FORBES.com features Debra Cady, Entrepreneur -The U.S. Is Experiencing A Microbusiness Renaissance..
Updated: Jun 3, 2021
John Caplan, writer for Forbes.com Small Business Strategy, finds Silver Lining International successful Women-Owned Microbusinesses founded during the challenge of the pandemic.
The U.S. Is Experiencing A Microbusiness Renaissance—Here’s What It Looks Like
See the original article on Forbes.com
When walking the streets of my hometown of NYC, I have flashbacks of previous downturns that the city struggled through. But the city has always come out stronger and more resilient. Restaurants have opened takeout counters, local artists have transformed outdoor dining areas into art installations, and retail stores have been offering curbside pickup. However, there’s an underlying shift not visible from the street level. Those same small business owners off of main street are pivoting to online as well, offering new products and services for consumers whose preferences and behaviors changed during the pandemic. Small retailers like Ines Belakhdar, owner of BYNES New York, who opened a retail storefront to sell her clothing in May of last year originally planned for her physical storefront to be the main source of revenue. But with storefront traffic down significantly during the pandemic, Belakhdar leaned into digital as well as B2B sales channels and has found huge growth selling to customers online and especially selling wholesale to other businesses—even in international markets. Innovative entrepreneurs like Belakhdar are not alone: digital-first and tech-enabled microbusinesses—that is, those companies with one to nine employees in contrast to the small- and medium-sized businesses with up to 500 employees—are experiencing a boom, the likes of which we have never seen before.
According to researchers at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Americans started an impressive 4.4 million new businesses in 2020, a 24% increase from the year before and by far the biggest increase on record. Many of these are solopreneurs, consultants, freelancers, people with a side-hustle, and those experimenting with a new source of income after working for a long time in corporate America—all microbusinesses, all reimagining traditional ways of doing business and creating their own success on their own terms.
Microbusinesses are small yet mighty, and very important to the U.S. economy. With that in mind, I spoke to microentrepreneurs about entrepreneurship today, as well as advice that upstart entrepreneurs can use to help build their businesses as we continue to emerge through the pandemic.
The Pandemic Sends an Entrepreneurial Wave Across the U.S.
For many new business owners, entrepreneurship was a path forward after being laid off from a job. For others, the shift to remote work and lack of a commute allowed for time to turn a longtime passion into a money-making project, or inspired them to embrace an even more flexible and innovative lifestyle. Whatever the reason, and there are many, more and more people have been reassessing their professional lives and personal priorities and chosen an entrepreneurial path.
“It’s clear that the pandemic has spurred a new crop of entrepreneurs who may be starting a side hustle while at home or deciding to follow their dreams due to loss of employment in order to make ends meet,” says Ross Buhrdorf, the founder and CEO of ZenBusiness, a one-stop shop that helps people start, run, and grow a business. “The pandemic made people realize, whether by choice or by necessity, that there are advantages to entrepreneurship, like being able to work from anywhere, set your own hours, and spend more time with family.”
People want to become their own boss, explore new passions, and rethink priorities, reports a recent survey of ZenBusiness customers, and they are becoming electricians, realtors, consultants and online retailers. There’s also been a jump in women-owned microbusinesses, specifically: 39% of new businesses formed over the last year are women-owned, up from 30% the year before, according to ZenBusiness data. To get more perspective, I spoke with two women who launched their businesses in the past year.
In June 2020, Rachael Korman and her mother Pam co-founded Love, Mom, a Long Island-based sweet snack company. Earlier that year when the pandemic hit, Korman was working as a marketing manager for a hospitality group in NYC. She was initially furloughed, and then her position was eliminated. Heartbroken and with the sudden overwhelming pressure of not having an income, Korman was forced to move back to her childhood home—where inspiration struck. She had the idea that she could sell her mom’s popular homemade snack mix.
“For years, people would tell us this was the greatest snack they've ever had and begged for the recipe,” says Korman of her mix. “I thought, if there was ever a time to make a major pivot in my life and turn it into a business, the time was now.”
Overnight, she became a small-scale manufacturer using ecommerce as her primary sales channel.
Debra Cady is the founder and CEO of Silver Linings International, a woman-owned business that facilitates positive change for people and organizations through consultation, coaching, training, an advocacy certification program, and appreciative inquiry. She had always wanted to start her own business but never felt ready to do so. When the pandemic hit, she reevaluated her whole life, explaining: “I used to live in D.C., but I wanted to be closer to my children. I’d also accomplished a lot already—working in the federal government and at Georgetown University—and I now craved the freedom to create my own business.”
And so, Cady decided to move closer to her family in Rochester, NY, and got her own business up and running virtually just weeks after the pandemic hit.
The Challenges of Starting a Business During Covid-19
Starting a business has never been without its challenges, but this past year has been especially difficult for first-time business owners. Historically, the biggest priority for new entrepreneurs has been finding customers, and not being able to do so is why so many existing companies struggled or closed over the past year. But Buhrdorf says that what entrepreneurs need the most right now goes deeper than finding new customers.
