Consultants offer advice for local businesses The Chandler Arizonan

Consultants offer advice for local businesses

Consultants offer advice for local businesses

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Businesses across Chandler may be nervous about how the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact but local business counselors say there are many resources available that can help companies persevere during this tumultuous time. 

About 90 percent of the city’s businesses expect the pandemic to impact their operations, according to a recent poll done by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

Many businesses told the Chamber they might have to temporarily close and are looking for financial relief to keep their doors open.

Chandler Innovations, a program that helps local entrepreneurs launch their business, is looking to assist Chandler’s business community by offering mentorship and steering companies to helpful resources.

CEO Diana White and Tom Fulcher, the organization’s entrepreneur-in-residence, shared their thoughts with the Chandler Arizonan. Their responses were edited for clarity and length.

Q: What is Chandler Innovations doing at the moment to help the business community?

White:  Prior to what we have going on now, we offered curriculum, resources for mentors, we offered access to funding and capital. We offer a myriad of things including community events. Since everything’s gone virtual, there’s not a whole lot we can do with the social distancing rule. We decided to take all those resources and bring it virtually.

With the city’s support, we’ve also decided to open it up and not have it just be for companies that Chandler Innovations only deal with… Now we’re opening it up to pretty much any Chandler business that is struggling and needs help. We are offering that service free of charge to them. We want to do everything that we possibly can to help the entire economic ecosystem for Chandler.

Fulcher: We’re both working one-on-one with clients. We’re running a series of webinars using local experts to kind of host town halls to cover some of the key issues that are going on. For our internal clients, we have a system where we offer communication where I am also sharing various announcements.

Those are just three of the key ways I’m interacting with our clients and happy to interact with other Chandler small businesses who can go to our website and request assistance.

Q: Since you interact one-on-one with businesses, what are their biggest concerns or questions they have at this time?

Fulcher: Small businesses care very deeply about their employees and what they can do to keep their employees at this time while still managing the business. Both startups and existing companies are asking about access to capital.

I’m working hard to keep people updated with changes (to economic disaster loans) and walking people through that process. Some people just want to talk about how this is impacting their business and how they’re gonna move forward.

Q: Are you thinking about the long-term impacts this crisis will have on the business community in terms of entrepreneurs not having the ability to start their business?

White: I feel like we might see the opposite. We know that the economy is going to take a really bad hit and I think that’s going to prompt a lot of people to say ‘Maybe this is the time that I strike out on my own and figure out what I’m going to do with this idea.’ Many of these ideas will come in forms of solutions to our new norm — whatever that turns out to be.

Fulcher: I am seeing some innovation already. A client had a concept patented a few years ago but they hadn’t really pursued it too actively. But this particular product has applications in our current environment. So, they’re very excited about moving forward.

In the startup community, one of the questions is certainly around investor funding and we have seen through multiple reports that investor funding is down significantly in the first quarter. Investors tend to currently invest in places where they’ve already invested.

They are tracking and keeping in touch with new businesses for future investment but that early-stage investment is a little delayed.

Q: Is there anything more federal, state, or local governments could be doing to assist entrepreneurs or businesses during this time?

White: I believe that the government and all affiliated entities are doing whatever they can as quickly as they can once they find out the need. I think this is going to be an evolutionary process. I don’t think there’s one quick fix.

I think they’re trying to be as proactive as they can, but in a sense, they can’t help but be reactive because this is something new. We’ve never experienced this before. Nobody has a crystal ball. We can’t know what we don’t know yet.

Fulcher: The biggest thing people are looking for now is clarity on how stimulus packages apply to them. That’s a gap we’re trying to help Chandler clients on.

Q: Do you think we may see some innovation in response to the unexpected supply shortages happening in various markets?

White: I think we’re already seeing innovation. We’ve got distillery companies now making hand sanitizer. We’ve got a myriad of companies changing the way they do business to kind of keep up with the demand. We’ve got people donating supplies.

We’re trying to come together and we’re trying to do the best that we can. This is the type of adversity that brings the entrepreneur out in everybody.

Fulcher: There’s a COVID-19 taskforce tech fund out there looking to immediately fund small businesses with innovations in this area. I spoke with a client who’s already in the process of looking into that COVID tech fund.

So, there’s definitely some innovation out there… I know I’m digging in trying to understand these new funds and opportunities for innovation.

Q:  The Chandler Chamber came out with a survey showing that 90 percent of local businesses were expecting a negative impact as a result of this pandemic. Are you surprised by those results and does it concern you?

White: I’m not surprised. We’re all business owners, entrepreneurs, founders, executives. But we’re all human beings. Anytime something like this happens, it doesn’t matter how much of a grasp you have on business. There tends to be a little bit of uncertainty and maybe a little bit of panic. There’s some truth to it. We are going to see changes. There’s going to be a new normal. I believe there’s always balance in economics. It may get bad, but it always seems to bounce back.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for business owners to get through this difficult time?

White: Be cautious. Be safe. But don’t panic. Definitely get a partner, especially if you’re about to make some heavy decisions. If you’re going to take out a loan, layoff employees, take in a partner to figure out if those are the right moves at the right times. I think that is critical. And taking a moment to breathe before making those rash decisions. This is definitely the time to be strategic.

Fulcher: Social distancing is not the same as emotional distancing. So, find people to talk to and people who can help. There’s a lot of resources, a lot of people who want to help.

Knowing you are part of something as opposed to on your own is a huge difference in how you perceive what’s going on and how you react.

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