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Newsletter: Five strategies small-business owners are using to survive the pandemic

Financial advisor Belva Anakwenze
Financial advisor Belva Anakwenze has taken flexibility to the next level by inviting clients to socially distanced meetings in her backyard and even, when necessary, her driveway.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Rachel Schnalzer, the L.A. Times Business section’s audience engagement editor, back with our weekly newsletter. Over the last few months, reporter Ronald D. White and I have spoken with small-business owners to learn more about the challenges they’re facing during the pandemic. Some of these small businesses have managed to survive so far, thanks to a blend of adaptability, determination and, often, luck. Others have closed permanently.

There’s insight to be gained from every business owner who spoke with us. Today we’re focusing on a few who have pulled off changes that enabled them to keep their revenue flowing or their mission alive. Here are some strategies they’ve used to make it through the pandemic.

(If you’re a small-business owner wrestling with the effects of the pandemic, please consider sharing your story with us.)

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Being flexible

It goes almost without saying that working from home during the pandemic has forced many of us to become more flexible with our professional lives, such as taking Zoom calls against a chaotic background filled with children and pets.

Financial advisor Belva Anakwenze has taken flexibility to the next level by inviting clients to socially distanced meetings in her backyard and even, when necessary, her driveway. The good news: None of her neighbors have complained about her impromptu workspaces.

Anakwenze manages four employees, which has also required some additional adjustment. Instead of working a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, her communication with employees now stretches into the night to accommodate their child-care needs.

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“I have an employee working at midnight because it’s the quiet time; the kids are finally asleep,” Anakwenze said. “I have one putting hours in on weekends, when there’s no home schooling … We’re just trying to buy time and stay as nimble as we possibly can.”

And if an employee’s child needs something immediately, she says, the employee is welcome to hang up on her.

Pivoting to meet current needs

Natalie McAdams has been organizing product launches, fashion shows and premieres for the last 18 years. She also plans mega-events for nonprofits such as City of Hope and Heal the Bay.

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But with large, in-person events off the table for the time being, McAdams has pivoted to planning small, virus-screened yoga retreats to generate income. She recently held the first of several planned retreats in Aspen, Colo., charging $1,500 to $2,250 a person for the four-night experience.

“I’ve been on thousands of yoga and wellness retreats, and I’ve always wanted that to be something I could produce as well,” McAdams said. “I think it can give people a sense that they really can get away … and just recharge.”

Scrapping the storefront

For weeks, the threat of closure had loomed over Cuties Coffee, an LGBTQ-owned and -operated shop near Los Angeles City College in East Hollywood whose mission was to be “a safe space for queer and trans people.”

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After reopening following the business shutdown in March, customers were slow to return. The first week, the shop was making less than $400 per day; by Week 2, it was less than $200 a day. Meanwhile, the shop continued to fall behind on rent. “It was just like, this doesn’t make any sense. We’re not making enough money to even sustain the shop being open,” Chief Executive Sasha Jones recalled.

Since permanently closing its doors in late July, Cuties Coffee has evolved into a virtual community space. Jones has been organizing online and in-person, socially distanced events, such as a book club, a “portraits in the park” get-together and an outdoor sound meditation.

People are contributing money on Patreon, and Jones hopes to use that community as a springboard to open a shop again someday.

Joining forces

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Event marketing company Banzai hosted and promoted 66 in-person conferences and other events in the Los Angeles area in 2019. By March 13, 2020, “our entire sales pipeline was gone,” CEO Joe Davy said.

To adjust, Davy and his executive team shifted the company’s focus to virtual events with the help of High Attendance, a small company they acquired that specialized in such events.

“Our volume of events has nearly doubled,” Davy said. “It was really fortunate that we were able to respond so quickly because this could have been a huge disaster for us. If we had done nothing and just decided to wait it out, we would be dead.”

Embracing remote work for the long haul

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Around the time that stay-at-home orders were issued this spring, Greg Goetzman, founder of finance and accounting firm the Goetzman Group, projected that as many as half his employees would continue to work remotely even after the pandemic.

He decided to lean into it and equip them with the resources needed to effectively communicate with one another and clients.

The workers embraced the change, he said. “I haven’t seen a drop in work quality. I think there’s a real revolution of thought in seeing the value of people working from home.”

As for the future, he predicts that “it’s going to be some blend of working from home and work from the office. We maybe had 20% of our employees working remotely before COVID. It’s closer to 100% now. I think we will end up somewhere in the middle of that.”

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◆ Wondering whether the COVID-19 risk on planes is as low as some airlines suggest? Hugo Martín breaks down what the experts say.

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◆ Khaled Zayyid drove up to 80 hours a week for Uber to provide for his family. He died of COVID-19 complications this summer. Proposition 22’s fate will determine whether and how families like his receive death benefits, Hussain reports.

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◆ President Trump repeatedly has railed against “socialized medicine.” And yet, columnist David Lazarus writes, Trump’s government has spent more than $20 billion in taxpayer funds seeking a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.

◆ Trump “seems to think his economic policies have been a triumph,” says columnist Michael Hiltzik. He explains why he believes the opposite: that they are “nothing to be proud of.”

◆ California holds 87 of the 130 priciest ZIP Codes in the country, according to a study from real estate marketplace PropertyClub. Jack Flemming explains where it’s most expensive to buy a home in the Golden State.

One more thing

Walmart is, in essence, laying off hundreds of robots and giving their jobs to humans. The retail giant tried having 6-foot-tall robots roam stores and scan shelves to see when items are out of stock. According to the Wall Street Journal, Walmart found that employees — who, because of the pandemic, now walk the aisles more often to retrieve items for customers who order online — can achieve similar results.

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Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at californiainc@latimes.com, and we may include it in a future newsletter.


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