Pivot plan is critical for Alaska small business survival

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on small businesses across the country. As entrepreneurs deal with industry shutdowns, quarantines and fewer customers, “business as usual” takes on an entirely new meaning.

Business owners are often admired for their resilience, and that has never been truer than these past six months. That said, it is abundantly clear that businesses need to rethink and retool how they do business to survive. In order to do that, a pivot plan is critical.

The SBDC network is the largest business resource partner funded by the SBA and provides free, one-on-one business advising to entrepreneurs. Whether it’s creating a resiliency plan, navigating options for financing, reworking a marketing plan, or establishing new operations systems, SBDC’s expert advisers walk business owners through their options so they can confidently make tough decisions about their business.

Right now, there are three things that every small business must do to successfully pivot to meet the challenge of operating during COVID-19:

1. Get online — With more people staying home it’s more important than ever to make sure you have a robust online presence. From marketing to e-commerce, websites to social media, your business needs to be on the web and providing your customers with the information and products they want.

2. Communicate effectively — Reach out to your existing customer base and let them know how to support you. Develop strategies for new markets and new opportunities to try and grow your revenue as well.

3. Use all available resources — Everyone needs a helping hand now and then. There are dozens of funding programs and support organizations like the SBA and SBDC ready, willing, and able to support you in your time of need.

SBDC advisers are actively helping Alaska businesses with these three things already. In fact, more than 1,000 small businesses have received technical assistance from the Alaska SBDC since COVID-19 first appeared in March.

Plus, SBDC advisers helped Alaska small businesses get approved for more than $1.7 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, SBA COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and EIDL Advances.

Working together with local partners, SBA staff and SBDC advisers educated small businesses about the financing programs and helped guide business owners through the process. Additionally, both of our organizations continue to guide businesses through the PPP forgiveness process and SBA Debt Relief programs, among other Coronavirus business support.

For example, after months of careful planning, Sanjay Shrestha prepared to open Mandala Restaurant in Anchorage in March 2020. When the pandemic hit, his plans to open stalled amidst the statewide closure of dining establishments. During Alaska’s hunker down, Shrestha changed his business model to meet the restrictions of COVID-19 and prepared to open the doors safely. Shrestha’s perseverance is a testament to the heart and tenacity of small business owners around the state.

The Alaska SBDC has also helped the Frosty Feet Running Company, the only full-service and specialized walking and running shoe store in Fairbanks. Owner Stacy Fisk is an ultra-marathon runner and die-hard entrepreneur, which served her well in the start-up process for her business during a global pandemic. Taking advantage of the closure of gyms and other indoor fitness spaces, Fisk was able to position her business to cater to health-conscious Alaskans looking for ways to stay fit while also staying safe.

Thanks to additional funding from the CARES Act, the SBA provided the Alaska SBDC with additional funding that has been used to launch BuyAlaska.com, a statewide “buy local” campaign, in partnership with dozens of organizations and private-sector businesses. This effort will help Alaskans support the small businesses that are the backbones of our communities and our economies.

COVID-19 is not the first obstacle small businesses have had to face. It will absolutely not be the last either. One thing is for certain, though: For decades, the SBA and Alaska SBDC have been there to empower small businesses to weather the storm, and we’ll continue to do so through every stage of a business’ lifecycle.

Jeremy Field is the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Pacific Northwest Region which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small businesses with resources to start, grow, expand or recover.

Jon Bittner is the Executive Director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an SBA-funded Resource Partner. The SBDC network provides management and technical assistance to help Americans start, run and grow their own businesses.