Pandemic Era Businesses to Launch in 2020 – 2021

It appears that the pandemic era is settling in to become our nightmare new normal. Working from home will continue in many companies. Public schools and universities will not open their classrooms and will offer virtual instruction once again. Musicians, dancers, actors and singers cannot take to the stage and perform. Baseball teams are competing in empty stadiums, with no fans to cheer them on.

Billions of dollars have been lost and there’s no end in sight. Yet parallel to the turmoil, business continues to be done where permitted and plenty of money is being made, admittedly by a much smaller cohort than in pre- pandemic times. Whether the economy is expanding or shrinking; whether the stock market is up or the bond market is down; no matter if war breaks out or peace reigns, someone will make money. Maybe this time it will be you?

Please look over the short list of new business opportunities that I’ve put together. Business experts have identified these ventures as being able to either largely escape losses associated with the pandemic or directly benefit from its presence. The barriers to entry for these businesses are comparatively low, aside from the time and money invested to attain the necessary educational and certification requirements. Just one option requires a significant financial outlay to start the business.

Should you decide to open a business or become a Freelance independent expert, make the most of your entrepreneurial aspirations by writing a business plan. Include in your plan a business model, to give yourself hyper-focus on how to find customers and make sales.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that when a business fails, 82% of the time it is because of inadequate financial resources. Examine your expenses and spending habits and take steps to pay off debts and accumulate savings, to prepare for either self-financing or bank financing. Be advised that customer acquisition and pricing are the top two elements a business owner or Freelancer must get right. Making sales and pricing correctly are the principal money-making enablers. Create a thorough and realistic financial plan for your business, with the guidance of a business accountant.

Skilled trades

The skilled trades have long been a professional path that paid off, in particular if there are a good deal of building and infrastructure projects planned in your area. Home renovations can also be a very lucrative avenue, spurred on by popular television shows.

Most college educated people are unfamiliar with the depth of training that blue collar tradesmen must earn. They may earn a 2-year degree in mechanical, electrical, or civil engineering, for example, in addition to completing the intensive training/ apprenticeship and certification/ licensing required to enter their particular field.

Many in the trades will eventually launch a business that may be small or grow to employ dozens. Other tradesmen prefer to be Freelance solopreneurs. Start-up costs are relatively low: the tools of the trade, business cards, website and a small truck or van.

Among the lucrative specialties are plumbing, welding, carpentry/ general construction (the profession of both of my grandfathers), electrician, masonry, HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration) and steel working.

Bicycle sales, services, rental

The League of American Bicyclists reported that in the period 2010-2017, commuting by bicycle grew by 43%. The health benefits derived from the vigorous exercise involved, the incremental lowering of air pollution and the modest easing of rush hour traffic has inspired numerous city and state officials to invest in bike lanes to make the practice safer for peddlers, pedestrians and drivers.

If you, or you and a friend or two, are cycling enthusiasts and at least one of you knows bike repair basics and maintenance servicing, then owning a bike shop will allow you to monetize your passion. Online bike sales are robust, so be sure to budget for a well-designed and high- functioning e-commerce website.

In terms of product diversification, there is a niche market for electronic bikes (good for those who live in a hilly geography), which have a small battery powered motor that makes pedaling much easier. E-bikes are also useful for those who’d like to bike to work but face a long commute. Bike rentals are also popular.

Self storage units

As real estate prices escalated, the ability to afford a home that could house all of our treasured possessions became a challenge, if not impossible. In the mid-1980s, the basement storage space that nearly every apartment building provided as a standard benefit disappeared, as landlords began to create basement apartments. With increasing frequency, people who lose a job also, tragically, lose their home. They may be forced to give up their apartment and move in with family.

The growing demand for storage space has outstripped supply in some locations and prices per square foot are rising in many metro areas. The start-up costs for this venture are hefty because storage space entrepreneurs must either construct a new building or rehab an existing structure, and parking is a must (except in very high- density cities). But there is money to be made.

If the high-end appeals to you, then build a high-security, climate controlled facility that customers will use for fine furniture and art. Otherwise, minimal temperature control and a bring your own padlock system will suffice (and that is the norm). Commercial enterprises also rent storage units to hold merchandise and supplies. Tradesmen sometimes keep their tools in a self-storage unit. Whatever you can afford to invest, the rental income you’ll be able to command will quickly guide this enterprise to break-even and into robust profitability.

Videoconference and webinar tech support

The newest tech support career has arrived, born of the COVID-19 work from home craze. Many thousands of organizations have switched over to virtual communication to maintain contact with their team and with their clients. Videoconferences are mostly straightforward, but webinars and classroom instruction are more complicated.

Organization leaders, including school administrators, are mostly out of their depth with the technology and know that they have only one chance to make a good first impression now that they’ve persuaded a client or prospect to participate in a video sales call. A knowledgeable video tech support professional can be much in demand.

