As we stretch into the eighth month of this global health crisis, more and more small business owners are beginning to question whether they have the necessary skills or resources to offset the devastating effects of this pandemic. With so many new and unexpected challenges, how are they expected to survive? Fortunately for business owners, seeking assistance is easier than ever. In this episode, Jon Aidukonis and Gene Marks along with SBPACE founders, Julie Traxler and Corey Harris, discuss how small business owners can find the professional support they need during COVID-19.
1:26—Today’s Topic: Where Do I Find Professional Support for My Business during COVID-19?
3:40—As a small business owner, you should not be afraid to ask for help if you are unsure of something.
4:57—In order to make the most of your business’s resources, it is important to be familiar with your finances as well as your expenses.
5:53—Examine your strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur to see where you could benefit from professional help.
7:10—Reviews play a pivotal role in promoting your small business so don’t hesitate to ask your customers to share their positive feedback and testimonials on social media.
8:49—To ensure that you get the assistance you need with your business, be as specific and deliberate as possible when you ask for help.
10:28—Because so many businesses are struggling right now, it’s best to use this time to focus on building professional relationships, even if you have to adjust your fees.
12:21—One way to generate business during these difficult times is to show your clients how your services can actually save them significant money in the long run.
14:49—It is important to reevaluate where your business stands in this pandemic-stricken economy; you may want to consult with your bank to understand how financially viable your current industry is right now.
17:06—Don’t forget to take care of yourself and pay attention to your stress thresholds; otherwise you may overwhelm yourself.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
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This podcast is brought to you by The Hartford. When the unexpected strikes, The Hartford strikes back for over 1 million small business customers with property, liability, and workers compensation insurance. Check out The Hartford’s small business insurance at TheHartford.com.
Gene: Hey everybody, and welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. This is Gene Marks with Jon Aidukonis. We’re both here to have a conversation about what we normally do Jon, which is to talk about small businesses, some of the challenges that they might have, some advice that we might have or even experts that we have as well to help us or our audience deal with all of the different challenges that we’re dealing with right now, regarding COVID and economic downturn and all that stuff.
Gene: Our guests today are two people that recently started up a company called SB PACE. It’s Julie Traxler and Corey Harris. Julie and Corey thank you guys so much for joining us. SB PACE is… By the way, your website is sbpace.com. Corey, I guess I’ll start with you only because you were actually the first to call in while we were getting this set up.
Corey: All right.
Gene: Maybe I can ask you, and Julie obviously jump in as well but tell us a little bit about what SB PACE does and why you started the company?
Corey: Well, so just to give everybody an idea just a little bit. A better understanding of what the name stands for. So SB PACE stands for Small Business Planning Advising Coaching Expertise. We get that a lot. We probably should have thought the name through a little bit better because most people are like, Oh, space, we’re like, almost.
Corey: But anyway, we focus primarily on small businesses and just helping small businesses with startups, people who are stuck in a rut. That type of stuff. We began back in March. So Julie and I both have a background in business consulting. We’ve spent quite a bit of our lives helping businesses with growing businesses, technology improvement, project management, and all that type of stuff. And back in March when the whole pandemic hit, we both found ourselves basically unemployed and we just started reaching out to all of our friends and family who owned small businesses, because we knew that everybody was having just a tough time with the pandemic and everything, just to see what it is that we could do to help them. Whether it was giving advice, they just needed somebody to talk to, whatever it was.
Corey: That just snowballed into us creating a business because we realized that there was this group of people out there who were underserved. It’s primarily just small businesses and these people they’ve put their life and blood and money and everything into building a business. For a lot of people they were just left alone floating at sea. So Julie and I joined together and we started talking to everybody in how we could help and then that actually turned into the book that we ended up writing which was just on small business disaster preparedness because obviously nobody was prepared for this pandemic. So that was something that we thought would be helpful for everybody. So, that’s where we got to today.
