As businesses find themselves in the midst of an unprecedented economic shift due to COVID-19, many have taken the opportunity to adapt and provide resources for both their customers and fellow entrepreneurs.
From support for those facing transitions in their careers to groups providing inspiration and ways to stay busy, Sioux Falls’ entrepreneurial community is proving its flexibility and resilience in the face of challenging circumstances.
“I’ve watched in awe at the level of innovation, empathy, and tenacity our great business community is truly capable of,” said Brienne Maner, Executive Director of the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship. “It’s another reminder of why we are so lucky to live in this great city.”
Small business 0wners offer consulting, guidance, coaching
Social distancing guidelines have encouraged businesses to transition to remote work where possible. Some local businesses already have experience working from home, but others are finding the switch a bit challenging, whether it’s discomfort with the necessary technology or a struggle to communicate efficiently.
John Meyer, founder of local design agency Lemonly, recently posted on social media about offering free virtual consulting on working from home. Lemonly is known for its flexible workspace and numerous fully remote employees, and Meyer has made himself available to discuss productivity, mindset, and best practices for working from home.
Business owners and teams can request a 15-minute Zoom call with Meyer via email at [email protected].
Lemonly’s team also created daily pieces of microcontent for clients and anyone else who may be interested, for use internally or externally. These include helpful infographics on topics such as common symptoms, social distancing tips, or when to wear a mask, and they can be accessed free of charge via Dropbox.
“It’s important now more than ever for companies to give first,” said Meyer. “How can your organization help others? We decided to think about what is uniquely Lemonly, so for us that is designing content and company culture. We created two free offers, open to anyone, to give first and provide some value. We’re all going through this together, so think about how your organization can lead and help out.”
Carla White is another local entrepreneur aiming to ease the transition to virtual work during COVID-19. White is the founder of the Gratitude App, and she also has experience as a business coach and app developer.
As the effects of COVID-19 began to take hold of businesses, White quickly put together a website that would help people shift their services online to allow them to work full-time from home. The site includes a list of White’s favorite online tools and shortcuts for running a business, as well as six free courses on topics like working from home as a mom, designing a website, and writing for profit.
“I was speaking one on one with business owners, asking them, ‘What’s stopping you?” and “What’s your biggest confusion in all of this?” and to them, getting online was this mammoth thing they had to overcome,” said White. “There’s still a learning curve, but it’s a lot easier than people think.”
In addition to the online resources she’s compiled, White is also offering free phone or Zoom calls to walk people through taking their businesses online. Email her at [email protected] to request a call.
Unfortunately, another challenge facing the workforce is layoffs. Whether you’ve been laid off recently or if you think it might be a possibility in the near future, it’s important to have an action plan in place for your upcoming job search.
Bill McGuckin is a partner at Oxenham Group, a local recruiting firm, and he’s currently offering free Gallup Strength Assessments and IBM Skill Assessments, as well as resume writing tips for those seeking immediate work.
McGuckin is limiting these 15-minute sessions to Fridays, and you can book a time slot here.
Megan Dahle is a consulting CFO and describes herself as “a fixer.”
“People come to me because they know there’s a problem in their business, but they can’t get eyes on it to really fix the core of the problem so their business can thrive,” she said.
As some business owners have unfortunately watched their cash flow run dry overnight due to COVID-19, Dahle says she’s been working to find ways to help those who can’t afford her standard services of one-on-one consulting.
One of those solutions is creating Facebook Live videos to walk through the bills in Congress and laws that have recently passed.
“These have major implications for small businesses—both owners and employees—and just because a provision exists doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your business or personal financial situation,” she said. “I want the business community to be crystal clear on what these mean.”
And of course, Dahle’s regular services of tailored, individualized consulting are available as well. Her typical clients are small business owners with 30 employees or less who are willing to prepare for the road ahead.
“Right now I’m seeing people who simply want to see what the different options mean in terms of what it looks like three to six months from now,” she said. ‘They really want eyeballs on what the impact of all of this will be.”
Local entrepreneurs offer inspiration, opportunities for connection
If there’s one thing the Sioux Falls entrepreneurial community knows, it’s that it’s stronger together. Businesses and individuals are creating new opportunities for people to share their skills and connect with one another every day.
“Our business community has never been one to back down in the face of a crisis; this has been most recently evident through the downtown building collapse, tornado devastation and now a global pandemic,” said Maner. “I once again see a silver lining in which our business community will emerge stronger, more tight-knit and better prepared for the next time adversity strikes.”