IT pros who pursue this avenue must be proficient in cloud computing, Windows (including Power Point), IoT and Linux (CentOS).

Videoconference and webinar support is part technology, part show biz. In advance, an assessment of the client’s tech equipment, including the webcam, audio quality (headset mic, or lavalier [mini-mic] could be needed). Identifying flattering lighting for the speaker’s face is another critical duty, as is recommending the right visual scene behind the speaker: the company logo or a bookcase are good choices. The lighting behind the speaker is another important aspect when setting the webinar or videoconference stage.

Private Tutor

If you are a certified teacher with classroom experience and hold at least a master’s degree in the subject that you’d like to teach, your services will be much in demand right now in the affluent communities of America for the duration of pandemic-related school closings and perhaps beyond. Zoom may be helpful to keep education going in a crisis, but it is not equivalent to face2face instruction.

There is at present a free-for-all patchwork of teaching solutions that worried parents are exploring, including home schooling and “pods,” which are small group training. Parents may hire a tutor to buttress the child’s understanding of what the school lessons cover, or add subjects that have been dropped in the transition from classroom to video.

Tutoring can cover any subject taught in a classroom—-geometry, English grammar, American history, biology—-and enrichment subjects—-music lessons, physical fitness, art, foreign language. There are tutors for special needs children as well.

Requests for tutors are trending on social media and educators will find many opportunities to evaluate, from becoming part of a pandemic pod teaching team to traditional private tutoring.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. Bike shop on Tremont Street in Boston’s South End neighborhood.

Adding to Your Value-Added

If you want to bill clients at premium prices,  you need to establish and present a brand that communicates your value-added as perceived by prospective clients.  In plain English,  you must make clients feel that you are worth the money.

A good brand is very seductive.  Brand loyalty leads people to pay $5.00 for coffee when they could buy perhaps higher-quality brew for $2.00.  It makes women covet $1000.00 + handbags so they can flash a certain designer label,  when handbags of similar quality and attractiveness,  but without the logo,  are available at less than half  that price.

As we continue to explore strategies to expand business,  let’s give some thought to building on authenticity  (see the May 28 post),  using it to strengthen perceived value-added and power of  the brand.  Increases in perceived value are generally more profitable than increases in the quality of services delivered.  Clients are known to pay more for what they think is worth more before they’ll pay for service upgrades.

Successful Freelance consultants deliver first-rate expertise and customer service.  As a marketing strategy,  we can attempt to make ourselves appear worthwhile to prospective clients in a number of ways.  One strategy can be to package ourselves rather lavishly,  handing out expensive business cards,  renting office space in the high-rent district and paying big registration fees to attend prestige conferences.  The premise is,  in order to attract big fish clients,  one must swim in the same waters.

Alternatively,  one may choose the high visibility route and invest scads of time on social media sites,  posting frequently, earning a high Klout score and showing up in the top ten of a Google search.  The premise is,  if one’s name is all over the internet,  then prospective clients will see it and one will then be considered the obvious choice when it is time to hire,  through the power of notoriety and perceived expertise.

Teaching,  speaking engagements and visible involvement in business and professional groups are a third strategy.  The premise here is that professional expertise is demonstrated through these activities and that builds trust and gives prospective clients the incentive to not only hire,  but pay a premium for services rendered.

Whichever strategy you find most attractive,  be mindful that your perceived value will be enhanced when you establish links with individuals and organizations that are admired and respected by your clients.  If you can arrange to be photographed with the mayor or governor,  it will raise your perceived value because you will be seen in the company of movers and shakers.  Membership in certain professional associations or social clubs may also confer significant value.

Professional certifications can do the same,  which is why a Certified Public Accountant can charge two or three times what an accountant with a degree but no special piece of paper can charge for providing nearly identical services.  The CPA designation allows a trust factor to kick in and it’s worth money.   According to Martin Reimann,  professor of Psychology at University of Southern California, the “right” affiliations and relationships bolster one’s perceived value.  They are endorsements of value-added.

My parents often told me when I was growing up that we are judged by the company that we keep.  I took that admonition to heart and picked my friends with care,  especially as I got older and there was more on the line.  The advice applies equally to our professional lives.  If it appears that we have the confidence of those whom prospective clients and referral sources respect,  we are more likely to be hired or referred and better able to charge premium prices for our services.  But it all starts with being authentic.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Certifications Part II

Women owned businesses have grown at one and one half times the rate of all businesses  created in the US (1997-2002) and contribute nearly $2 trillion to the nation’s GDP.  One in 11 women are self-employed or business owners (source: Center for Women’s Business Research cited in The Boston Globe January 25, 2004).

Women are now outright or majority owners of 40% of all privately held businesses registered with the IRS, representing 10.1 million business entities (source: Center for Women’s Business Research 2008 report).

Nevertheless, a January 2008  CWBR report stated that women owned businesses receive less than 3.3% of federal contracts awarded.  Perhaps the following certification program will help the ladies  reach a few more paying customers?

