The purpose of this blog isn’t so much to provide answers but to, hopefully, start conversations leading to solutions for you and your local market.
It is scary times in many ways. Every day brings a new turn, a new restriction, a new challenge. It's scary personally, and it's scary professionally. For small businesses, in particular, it’s downright terrifying.
I’m guessing many of you have received emails similar to this one I received from my local yoga studio.
"Over the last three days, I have been overwhelmed with the number of emails asking to cancel memberships or requesting refunds immediately because we are closed. . . . I know there is a lot of fear right now, but I believe this fear is a temporary emotional response. However, it will also, ultimately, have a long-term effect on our business. I cannot express enough to you how important it is for us to work together as this next month is a make or break it for us . . .” It goes on to explain how hard they are working to make for an even greater experience once they re-open.
Or this one that I received from a taproom.
“This is going to hurt us...and I appreciate anything you can do to continue visiting our taprooms and buying to go. Small business is fragile, and this is the biggest business challenge I have personally ever faced...We only exist because of our family of customers and employees, and I am personally having an emotionally traumatic experience imagining that this relationship has to change."
I’m sure you’ve received similar emails yourself from other small businesses that fear failure, and you may even know of some that have already failed. 😢 If you are like me, you find these emails difficult to receive, for many reasons. (Imagine how hard it is to send one.)
These small businesses are part of our daily routines; they enrich our lives. Their owners and employees become friends.
But, make no mistake; there is nothing SMALL about their collective impact, locally or nationally. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and a significant key to getting us back where we were before.
A little (no pun intended) perspective
In 2016 (according to the census bureau), there were 5.6 million employer firms (there were another 25 million non-employer firms). Of these employer firms, 99.7% have fewer than 500 workers, 98.2% have less than 100, and 89% have less than 20.
Small businesses created 1.9 million jobs in 2015, with 1.1m of those coming from firms with fewer than 20 employees. This is especially impressive when you consider, according to a report from Money.com, the total number of new jobs created that year was 2.7 million. On top of that, according to the Small Business Administration, small businesses represent just shy of 50% of non-farm GDP.
We need our small businesses to be strong. We need them for our quality of life; we need them for the strength of our economy.
According to J.P. Morgan Chase, 51% of small businesses are less than ten years old, having started after the official recovery from the Great Recession, and having grown during a period of overall economic growth. They’ve never had to deal with a down economy. Then again, almost no businesses have had to deal with the sudden and drastic downturn we’re dealing with now.
I know you can relate
As an insurance agency, you are a small business yourself, and most of your clients are small businesses. I don't have to tell you what is on the line, but in a word, it’s EVERYTHING.
Let’s rally together, not merely as benefits/insurance agencies, but as small businesses with the immediate need to survive. And with the long-term goal and responsibility to put the economy back on its feet.
Start by identifying the challenges
Your prospects/clients need help from you in both personal and professional ways. When it comes to professional help, it will include assistance in ways you may not have thought of before.
According to a survey performed by Guidant Financial, the top seven challenges small businesses face are as follows.
- Lack of cash flow
- Marketing and advertising
- Time management
- Performing administrative work
- Hiring and retaining top talent
- Providing and managing benefits
- Navigating government regulations
Helping small businesses through this challenging time can take the form of our personal support and our professional support both. Let’s explore some options.
Make a personal impact
Your personal help is pretty simple and straight forward. Small businesses need you to help keep some business coming in the doors. No act of support is too small, and any act can create ripples. There are many things you can do to help your fellow small businesses survive.
- Continue your memberships
- Support local restaurants and shops by ordering take-out or delivery
- Support local businesses by purchasing anything you can from them even if it may be a bit more expensive or slightly less convenient
- Help promote them through your website or other platforms
- Purchase gift cards for others and for yourself to use later
- Give ridiculous tips (if you are able) to their workers
- Maybe just send them a note letting them know you are thinking about them, appreciate them, and are cheering them on. We all need to hear these things; emotional support may be the very fuel they need.
- READER PARTICIPATION – What other ideas do you have for how we can support local, small businesses?
Expand your professional impact
Now is not a time for you to go into shut-down mode!!
As a small business yourself, you have professional advice to offer. Other small businesses NEED to hear from you. I know many of you are hypersensitive to the thought of offending someone by prospecting during this crisis.
First of all, read or our recent blog on this topic. Second, stop thinking about your activities as prospecting or selling and reframe them as what they need you to be and go into problem-solving mode. As an advisor, your superpower has always been your ability to solve problems for clients. It’s time to don your “PS” shirt, tie on your cape, and help solve problems.
Info info everywhere, but not an answer in sight
Your ability to help prospects/clients find manageable answers must become the focus of your marketing efforts.
You may say, “But, there is an over-abundance of information out there already. What could I possibly add?” And, therein lies so much of the problem. Most of us are overwhelmed by the volume of information but don't know how to sort through it to answer the specific questions affecting our businesses. Talk about being overwhelmed!
Start with the obvious (challenges #6 & #7 from above)
As a benefits advisor, identify the top three questions your clients are asking (or should be asking) regarding how their benefits programs are affected by layoffs, reduced hours, forced closure, etc. Put these Q&As into bite-size pieces of communication and share them with your prospects and clients via an email campaign, social cards, LinkedIn posts, or a simple explainer video.
Don’t worry about whether or not your Q&A may seem too simple and obvious. Remember, other employers don't know what you know when it comes to benefits/insurance. If a piece of advice feels too basic to you, you are approaching a message they will understand and on which they will be able to act.
But don’t stop there, look at the other five challenges
Most of you can also write and counsel around the other challenges simply because you are a small business who has already figured them out. Using the same simple, bite-sized approach to these challenges will work here as well.
But, as a small business, you may look at this list and say, “I can’t help with THAT! In fact, I need to find that answer myself.” Good news for you. You don’t have to have the answers to help others, yourself included, overcome the challenges.
Knights of the (virtual) roundtable
Commit to organizing and hosting a series of small business roundtable discussions (held virtually, of course) to address these additional challenges.
- Start with broad, open discussions where each attendee simply shares their ideas or questions they need to have answered. (Subsequent discussions can get more topically specific. - managing a remote work force, communication tools, technology resources, etc.)
- Maybe invite a topical expert to sit in as discussions get more specific.
- You don’t need to answer everything during the session. Be the one who collects the unanswered questions and start searching for answers to share as a follow-up.
- Allow/encourage participants to invite others to participate as well.
- Record the sessions and make them available to others who were unable to attend.
Not only would these roundtables be strategically and tactically valuable for you and your fellow small business owners, imagine the therapeutic value!
Let’s end with one more READER PARTICIPATION – What else are you doing to support your fellow small business owners?
Photo by Artur.