Gene: How do you guys know each other?
Julie: We have worked together. We used to work together at a company, probably four or five years ago. We worked together for four years and then we were consulting together for a couple of clients and then we just started this business. We actually live across the street from each other now.
Gene: Fair enough. Jon?
Jon: Yeah. So thinking about the work you’re in and how you’ve evolved to pivot towards providing some help and resources through everything we’re living in right now. What’s an unexpected piece of advice you maybe find yourself giving to small business owners right now or something that you were like, Oh wow, I never really thought I’d be advising that or something that’s just feel like this is a year of we don’t know what we don’t know? So I’m wondering if you’ve had any of those moments in your product offering or content strategy.
Julie: Yeah, that’s a great question, Jonathan. We have found ourselves a surprising amount over the past six or seven months, advising people to ask for help. I think we’ve a very common theme that we see that small business owners frequently feel like they’re supposed to know everything and when they don’t, instead of asking, they just clam up and watch and wait to see what’s going to happen. So advising our clients and friends and family members that own small businesses to ask for help, because there are so many people out there that want to help and there’s so much information available. That’s the number one thing that we start with is asking for help. And probably the second area is being really intimate with their finances. One of the things that we’ve seen repeatedly is that small business owners aren’t as familiar with their finances as they probably need to be. So just understanding them and knowing how much cash you have on hand or where your expenses are going, things like that. They don’t need to be an accountant, but they just need to understand what they have available to them.
Jon: Right. That’s super interesting because Gene, that’s a common theme that we’ve been hearing since COVID happened in the States and these government shutdown orders, is that we’re finding a lot of folks who maybe started a business out of a hobby or passion or just a true love of the craft. Who never really had the formal business background are now playing catch up to try and understand how do I demonstrate my P&L, how do I write a cashflow statement. Especially when it comes to financial support or writing things like the BEP.
Jon: I have a quick follow up on the notion of help. What do you think is the one area a business owner could really ask for help on right now? Is it really reaching out to their community to help understand the operation side? Is it more like reaching out to their customer base to say like, how I need you more math than ever, I’ve always tried to be a good member of your community I need you to do me a solid and support me during this? What kind of help do you think a business owner should be asking for?
Corey: Dependent upon everybody’s situation because everybody’s a little bit different. One of the areas that you just need to do is you just need to figure out that I’m not an expert in X, whatever it is. I’m not an expert in sales or marketing or finance. Reaching out to anybody and everybody, it’s hard right now and it has been hard to just show that vulnerability. Again going back to small business owners are supposed to know everything and be the experts at everything but to throw yourself out there to say, look, I’m stuck, I need help. Now more than ever everybody is willing to help.
Corey: You throw out that SOS, you’ll be amazed at how many people will want to just genuinely help you. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of people out there who are going to try and sell you something, but there are plenty of people who are just, we’re all in this together, we all want to get to the other side and then we can start competing again.
Julie: One area where I think it’s super easy to ask and a lot of people overlook it and as customers, I think a lot of people don’t really think about it, but if we’ve learned one thing this year is the importance of reviews, of the likes, of the helping to share information. So there’s so many things that people can do to support small business owners that don’t require you to put cash out of your own pocket, but yet help to promote that business. So, we’re constantly reminding small business owners, don’t forget to ask for feedback, don’t forget to ask for the testimonial, don’t forget to ask people to like, and share your social posts to help get your name out there more to help grow your business.
Julie: Something that I think a lot of people take for granted that they don’t have to do, you’ve made a purchase online and they send you an email and ask you to write a review and you just ignore it. Don’t ignore those emails. That’s a huge benefit that help small business owners so much. I think so many people forget to ask for it and then consumers forget to actually do it because they don’t recognize the importance of it.