WBENC

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council is where we women go to get ours.  To be awarded a certificate as a Women’s Business Enterprise, the company must be at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a woman (or group of women).

Evidently, the assumption is that women have money; the WBENC certification fee is about $350.00 (varies by location).  Certifications are for one year only,  so there is a yearly recert. process,  reportedly simpler than the maiden voyage.  Certification is handled by Regional Partner Organizations which seem to be SBA affiliated Women’s Business Centers (see wbenc.org).

As always, you’ll need to hand over business financial statements plus your tax returns (will somebody please tell me how surrendering your tax returns and your social security number got to be routine in this country? It is all too intrusive. Is there any wonder why  identity theft occurs? Every frigging body knows the intimate details of your life!).

WBENC claims not to evaluate the profitability and viability of a business. The objective is to know who owns and controls the company.  I do not understand how delving into your P & L and balance sheets will verify that information but hey, it’s their game.  It’s just that ownership issues are more accurately revealed on incorporation and LLC documents.  As for  sole proprietorships, they are a  one person shop.  If necessary, a gynecologist can verify the gender question!

Do businesses that are not making money, but are going for the certification as a strategy to bring in much needed clients, actually get certified? WBENC committee members side step that question (I asked). Once your documents are received,  the review committee will certify (or not) in 60–90 days.  Expect a site visit to your business.

On the plus side, WBENC is a widely accepted certification. Prime Contractors love it.  I don’t believe there are any revenue restrictions involved, so WBENC is not exclusively for small businesses.  Certificate holders must be US citizens or legal resident aliens.

CHECK OUT THE SBA

Regardless of your gender or ethnicity, a visit to sba.gov is worth your while,  if for no other reason than to find out what resources are available for free. The information is good and reliable. There are also special business development programs for Native Americans, those over 50 years, veterans, Spanish speakers and of course, small businesses in general. There is a place at the table for everyone, including white non-Hispanic males!

If you can visit a district office, check out the monthly calendar and see what workshops are offered.   If you’d like info about stimulus loans (what stimulus loans?), micro–lending and other local business initiatives, the SBA will point you in the right direction. Your tax dollars in motion!

More next week,
Kim

Business Certifications Part I

As you weigh strategies that could  help to better market your services,  you might happen upon  special category certifications.  In fact,  some large corporations are less willing to do business with small business vendors unless a particular certification is in hand.

If a Fortune 1000 company has government contracts,  it is necessary to demonstrate that business is being done with small businesses, women owned businesses and minority owned businesses.  Hence, these companies need a certain percentage of  their small business vendors to  have a certification in one of these categories.  The Fortune 1000s can then report to the feds that they are in compliance.

HUB ZONES

If your physical business address lies within an historically underutilized business (HUB) zone, then your business may qualify for set-asides in the contract bidding process.  In general, HUB zones are disadvantaged areas in urban, suburban and rural locales.  To find out if you can apply,  go to sba.gov, click on services,  then opportunity gaps and  HUB zone.  Type in your business address.  If  in a HUB zone,  you can apply on line—but first  ask the SBA how to get the log in password.  Be prepared for a site visit at your business location by someone from the SBA about 2-3 months after you apply.  It may also be necessary to hand over certain financial records.  There is no fee.

8a CERTIFICATION

To obtain 8a certification,  it is necessary to officially state that you are disadvantaged economically because of your race or ethnicity.  The application process is a bear.  Start by calling up Dun & Bradstreet and obtaining a DUNS number.  Next, look up your business specialty codes,  sign up and create a business profile on the federal Central Contractor Registration  ccr.gov.  Then you can do the online 8a application.

At sba.gov, click on services, opportunity gaps and 8a to find good basic info that will get you started.  Furthermore,  SBA offers free workshops nearly every month at its district offices on what one needs to know about doing business with the government and special certifications.  Preparing to do business with the feds is a  Byzantine process, but government agencies will pay in 30 days and thus will not wreck your  fragile cash flow.

In the application there will be much supporting data to supply and there are restrictions.   As always, they want your tax returns, 2 years in this case. You must  have been in business for minimum two years,  you cannot have more than $250,000 in assets, you cannot be employed full time in a job outside of your business and your credit has to be good enough to finance a contract.  There is no application fee.

It’s a royal pain to get this certification and of course there is no guarantee that your efforts will yield any business.  You must still sell yourself to prospective clients.  SBA Small Business Development Centers  have on staff a Procurement Specialist who will speak with you about useful strategies to promote your business and win contracts.  It’s all about  relationship building and it takes time.

However,  the  Fortune 1000s  with the government contracts, called Prime Contractors,  like the 8a certification.  They have forms to fill out, boxes to check.   Ask  SBA who the primes are in your locale,  speak with the local procurement specialist and try to meet people.  There are trade shows to pay for and attend so you can make contact.  Also, visit fbo.gov and view available contracts.

Next week,  the spotlight will  be on the ladies.

Kim