Emily Wilson is a raw vegan chef and founder of Bee Loved Kitchen, which offers cooking classes, meal prep, and in-home personal chef services.
As Wilson saw countless events being cancelled and people staying home, she imagined a community Facebook group where people could enjoy their favorite activities from home. Wilson created Better Together Sioux Falls on March 15, and it now has over 2,200 members. In fact, Wilson has inspired similar groups in other communities, including Duluth, MN and Fort Collins, CO.
Anyone is welcome to join and post in the group, and Wilson says it’s a place for people to share fun activities and videos with the intention of supporting local businesses. This could be anything from a yoga practice to a cooking class or a kids’ activity.
“People who are cut off from their gyms, sporting events, and friends now have activities they can do right at home,” said Wilson. “The businesses benefit by promoting themselves for free and reminding people of services they are still offering, or how they will accommodate their customers during this time. It’s a great space for people to grow their following and form new relationships.”
Wilson says she’s received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, and she looks forward to the day when she can meet group members in person.
“I hope this group continues long-term. I see a huge opportunity for stronger connections to be made between families and our small businesses and how important it is to support local,” she said. “Since the COVID-19 outbreak we’ve been challenged to rely on social media or online tools to help us keep business afloat, but the tools we’re acquiring now are going to make our business more successful and provide more resources for customers long after the pandemic is over.”
Will Bushee is the founder of South Dakota Gaming Bootcamp, and we recently wrote about his upcoming event, Hack Sioux Falls. As schools were shut down across the state, Bushee realized he needed to find a way to transition his gaming and coding events to the virtual space.
Through the local nonprofit Code Bootcamp School, Bushee and his fellow instructors have created up to six hours per week of self-directed curriculum and three 45-minute face-to-face opportunities with teachers.
The cost of the program is $65 every two weeks, and Bushee sees it as a wonderful opportunity for parents to keep their kids occupied and learning during this time at home. Family pricing is also available at $100 every two weeks to serve multiple children. Register for Virtual Coding Club here.
An opportunity specifically for women is Kim Vander Poel’s Thursday Zoom call, hosted in place of her weekly Coffee n Connections gatherings at Queen City Bakery.
“During this time of massive change and social isolation it is more important than ever to support and encourage each other,” said Vander Poel. “As the days turn into weeks and possibly months, knowing that there are other women in our community we can lean on for support when we need to is critical. We are all in this together.”
Vander Poel says women, particularly those with children at home, need time to focus and work on their business while attending to the needs of their family. They also need support when it comes to managing fear of the unknown—whether that’s COVID-19, fear of a recession, or the sustainability of their business.
Virtual Coffee n Connections aims to provide that support, as well as resources and challenges for managing change, networking, and growth. Find information on joining the Zoom call via Coffee n Connections’ Facebook event.
Another female-focused opportunity for connection comes from Jen Kolb, founder of the Kitchen. Kolb opened her co-working space for women less than two months ago and has had to pivot quickly to continue serving her clients’ needs. For the time being, the space is still open to members who agree to uphold social distancing guidelines. However, Kolb had to pause in-person events as well as childcare, two primary sources of income for the business.
To continue providing value to members, Kolb has hosted Zoom check-ins and conversations with business women in the community.
“I want to make sure that the content we provide digitally is high-quality and relevant, in order to make sure it doesn’t just add to the noise off all of the online content at this time,” she said. “The best way to stay in touch is to follow along on our social media channels on Instagram and Facebook. We’ll post links to our Zoom content there, so any one can join us to digitally connect. These are open to the public, male and female, and we encourage anyone and everyone to join.”
Finally, the gathering many entrepreneurs look forward to every week, 1 Million Cups (1MC), is launching its first virtual opportunity this week via Zoom. On Wednesday, Virtual 1MC will play host to Falls Fintech accelerator participant, John Williams of Build Financial.
You can join the weekly Zoom meeting here with Meeting ID: 258 843 732.
Maner encourages the community to show up for these virtual opportunities and maintain connection with one another during this time.
“The biggest challenge for the entrepreneurial community is going to be finding a strong amount of patience over panic so they do not make hasty business decisions that may significantly affect the future of their venture,” Maner said. “Zeal and Startup Sioux Falls are here to provide support, resources and connections during this time of isolation and uncertainty to ensure that startups do not give up on their dreams. We are all in this together.”
We will continue to keep you updated on local business offerings and resources as we discover them.