Jon: I went to my barber a couple of weeks ago and it was the first time he actually mentioned that. Like, Hey, you follow us on Instagram, do you engage with our content? It’s really helpful for me when you do. So I think that it’s nice to hear business owners be a little bit more aware of things that they can encourage folks to do to help them gain traction in sales right now. So I think you’re a 100% right on that.
Gene: Julie, let me add in. If I can jump in here now. So, you guys are now advising small businesses and you’re a startup yourself, so you’re advising startups too. Share with us what you’ve learned so far on your journey and how are you monetizing your small business customers? How do you charge? How is it going so far? How are you guys making money? What’s it like starting up a business now in this environment?
Julie: For being the startup and having going through a lot of this, the biggest lesson that I would say we have learned this year, the thing that we have learned that has really stuck with us is that a lot of times people’s intentions are really good when they’re saying like, yeah, I’ll do that or hey, I can help you with this or whatever, but people forget. People are overwhelmed or just don’t recognize the importance of things. So being really, really deliberate in your ask when you are asking for help from anyone. This has been our experience across the board is we ask when we call our friend or family member to help us with something. We have to be really specific about what it is that we need and why we need it. Otherwise many times it’ll just go un-done.
Julie: That was a hard lesson for us to learn because I think you’re expecting people in your network or in your circle that they’re like, Oh yeah, I’ll help. And then actually doing it. People aren’t always so great with follow through. So being deliberate on the ask was really important for us.
Julie: As far as monetizing, we focus on relationships first. So it’s in our core values. Everything we do is about building relationships with people. We’re not interested in selling services to clients that don’t need the services because we understand our target market is small businesses and small businesses are having a really hard time this year. So we’re really intentional about building relationships, making sure that we can offer value to the clients.
Julie: We’re fairly flexible in terms of how we package up our services. For example, we’re helping a client with some exit strategy stuff right now. We basically build out like, here’s all the different things we could do for you and then she walked back and said, well, this is all I can really afford right now. So then we restructured our packages. So we’re pretty flexible in terms of how we’re working with people in order to be able to monetize, but still be able to deliver value and help to them.
Corey: Again everybody’s situation’s a little bit different. So for us being a new business and it’s just the two of us, we like to be as flexible because as small business owners ourselves and most small businesses you have to be flexible. That’s something that we try to preach. When it comes to the services we offer, the payments and all of that, it’s a case by case basis. We do have set rates and all of that type of stuff. We’ve got some programs and other things, but overall we like to work with our customers across the board from payment all the way down to what they need us to deliver.
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Gene: So what would you recommend to small businesses guys? I guess Corey I’ll throw this in your direction first. You’ve started up a business in a very difficult economic environment, you’re focusing your business on small businesses, which are the hardest hits in this economic environment. You’re selling a great product, but it’s a product that costs. If people want to sign up for your services, that’s got to be quite challenging. So how are you overcoming those challenges and what do you recommend to your clients that are starting up businesses to get more business in these difficult times?
Corey: Well, you hit it right on the head there. It is very difficult to sell. Even in good times to get a small business owner to part with any dollars that they weren’t planning on spending. It’s definitely is difficult. But the way that we always approach it and with this academy that we have coming up with the book that we wrote, just everything that we’ve been doing, it’s all about putting the money in ahead of time and how important that is. Because if you don’t spend the money now, you’re going to spend a significant amount later to fix whatever you didn’t do right the first time. That’s what we really try to drive home.
Corey: There’s been some studies that have come out in terms of like grants for governments and cities and disaster preparedness. In terms of how many dollars that they… Spending now will save you later when disaster hits.
Corey: We’ve talked with a lawyer who helps small businesses set up their business. He was talking about this group that he was working with. If they’d spent the $700 at the beginning to get their company set up correctly, they wouldn’t have had to spend over $10,000 later to fix stuff when things went south. So $700 might seem like a lot of money and it is a lot of money. When you’re starting up you’re counting every penny that’s going out the door. But you have to plan for the future. Just like you plan to grow and you plan to do all these awesome things, you have to plan for the worst. That’s what we really try and preach and drive home with our clients.
