Locals Supporting Locals
Are you a small business looking for help? StayLocal is an invaluable resource.
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.
As the pandemic and its consequences drag on, challenges are mounting for local entrepreneurs and small businesses. Even a region as resilient as ours is struggling to survive. Business owners need every resource they can possibly get, and one great resource is the nonprofit organization StayLocal.
Founded in 2001, StayLocal describes itself as “Greater New Orleans’ Independent Business Alliance.” Or as Program Manager Maryann Miller put it, “We’ve been banging the ‘locals-supporting-locals’ drum forever.”
Typically, StayLocal works to connect local businesses to each other, and to encourage area residents to shop at local businesses. One positive Miller has seen during the coronavirus time is that “customers recognize the importance of local businesses and how they give back more to the community and seem to be putting extra attention on supporting local businesses.”
In this context, StayLocal has been putting increased emphasis on connecting entrepreneurs to any and all possible resources. This starts with the organization’s staff staying on top of every possible source themselves, including government, nonprofit and business-to-business resources.
“Right now, there are quite a few consultants and advisors willing to help at reduced or even no cost, and they have more time available,” Miller reported. “They can help with things like business interruption plans and continuity plans.”
While StayLocal is a member organization, currently it is making information and connections available to all local businesses. Its website, StayLocal.org, has a treasure trove of information on grants, webinars, services, loans and much more. Click on the “Resources” button on the home page to get started.
In addition to focusing on available resources, this is also a good time to examine every aspect of your business’s operations. For example, has every item in your product (or service) line really been working for you, even before the pandemic? Is your supply chain as efficient, with minimum vulnerabilities, as possible? Could you be relying more on local sources for products and professional services?
Miller emphasized that by purchasing from other local businesses, networking wherever possible and collaborating on marketing, local businesses can provide vital support for each other. Even competitors within a geographic area may want to team up to market the fact that their block, street or neighborhood is open for business, as a way to draw customers to their area.
With cash flow at low levels, businesses may want to look for opportunities to barter with other businesses for needed products and services. Miller noted that StayLocal has witnessed businesses simply giving away what they can as a way to help other local entrepreneurs.
She also highlighted the importance of the business-to-business relationships that local owners have developed over the years and can call on at this time. As one example, she pointed out that “local businesses have closer relationships with their landlords, and if they are struggling with paying rent, should be able to negotiate. A particular location may be particularly well suited to the business that is in there, and it is in the interest of the landlord to make the relationship work.”
This is one of several advantages Miller cited, as challenged local businesses worry about the possible invasion of chain stores, if there is a vacuum created by local business failures. Chains don’t have these long-term local relationships; they often have very specific spatial requirements that are not suited to existing locations; and they may have their own challenges with supply chains, businesses services, etc.
This is clearly not a fun time for business owners, or anyone else, but the same entrepreneurial spirit that leads individuals to launch their enterprises is the biggest possible asset to coming through this disaster with a viable path forward. Find every imaginable resource that is out there, draw on every relationship you have built over the years, but remember that your greatest resource is yourself.