first year running Griff, Abby sold unique local goods and sustainably sourced men’s clothing from global brands. Her shop also served as a local art gallery and hosted workshops on embroidery and quilting.
“My business was built around the community. We hosted in-person events and invited local student artists to share their work during night markets. Nearly all our sales happened in-store, so, in 2020, everything collapsed,” she says.
Griff’s First COVID-19 Pivot
By late 2019, Abby’s 80-hour weeks had paid off. She was finally able to hire some help as her business grew. But with the arrival of the coronavirus, her retail shop closed for two long months.
“Starting my second year in business during a pandemic was daunting,” she remembers. How could her small shop that thrived on face-to-face interactions survive in a world where people stayed home and only shopped behind a lit screen?
“We dove into manufacturing,” she explains of her business pivot. Griff’s studio space used to be filled with people’s voices during workshops. Now it transformed into a production room filled with the sounds of sewing machines and a cutting table where they began to make masks. By launching a “Buy One, Give One” campaign, Griff sold 500 masks in the first two weeks. They also donated 500 masks to frontline workers. In the end, Griff supplied six local restaurants with masks for their staff, making and selling thousands of masks overall.
“Finding new ways to generate revenue and connect with our community pushed me as a business owner,” she says. “I wouldn’t be in business if I hadn’t started making face masks. That saved us during the pandemic.” She notes that Griff’s new manufacturing capabilities not only helped fill the need for masks, but also offered a new way to connect with local artists who wanted to branch out with other products.
Winning a Grant and Shifting to eCommerce
Abby had filled her revenue gap in the short term by producing masks. To remain afloat for longer, she had to make sure customers could find and shop at her business online.
While her business website had always included an online store, just 2% of Griff’s sales were online pre-pandemic. Even then Abby knew she was missing out.
“I’d always wanted to work with someone who could help me grow Griff’s eCommerce, but I just didn’t have the extra funds to do it,” she says. As it did for many small business owners, COVID-19 made the need for eCommerce non-negotiable. So, Abby applied for the Hartbeat of Main Street Grant.
Abby won the grant after sharing her plans to improve her eCommerce. She used the funds to hire a web developer who helped her transition to a new eCommerce web platform. This not only improved her online store but also included built-in digital marketing tools and cybersecurity.
“This was instrumental in keeping our business alive,” she says. Abby also used grant funds to hire a graphic designer who updated their packaging and branding materials for shipped orders. The goal: To deliver an experience – not just a package – to customers who ordered online. “We’re all about the experience in person, and we wanted to carry this over for our online customers.”
During the first two quarters of 2020, 85% of Griff’s sales were online. While COVID-19 presented huge challenges, Abby used it as an impetus to learn new skills and improve her strategy. She emerged with more sales channels, manufacturing prowess and new wholesale relationships. Thanks to her scrappiness and grants from a local organization, her business is now more sustainable, boasting an improved website and eCommerce channel.
Cybersecurity for Small Business eCommerce
Like Abby, many small business owners were forced to embrace eCommerce to survive the coronavirus pandemic. For many, it became their lifeblood. While selling online can expand your customer base, it also means you need to work harder to protect your customers’ data. Abby recommends using an eCommerce platform with built-in cybersecurity.
Unfortunately, many small business owners remain unprepared. They consider their operations too small to be worthy of a cyberattack. But what they don’t know is that their status as a small business makes them tempting prey. In 2019, 76% of American small businesses experienced a cyberattack, and 69% dealt with a data breach. Cybercriminals constantly eye small businesses as targets. Why? Small businesses often aren’t as secure as larger organizations with robust IT budgets, so they’re easier to breach. eCommerce is also a common target. After all, online businesses have the potential to offer a treasure trove of personal and financial data.
So, if you’re a small business with an eCommerce sales channel, keep in mind that thirsty hackers may see you as one tall glass of water. Brush up on cybersecurity best practices and consider whether your business could benefit from data breach and cyber liability insurance for small businesses.
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