May 21, 2020 | Innovation Lab: Tips for Implementing Entrepreneur and Small Business Support and Training Projects |Left: Laurens, South Carolina, Courtesy Main Street Laurens; Center: Harrisonburg, VA, Courtesy Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance; Right: Gallup, New Mexico, Credit: Cayla Nimmo
Earlier this week, we announced the recipients of the Grills Fund for Main Street Revitalization
, which will provide eight Accredited Main Street America Programs $10,000 each to help fund innovative revitalization efforts to address the current and/or legacy impacts of COVID-19. We wanted to give you the details on these creative responses to the effects of the pandemic so you can implement similar programs in your community. Keep reading to find out about how three Main Street communities plan to use entrepreneur and small business training programs to support their Main Street, and get tips to launch similar projects in your district.
Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) is hoping to boost local online shopping and build consumer confidence in returning downtown (once it’s safe to do so) by helping businesses implement digital and physical store improvements. Their three-part small business assistance program, Bricks & Clicks, will start with a training for all downtown businesses. Small business owners will then apply to get matched with local technical assistance experts, who will help them identify solutions to challenges and prepare grant project proposals. Grant-funded projects could include public health improvements at physical locations (the “Bricks”) that instill confidence in customers, like “foot” door openers, plexiglass barriers, and automatic hand sanitizer dispensers. Or they might recommend digital enhancements (the “Clicks”), including e-commerce solutions, strategies for digital marketing and online brand building, or updated Google My Business listings.
Here are some tips for implementing a Bricks and Clicks program in your Main Street:Adapt preexisting trainings and/or programs to meet the current needs of small business owners:
Use data to drive your small business training program:
- HDR has run Bricks & Clicks for the past two years, and decided to respond to the needs of businesses in the current crisis using survey data and lessons learned from the initial program
- Main Street programs can curate existing webinars or produce their own workshops as part of the initial training phase of the program.
Partnerships are key to success:
- From the 300 responses collected in an open survey, HDR is learning customer concerns, their expectations, and how they prefer to interact with businesses once the stay-at-home order is lifted. This has helped HDR identify which physical and digital improvements might boost online and in-person transactions.
- HDR partners with the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center; City of Harrisonburg Economic Development; the Shenandoah Valley Technology Council; the James Madison University Professional & Continuing Education Department, and a team of local marketing consultants, web design firms, and architects.
- Past Bricks & Clicks participants said that personalized assistance made the greatest impact on them. Work with seasoned business owners, freelancers, community colleges, chambers of commerce, SBDC and economic development staff, and others who can serve as one-on-one technical assistance providers.
Coal Avenue Commons won’t be a typical entrepreneur resource center. While it will provide established and aspiring entrepreneurs with space, resource connections, skills building training, and entrepreneur-focused boot camps, it will also spark the rehabilitation or reuse of properties in the district. By popping up in underutilized or vacant properties and providing space for meetings, working, and pop-up businesses, Coal Avenue Commons will advertise and demonstrate potential uses for these locations in the district. Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District’s hope is to help businesses adjust to the new economic landscape, provide real avenues for new business in the district, and actively support members of traditionally marginalized or underrepresented communities to participate in the program.
Here are some tips for implementing a similar program in your district:Be flexible (pop-ups offer just that!):
Connect your program to preexisting downtown needs:
- Initially, Gallup MainStreet Arts & Cultural District (GMSACD) will launch the program solely in a digital format, so they can start offering services right away.
- Once it is safe to open a physical location, Coal Avenue Commons’ pop-up model will allow them to adapt quickly and find space to launch their physical location. GMSACD noted that the program could operate in second story vacancies in a district to highlight the value of those spaces.
Leverage funding and partnerships:
- Prior to COVID-19, many downtown studies and plans highlighted the need for Gallup to rehabilitate or reuse vacant or underutilized properties, expand services that target entrepreneurs in the community, and create industry clusters important to the economic and cultural fabric of Gallup.
- GMSACD is considering adding a micro-granting component to the program and developing a public/private partnership to support entrepreneurs through equipment purchase or building rehabs.
- The program also has the potential to build partnerships with local public schools, technical schools, and universities.
Technology Audit and Small Business Training: Main Street Laurens (Laurens, SC)
In the wake up COVID-19, Main Street Laurens saw a need to help their small businesses develop a stronger online presence in recovery and well into the future. That’s why they decided to launch a technology audit and small business training program. The audit will provide businesses with a comprehensive assessment of current technology, its effectiveness, and practical strategies to grow an online presence. Once the audit process is complete, Main Street Laurens will produce a marketing checklist and host a workshop to provide an overview of marketing concepts for district businesses. After the workshop, small businesses can apply to receive one-on-one assistance and participate in interactive sessions about marketing concepts.
Check out the tips below to start an audit and training program in your district:Harness (and grow) the expertise in your community:
Develop the next generation of small business owners:
- A regional marketing professional will provide specifications for developing a robust marketing matrix to include visual marketing tips and tricks, ad placements, succinct messaging across all possible platforms and staff training to carry the program forward.
- A spatial interior designer will provide hands-on guidance for meeting COVID-19 safety precautions today and in the future.• Main Street Laurens’ Economic Enhancement Team will lead the check-up/audit program and will engage the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce and other regional Main Street communities to offer tailored workshops.
- Community partners and volunteers in Laurens will participate in marketing training sessions to expand the local knowledge base.
Keep participants accountable:
- One of Main Street Laurens’ Transformation Strategies included improving their partnerships with the local school system and nearby colleges. Laurens plans to partner students with participating businesses to assist in developing online tools. This partnership will provide practical experience for students while also providing real-time assistance for businesses.
- Benchmarks will be required for all participating small businesses in the program. This includes content and schedules for videography, ad placement, inventory messaging, and floor plans.
- In order to assist as many businesses as possible, Main Street Laurens would require buy-in from the participating businesses to leverage grant funds of $1,000 to $2,000 per business depending on identified needs.