Updated Jul 12, 2022 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on small businesses & the digital world

On Tuesday, July 12th, Axios managing editor for business and markets Javier E. David, business reporter Erica Pandey and Axios Today host Niala Boodhoo led conversations on how small businesses are navigating a pivot to the digital world. Guests included SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman, 1863 Ventures founder & managing partner Melissa Bradley and National Small Business Association president & CEO Todd McCracken.

Isabel Casillas Guzman explained how the SBA is planning to support businesses now that many assistance programs from the pandemic’s emergency phase have ended, how technology has increasingly become an integral part of small business competitiveness and the lessons learned from funding issues in the early pandemic assistance programs.

  • On the SBA’s Digital Alliance: “E-commerce did grow dramatically during the pandemic, and these small businesses took advantage of that, and we want to see more of them do so. E-commerce, setting up your website, sets you up immediately to markets outside of your neighborhoods globally. And so the Small Business Digital Alliance is about creating free tools and trainings for our small businesses…and we would love to be able to connect more small businesses so they can advance their businesses via technology.”
  • On issues with pandemic business assistance funding programs: “That was a clear message to me when I started at the SBA, that we wanted to make sure the funds got into the hands of those businesses it was intended to serve. We turned around our programs, implementing strong fraud controls and frameworks to make sure that that happened, as well as partnered to really reach those underserved communities. I think now more than ever, small businesses who needed to access those grant programs, or forgivable loan programs or what have you had to become more financial ready…and so we needed to make sure that we worked directly with those businesses.”

Melissa Bradley described how the pandemic economy has affected Black and brown business owners, how the pivot to digital affected big and small businesses differently and disparities in access to digital tools and online marketing dollars for minority business owners.

  • On how Main Street businesses struggled with digital strategy more than businesses who were already selling online: “There are a lot of small businesses in this country, but many of them are what we call Main Street businesses. They survive through interaction and customers coming in and being able to browse, and I think those businesses were the most hard hit because they weren’t even used to a digital strategy. Everything happened in person, and so I’d say for them, it’s been a real struggle to really figure out what are the right tools, understanding their customers and how do they get to them.”
  • On disparities in access to capital for Black and brown-owned businesses: “I think the beauty is that the social media channels, for the most part, are relatively accessible. I think the difference between Black and brown business and white businesses is the amount of money to dedicate to online marketing, and so that’s been a real disparity. We find that Black and brown businesses aren’t able to have the massive campaigns and do the banner ads and the frequency of delivery of messages, which means it’s more important for them to really understand what is the message and who are their customers.”

Todd McCracken described how the needs of small business owners evolved during the pandemic and the biggest challenges small businesses are currently facing.

  • On the challenges small businesses are facing relating to technology: “It’s a key that small companies can use to unlock new markets, to compete more effectively with their bigger competitors, and to add a great deal of efficiency to their companies. On the other hand, there are huge learning curves to get it right. There are things they have to do with very short staff to make sure that everything is running smoothly, and there are big, often cybersecurity challenges that can come with adoption of additional digital tools, technology as well, that small companies are least able to handle.”
  • On the pivot to digital for small companies: “It was a real thing for small companies then to figure out different ways of doing business, especially those that were operating in storefronts of some kind, to change their operations. I think that’s part of what’s driving the economic growth that we’ve seen since then, as they have done things because of the pandemic that they probably should have done a long time ago.”

In the View from the Top segment, Google Play Partnerships VP Purnima Kochikar emphasized how consumer behavior changed during the pandemic.

  • “Consumer behavior I think has fundamentally changed…over the last two years, we had to make a difficult decision between life and livelihood, and most of us who worked in digital didn’t have to make hard choices, but that was not true for small businesses that relied on people to come into their stores, to interact and to purchase…mobile bridged the gap. They helped small businesses go digital and created jobs for the ones who needed it. We’ve seen grocery delivery apps, food delivery apps, et cetera reach ten year KPIs over the last two years. This means user behavior has fundamentally changed.”

Thank you Google Play for sponsoring this event.

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