“Entrepreneurs need help creating online courses, facilitating teams virtually, managing their finances to ensure a steady future, navigating all of the legal paperwork that comes with forming a company, and strategizing how to market their business—especially online.” Resources like ZenBusiness aim to make that process easier by centralizing the services that entrepreneurs like Cady would typically seek from multiple sources like an accountant, a marketing team, and a website creator.
Despite being a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a national expert on transition age youth with more than 35 years of experience, Cady didn’t have experience with running an online business: “Since I’m still in the early stages of growing my business, I spend a lot of time doing individual outreach to new clients, creating an online certification program, and working on my website and blog. I’m continually researching new ways to enhance my website to attract new customers.”
Korman’s story highlights the difficulty of starting a business when you don’t know the right steps to take. “Everyday is different and brings new challenges. With a small team it’s my responsibility to wear just about every hat. I had to learn from the ground up how to market my business, promote it on social media, speak to manufacturers, scale our product in bulk, manage inventory, and handle accounting.”
Starting a business during a period of social distancing and remote work amplified the importance of technology, from ecommerce to social media, in scaling a product or service.
“Because we started during the pandemic, social media and ecommerce were our bread-and-butter,” says Korman. “Instagram specifically has allowed us to gain a larger following. We found that Instagram Stories are a great way to engage our customers directly, through polls and questions, and receive immediate feedback.”
Advice for Microbusinesses and First-Time Entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur for more than 30 years, Buhrdorf understands what makes the urge to run your own business attractive: limitless opportunities and a path to economic freedom. But he also knows how intimidating it can be to build a business from square one. His advice to first-time entrepreneurs?
First, find your customer. At the beginning, you should devote 100% of your time, energy, and funds to finding and knowing your customer—this is critical for surviving your first year.
Be honest with yourself and your customers. Ask yourself, is your product or service something the public really needs? Are you being transparent with what you offer and how much it costs? You cannot fool your customers, so the sooner you figure this out, the better.
Establish an online presence. Businesses with a web presence have the ability to earn more revenue, so you want to do that right away. ZenBusiness customers who created a website after signing up to the platform are earning $15,000 more on average than those that don’t yet have a website.
Go above and beyond. While setting a competitive price can get customers’ attention, the real clincher is providing greater value and more services than your competitors. Simply put, do more for your customers than you’re asked or expected to earn their loyalty.
Meanwhile, as a first-time entrepreneur and a mental health expert, Cady emphasizes the importance of mitigating the inevitable stress from not always knowing when your next paycheck will come:
Surround yourself with positivity. Ask someone to be your accountability partner and surround yourself with support. Starting your own business takes lots of positive energy.
Put your ego aside. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, but learn from them and stay motivated. Take classes and get coaching, and you’ll continue to get better at what you’re doing.
Let go of perfectionism. If you wait until things are perfect, you will never launch. Learn that your 'good enough' is good enough, and keep moving forward.
Korman, who made the best out of a dire situation, advocates aligning your priorities and not letting yourself get down: “When I first lost my job, I was forced to turn inward and figure out my next chapter. It’s important to allow yourself the proper time to take a step back and reevaluate what’s most important to you when making a big decision. I believe that it’s okay to not be okay, and I used that feeling as motivation. I thought, ‘What are my core values and how can I integrate them into whatever I do next?’ I developed a new level of respect for all my fellow risk takers out there because sometimes when you lose what’s most important to you, you have to hustle the hardest, which can ultimately lead to the best outcome.”
What Does the Future of Entrepreneurship Look Like in the U.S.?
The bottom line is that amid record unemployment and an unprecedented global health crisis, Americans still sought new opportunities and continued fighting for their dreams. This recent upswing in entrepreneurial ventures is a testament to the resilience of the American spirit, and is an incredibly hopeful sign for the ongoing recovery. That hope is echoed in the words of the entrepreneurs I spoke with.
“Despite the many challenges of 2020, I am confident in the resiliency of U.S. entrepreneurs and very hopeful for the future of small business owners in this country. I predict an increase in spending on social media, online advertising, and digital content marketing. I also predict hiring will increase nationwide. Hiring the best talent from across the U.S., not just in your own backyard, will be more popular with microbusinesses.” —Ross Buhrdorf, founder and CEO of ZenBusiness
“The urge to create something that brings you joy or joy to others has never been stronger. I always had dreams of becoming an entrepreneur—it was always a deeply rooted spirit I was never able to tap into, and now gratefully here I am.” —Rachael Korman, co-founder and CEO of Love, Mom
“Covid-19 pushed people to be more in control of how they make their money and how they spend their time. Working from home awoke the entrepreneurial spirit in so many. If you love what you do, working won’t feel like work, and that’s how it should be.” —Debra Cady, founder and CEO of Silver Linings International
As we move deeper into 2021 and continue to adapt to our evolving reality and reflect on what’s truly important, you can bet on one thing: our entrepreneurial spirit will be there to help get us through.