The pandemic has been devastating for small businesses across the state. When Facebook surveyed hundreds of small business leaders across Florida in February, half said sales were down on the same time last year, and nearly a third said they’d cut jobs because of the pandemic.
Businesses led by women and minorities have felt the impact the most — yet another reminder that whenever crises hit, it’s always the most vulnerable who are hardest hit. Across the United States, women-run companies closed at a higher rate than those run by men, and Black, Asian-American, and Hispanic businesses have felt the pain the most. In Florida, more than half of minority-led businesses reported a drop in sales compared to the previous year — 7 percentage points higher than other small businesses.
Many businesses stayed open by going digital — setting up online ordering and delivery, creating new products, and reaching customers through social media. For some, making the shift online has been a huge success.
That’s what happened for Jennifer Hill, the local franchise owner of Peterbrooke Chocolatier Tampa Downtown. Jennifer worked in education as a business teacher for nearly 20 years, and valued her extra time to focus on her family. With her children heading off to college, Jennifer decided to open her own small business, through a franchise program, so she would not be starting from scratch. While Jennifer’s dream of entrepreneurship was strong, the headwinds of opening a business in the middle of the pandemic were even stronger.
To overcome the obstacles, Jennifer used personalized advertising to find customers for her new small business and invite them to visit her shop to try out her delicious chocolates. Jennifer says that she is a mom who loves chocolate, and wanted to reach other moms who like chocolate within the Tampa area.
Even before the pandemic, more and more people were spending their time and money online, and businesses were increasingly going digital to reach them. What had been a gradual trend accelerated dramatically in 2020 as having a digital storefront, taking online orders, and reaching customers remotely became a necessity for businesses everywhere. The good news is all these things are much easier than they were just a few years ago.
Here are three things every small business can do to be a success online.
- Establish your digital presence. For many, this is the biggest leap but it needn’t be daunting. Yes, setting up a website can be complicated and expensive. But, in just a few clicks, anyone can set up a Facebook Page or an Instagram Business Profile for free. And when you do, a world of opportunity opens up. You can showcase products, communicate directly with customers, and build a following of people who love what you do. There are even free tools available to make it easy to take orders and sell online.
- Learn the basics of digital advertising. Some small business owners think advertising is something only big companies can afford — and that used to be true. But with personalized ads you can reach people you think will be interested in your products for just a few dollars. Learning the basics is easy — you can quickly learn how to create effective ads, identify audiences to show them to, and measure your results so you get the most bang for your buck.
- Know where to get help. There is support out there if you know where to look, whether it’s finding out if you’re eligible for financial support, or where to find training and resources to get to make the most of your digital presence. The Tampa Bay Chamber offers a Business Resource Center. And you can also visit Facebook’s Business Resource Hub – a one stop shop for user friendly resources and trainings.
For entrepreneurs like Jennifer, focusing on reaching people online gave her business a new lease of life. And she is far from alone in finding success online. Facebook’s latest State of Small Business Report found that small businesses that reported higher shares of digital sales were also more likely to have reported more robust sales overall.
After a year filled with hardship and heartbreak for so many, there are reasons to be optimistic for the future. We believe this digital transformation can be at the heart of Tampa’s economic recovery. In 2021, you don’t need anyone’s permission to start a business. Just a good idea and a smart phone.
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO at Facebook and Bob Rohrlack is the President & CEO at the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.