By Holly Riddle
The Penn State SBDC has supported Happy Valley entrepreneurs for more than two decades, as we covered in a recent Q&A with the Penn State SBDC’s Elizabeth Fegert, business consultant, and Tim Keohane, director. However, despite the SBDC’s wealth of experience and expertise, in 2020, the organization was forced to face a challenge unlike any other they’d come across.
The Covid-19 pandemic proved difficult for many businesses — but for some, it was an opportunity to grow, evolve and serve clients and customers in new ways. Many are still using services and business practices that came about as a result of the pandemic. In some instances, the pandemic was just the thing to push aspiring entrepreneurs to finally launch their dream business. While, yes, the pandemic proved tragic in many instances, it also changed the business landscape in Happy Valley, in some ways for the better.
Fegert said, “We’ve seen some amazing businesses who have changed their work cultures and customer service, or who have modified their services or product lines to meet customers’ current needs. The ability to stay up to date with those changing needs has really allowed those businesses to succeed in new ways. Maybe things had been going really, really well for those businesses as things were, but now that they’ve seen how powerful small changes and adjustments along the way can be, they’re more equipped to do so moving forward.”
Keohane called the pandemic an “eye opener” for many businesses, who realized that they did need to be flexible enough to make those small changes if they wanted to survive not just the pandemic, but how the pandemic would shift customers’ and clients’ expectations.
He said, “I think for a business owner, it's very easy to get stuck in a routine and keep doing business as usual. As long as everything’s generally going well, you just keep doing what you do… Covid, especially in the early stages, forced businesses to push the envelope and be more proactive, take a look at what they were doing and the customers they were serving, and see if there were better, easier and more efficient ways to do it.”
This change in mindset, he added, is something that’s lasted, as businesses have learned to forgo complacency and continuously look for opportunities to become better, more successful and more profitable.
Similarly, as the SBDC helped businesses navigate these changes and challenges, the organization itself likewise learned to pivot and adapt to business owners’ new and evolving needs. The SBDC saw an increased number of clients following March 2020 and, now, the team uses what it learned during that time period to continue to help business owners in new ways today.
“We’ve pivoted in a way that helps us better meet the needs of clients,” explained Fegert. “For example, we now conduct virtual meetings much more regularly. Previously, a lot of our meetings and trainings were face-to-face. Now, we have access to tools that allow us to deliver services more efficiently and effectively. We can meet business owners where they are. We know how busy they are during the workday. They don't always have time to step away and prioritize working on the business instead of in the business. These virtual offerings have allowed us to be more responsive to business owners' needs.”
Keohane further explained that a lot of SBDC’s work over the pandemic was helping, particularly in the early stages, businesses in acquiring federal emergency funding and similar assistance that became available. Many businesses who had never worked with the SBDC before relied on the organization for information and guidance. Moreover, there was an uptick in new businesses reaching out to the SBDC.
“A lot more people have been empowered to start their own businesses,” Fegert commented. “Workplace culture has shifted. Employees realized that they should be satisfied in their job and doing something they’re passionate about. They want to prioritize work-life balance. The desire to operate your own business became stronger as people felt it could be a viable option.”
She added, “I will say that running a business is no easy feat, so while more people are doing it, I do think it is important to remind them that running a business is more than a full-time job. You oftentimes wear every hat in your organization, especially in those early years… We’re glad that we’re one of the many resources available to empower people to run their own business, but part of our job as business consultants is to make sure that folks have all the structures in place so that they are successful if that is the path they choose to pursue.”
Learn more about the Penn State SBDC’s resources at https://sbdc.psu.edu.