Jon: It’s a true story and we hear that every day, right?. So being in insurance we’re in the business of risk. So it’s how do you prepare what you have so you can protect it and then hopefully overcome any unexpected challenge. So definitely some good takeaways there.
Jon: Thinking about where we’ve been this year and what’s to come, are there specific areas you might advise a new business, I don’t want to say reconsider, talk them out of an idea, but to really take the time to get comfortable with or dig deeper on? Is it on that business acumen side? Is it really taking time to understand how to save money for a rainy day in case something like this happens? Is it really more about don’t think of or do anything differently, but just really double down and take a leap of faith because if you put the energy out there the universe will take care of you? The curious are people who might be considering about starting up a business. If there’s any learnings you’d have or offer?
Corey: First of all, especially now I would definitely not recommend jumping in and taking that leap of faith. Especially now and even when the times are good. The first place that I would look to is talking to your local banks, talking to people who do SBA loans, to find out whether or not they’re loaning to your industry. Because right now I know that they are loaning and for businesses who are lower risk. In a lower risk industry they are issuing those loans but for the higher risk industries, they’re not issuing those loans. If a bank that’s federally insured is not willing to bet on your business, then you probably should reconsider that. Also, for a lot of businesses the only barrier to entry is cash and maybe a certification.
Corey: Obviously if you’re getting into doctors or other businesses like that you have to go certain schools and schooling and all that. For retail, restaurants, whatever it is, cash is the only barrier to entry. So you need to be passionate about what you’re doing because especially now it’s going to take time for you to grow to get to where you want to be. If you’re not passionate about it, if you’re not willing to pour every ounce of yourself into that business right now, and you’re not willing to live off a ramen and whatever it is to make ends meet until you can get to where you want to be, you should probably rethink. Julie you have anything to add to that?
Julie: Yeah. I’ll go in a slightly different direction. I would say that I think it’s important to always remind potential, as far as small business owners, the importance of understanding how they deal with stress, right? So I think a lot of people are really unaware of how they are able to manage stress or when they’re becoming completely overwhelmed and under stress and it starts to come outside ways. So knowing your stress thresholds personally, so that you know when you need to reach out to someone else or when you just need to step away and take a break, because as I’m sure everyone here knows starting a small business is really, really hard. A lot of times you think if I build it they will come. It doesn’t really work like that for most people. There aren’t a lot of overnight successes. Its hard work, it’s a grind. It just takes a lot of resilience and understanding how you deal with stress and having a strategy for that is so, so important so that it can get you through the really tough times because there’s a lot of tough times in the beginning.
Jon: That’s true. I do think that this year is one of those years where people are noticing probably things they’ve always been able to not pay attention to before. With how they deal with stress or situations that bring anxiety or when they don’t have the coping mechanisms that they may be used to. So I think that’s a really important point to call out.
Gene: That’s great stuff guys. Listen, we’ve been speaking with Julie Traxler and Corey Harris, who are the co-owners of SB Pace, www.sbpace.com. A great small business consulting firm that helps businesses that are starting up and also in operation with great services. You guys have a book that came out this year as well. What’s the name of your book, Julie or Corey?
Corey: The book is called Seriously? Now what? A Small Business Guide To Disaster Preparedness.
Gene: Fantastic. Well, I want to thank both of you guys.
Jon: I love that name.
Gene: I want to thank both of you guys for joining us. That was a great conversation, and we really appreciate the advice. Thanks everyone else for joining us for another edition of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. For more small business trends, visit the Hartford Small Biz Ahead blog. We’ve got articles and videos to help you run your business more efficiently. You can check us out at smallbizahead.com. My name is Gene marks and on behalf of my co-host Jon Aidukonis, I want to say thank you again for joining us. Thanks again to Julie and Corey. And we will see you next time, take care.
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