Northern NV leaders discuss: Worst of pandemic still to come for small businesses?

RENO, Nev. — Sharpen your technical skills, be prepared to pivot, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

No, that’s not a random selection of TED Talk titles.

These were three of the biggest lessons small business owners in Northern Nevada and beyond have learned during the coronavirus pandemic, so say panelists featured on the University of Nevada, Reno Extension’s final “Coping with COVID-19” virtual town hall of the year on Dec. 16.

Marcel Schaerer, deputy director of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, said small business owners have been forced to “recover, reinvent and reconfigure” to keep their operations running.

And the road ahead for small businesses remains an uphill climb.

“The biggest question I have is what is next for small businesses?” Schaerer said. “How are you going to reconfigure and connect the dots to move forward under a marketplace that is still is dominated to a large degree by COVID-19?”

After all, many small business owners believe the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is still ahead.

Illustrating that point, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 15 reported results of a U.S. Chamber-MetLife poll of small businesses taken from Oct. 30-Nov. 10, finding that roughly 50% of owners surveyed said their operations would permanently close within a year unless the business environment improves.

Noe Gonzalez, senior business advisor at Prestamos CDFI in Reno, said businesses that are still losing money nine months into the pandemic might have to make significant changes if they haven’t already.

“If you already got the PPP, if you already got the EIDL, if you got a grant, if you upgraded to electronic marketing, if you already have contactless ordering, payment and delivery systems and you’re still losing money?” Gonzalez said. “It’s probably time to revisit your business model; it’s probably time to see if you can pivot your business model.”

Gonzalez also stressed that small businesses owners make sure their taxes are “done the right way,” noting the second round of PPP is most likely going to be tax-based.

“You need to get have good financial statements, and many small business owners have a limited knowledge of that,” he said.

Alex Garza, who helps entrepreneurs with solutions to prioritize life, health and business through her Las Vegas-based agency Creativepreneur, said the pandemic has also heightened the importance of embracing technology and social media for small businesses.

“One of the main shifts for me, and just dealing with people and entrepreneurs and small business owners, has been getting them to switch their mindset,” Garza said. “Maybe you're not technical, but now is the time to become technical. You have YouTube; you have so many things at your fingertips in order to learn those skills. So, I think a lot of people have had to really up the level of their digital skills.

“And for some people, that was a really big disconnect, because either they were an offline business, and they never really knew it was there.”

Mike Bindrup, research associate at UNR Extension, pointed to the fact people also learned the importance of finding old-school ways to network during stay-at-home orders.

“It can be going through your phone and looking at your contact list and saying, when’s that last time I talked to that person? We did business before, let’s touch base,” Bindrup said. “Your network is bigger than you think it is.”

Despite all the pivoting, skill-building and networking, the quarterly U.S. Chamber-MetLife poll published Dec. 15 showed that 74% of small business owners said they need further government assistance to weather the pandemic. That percentage rises to 81% for minority-owned businesses.

Meanwhile, after weeks and months of political jockeying in Washington, the U.S. Congress on Monday night, Dec. 21, approved a roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief package that would provide additional unemployment compensation and aid to small businesses, among other measures. The bill awaits President Trump's signature.

“We have to come together again,” Schaerer said on Dec. 16, referring to governments and organizations. “And create opportunities, access to capital, access to information, resources and tools.”

To that end, Jeff Saling, founder of StartupNV, said the statewide incubator is trying to bridge the gap between investors and entrepreneurs through new programs as well as working on legislation to make more private capital available in Nevada.

“It’s to make private funding more accessible, more democratized, if you will, both from an investor perspective and from a business owner perspective,” Saling said. “Where a larger percentage of our population will be able to essentially put some investment capital into a fund that is then invested into the businesses in Nevada. So, Nevada investors helping Nevada businesses.”


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