Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center leading the way back

By Posted on Jul 24 2020 | By

COVID-19 recovery priority one for local agency

Small businesses are the heart of the Nation’s economy. More than 28 million entrepreneurs employ 57 million workers in firms with less than 1,500 employees, often dramatically less. They are the country’s leading job creators.

Yet the failure rate of these small companies is 20 percent in their first year of operation. By year five, 50 percent have failed, and a decade after opening their doors, 70 percent are no longer on the scene.

This gauntlet was the norm before COVID-19 hit. Today survival is the paramount goal of millions of small business owners who are the pulse of the Nation’s economic heart.

Christine Kriz, director of the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center, has never been busier as she and her part-time staff of four provide a plethora of skills to help assure the viability of the region’s small enterprises.

The charter
Kriz’s turf covers eight regional counties, including Fauquier, and the City of Winchester. Her charter assists any firm with less than 100 employees and under $50 million in revenue.

In quieter times, the Lord Fairfax SBDC helped aspiring entrepreneurs start and run a business. Such assistance would include creating marketing plans, preparing loan applications, helping manage day-to-day operations, and even providing support for selling a company.

Disciplines included accounting, human resources, marketing, operations, distribution, and virtually any aspect of creating and running a company.

Before the pandemic, Kriz’s team assisted about 420 clients a year. Today, she is on track to helping some 1,200 local firms recover and thrive from the impact of the national lockdown.

While all of the previous support is still in place, two issues regularly surface from businesses struggling to find a path back to normalcy: e-commerce and cash flow.

E-commerce is poised to play a more significant role in the months and years ahead. Initially, many of her clients were eager to embrace a more substantial digital role to survive. Now their focus is shifting back to the conventional strategies, especially for retailers.

“But we are still emphasizing e-commerce because there are people who prefer to buy that way. We don’t know if the economy will shut down again if a second virus wave hits later this year. Companies need to be prepared to sell both online and in person.

“Among the many things we offer is free consulting, paid for by tax dollars, to help people meet with Google and other e-commerce experts.

“These are people who can help them get their websites up and running. We also offer free website evaluation, social media expertise, and overall online marketing strategies to drive people to those sites,” said Kriz.

When the pandemic first hit, businesses were seeking her out for immediate assistance in building their e-commerce skills. Now that Phase 2 recovery is in place, many firms are shifting their focus back to former sales strategies.

“We are preaching the message that ‘you cannot forget about your online presence. Don’t lose the momentum you’ve begun to establish.’”

The advice she provides companies is to reach out to their customers and continuously ask them, “How do you prefer buying from us?” She knows there are a majority of buyers in the marketplace who still do not feel comfortable going out shopping.

The second important issue is creating a cash flow plan. When Kriz encounters owners who eschew working with numbers, she urges them to have a bookkeeper do it or meet with her. She has numerous free tools available to help achieve sound budgeting practices.

“I can’t overemphasize how important it is for companies to know their numbers today and to know their cash flow,” emphasizes Krix. “In normal times, 80 percent of firms go out of business because of cash flow problems. We want people to make rational decisions, not emotional ones when it comes to their finances.”

LFSMDC receives funding from the Small Business Administration, which is matched by at least 50 percent from local economic development groups. The funding is vital because federal funds will not be forthcoming unless local judications contribute too.

“If there is anything positive that has come from the pandemic, it’s the response from our economic development partners. They have been fantastic,” said Kriz.

Since March 17, Kriz and her team have been both telecommuting and meeting via Zoom with businesses in need. She operates out of three Fauquier Enterprise Centers located in Flint Hill, Marshall, and Warrenton.

The future
If the economic ship of state rights itself and the country begins to return to prosperity, how long will it take to see good times return? “I follow a lot of top-level economists who are predicting it will take three years to make a complete comeback.

“Seven percent of all jobs will not return. For small business owners who are doing well, it’s because they are pivoting their businesses based on what their customers are telling them. An owner cannot rely on a ‘this is the way we’ve always done it,’ business model.

“The key is communication with customers. Finding out what they want and how they want to buy it is her relentless mantra. If you cannot adjust to the reality of these demands, you will not be around two years from now,” said Kriz.

The Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center is a rich resource for small firms in need. Help starts by simply visiting https://lfsbdc.org/.

Firms can also sign up for a free no-obligation business consultation using its COVID-19 recovery website  https://www.virginiasbdc.org/recoveryresourcecenter/

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