Realizing there was a need to assist the Tampa Bay area business community, Saint Leo University's Tapia College of Business offered a free, four-part webinar series, Business Reimagined: Insights for Small Businesses in the COVID-19 Landscape in June and July.
Saint Leo University faculty and members of the Tampa Turnaround Management Association organized the sessions, engaging with other regional industry experts to provide operational, financial, human capital, and strategy guidance for small businesses.
"We recognize that this is a challenging time and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some really unique challenges for small businesses," said Dr. Robyn Parker, dean of the Tapia College of Business. "We thought we would gather together a set of experts and resources to help you as you think about what some call 're-ing business:'" Reopening, going remote, restructuring, refinancing, rethinking, replanning, and redeploying."
The Business Reimagined webinars drew participants from a broad range of industries with most being service providers and many were the sole proprietors of their business, Parker said.
"Most of their businesses employ fewer than 10 people," she said. Among the industries represented were consulting; printing; nonprofit agencies; commercial cleaning; lawn services; facilities management; cosmetics/beauty salons; tech data; automotive repair; real estate sales; and restaurants/bakeries.
The four parts in the webinar sessions were:
- The COVID-19 Factor: An Overview of How COVID-19 is Impacting Businesses;
- Addressing the Pandemic Recession: HR, Business Operations, and Supply Chain Impact;
- Your Business Model: Strategic Direction for Pandemic Recession Recovery; and,
- Financial Frenzy: Financial Options and Resources Related to COVID-19.
Panelists included: Noel Boeke, attorney with Holland & Knight and a member of Saint Leo's board of trustees; Kelly Flannery, president and CEO of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce; Dan Mitchell, SMARTstart program director for the Pasco Economic Development Council; Jake Blanchard, principal shareholder at Blanchard Law; Darren Palestine, managing partner at Commercial Finance Partners; Dr. Rudi Mueller of the Turnaround Management Association of Tampa; Lynn Kroesen , manager, Entrepreneur Collaborative Center for the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council; Dr. Jim Sartain and Kathy Davanzo, senior partners with CODA Partners; Sam Tandon, consultant and CEO mentor; and Virginia Kiseljack, senior vice president and business development officer with PNC Credit.
Moderating the panels in addition to Parker, were Dr. Drew Gold, associate professor of management, and Helen MacLennan, assistant professor of management. Saint Leo University faculty members who were panelists included Dr. Sheri Bias, associate professor of human resources; Dr. Rafael Rosado-Ortiz, chair of health care administration; Dr. Owen Roach, assistant professor of supply chain management; Dr. Charles Oden, associate professor of logistics and supply chain management; and Dr. C'Lamt Ho, assistant professor of accounting.
A Broad Look at Business
The first Business Reimagined session gave an overview of all the topics to be discussed and offered resources for participants. For example, the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center is hosting about 100 events monthly to help businesses, Kroesen noted. The ECC also is offering the R3 – Rapid Recovery Response; Kickstart Small Business program, which provides financial assistance for Hillsborough County businesses that generate less than $3 million in revenue; the Back-to-Work program, which offers employers a payroll incentive to bring back or hire workers; and the Safe-at-Work program that helps businesses make improvements to protect employees and customers.
Blanchard pointed to other resources such as the Small Business Administration, chambers of commerce, and free online courses as well as micro-credential courses that cost a fee.
"For many of my colleagues, this pandemic caught us flat-footed in the strategy domain," Sartain said. "Some of us were caught very much unprepared in terms of helping organizations navigate this pandemic."
The following sessions took a "deep dive" into specific issues and offered advice and resources to business owners that may be suffering.
"It really is about reimagining your business," Gold noted.
While many organizations, especially in Florida, are prepared for hurricanes and natural disasters, they were not ready for the magnitude and the duration of the pandemic, said Bias, the associate professor of human resources.
When it comes to looking at a business model, Gold advised, "Forget 'we can't do that,' and instead ask 'how can we do that?' Creative innovation will drive solutions."
Mitchell, of the Pasco (County) Economic Development Council, said about 700 businesses participated in the Refocus course, offered by the SmartStart program of the PEDC. "As business owners, we are all stuck right now," he said.
"Consider shifting your focus," he advised. "Stop, breathe, and think about why we are in business. We are in business because we have a service that is serving a customer's needs. How has that changed?"
He recommends that businesses talk to their customers. "Who are they?" he asked. "What drives them? What has changed for them? Are they staying home more? How are they solving the problem that your company normally serves? If you're an AC company, they may not be allowing people inside their homes right now. Start small and look at how to serve your customers now!"
Finding financial help
Even in a distressing situation such as the pandemic, there is money available, Palestine said. "Communicate with your lender," he said. "Don't fall into thinking of short-term solutions. There are predatory people out there. Take advantage of government-backed programs."
MacLennan posed the question: "So your company is out of cash, your lenders and creditors might be getting impatient with you. Is it time to start thinking about bankruptcy?"
Boeke said it is the time to start talking with a bankruptcy attorney or a turnaround consultant.
"Even though this is what I do for a living, I am a bankruptcy attorney, we view bankruptcy as a last resort," he said. "We much prefer to help business owners work through their obligations and their financial distress before we run to bankruptcy court.
He echoed Palestine's comments, saying the key is communication with lenders. "Sometimes CEOs, when they face financial distress, they put their head in the sand," Boeke said. "Share your financials. Once you get on your feet, they can keep you as a client. During COVID-19, lenders are doing backflips to work with their borrowers."
Turnaround specialist Mueller and accounting faculty member Ho also provided useful tips including how to develop a 13-week cash flow plan and creating exit strategies.
Business Reimagined webinars may be viewed at https://www.saintleo.edu/business-events.
"Saint Leo and the Tapia College of Business wanted to do something to give back to the community," Parker said. "'Community' is one of Saint Leo's core values, and we thoroughly embrace the idea of helping others. We hope to hold more webinars in the future to assist not only the community, but also as a learning experience for our students."