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Small Businesses – Here’s How You Can Improve your Digital Marketing in the Blink of an AI

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Small Businesses – Here’s How You Can Improve your Digital Marketing in the Blink of an AI

Technology is advancing at an extremely fast pace – just look at how quickly ChatGPT has become a household name. It has dominated news cycles and in only 4-5 months, it’s also heightened our awareness and understanding of where, and how, artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting our lives. From digital assistants like Siri, to predicting customer behavior and preferences, AI is everywhere now.

Whether you know it or not, AI has also been a core technology in marketing for years. Most product recommendation engines run on some form of AI, and we have used AI for years at Constant Contact to power things like subject line recommendations in our email marketing platform. The difference between where AI has been used in the past and its applications today is that it is much more capable – particularly when it comes to creating content.

AI is sophisticated enough now, and has a big enough dataset, that it can decipher text, react to engagement patterns, anticipate responses and recognize images. As you can imagine, this lends itself perfectly to digital marketing, where the objective is to deliver the perfect marketing message to every customer every time. 

With such an in-depth understanding of how a consumer behaves, AI can help businesses make purchase recommendations, analyze product fit, and create better content with more precise targeting. If you’re a small business marketer, there’s no reason to not use this technology to your advantage. 

Here are some easy ways small businesses can start using AI in their marketing strategy.

Personalize messages and offers for your customers

Leverage AI’s deep learning capabilities to amp up the experience your customers have when they interact with your business. One of the best ways to do that is by tailoring your marketing to share content that meets their needs. 

AI can recognize if a person abandoned their online cart, and what types of products they have purchased in the past. It can also determine whether they prefer to be texted, or if email is their go-to channel for reading messages from their favorite brands. That type of analysis is invaluable as a marketer because instead of guessing what your customers will engage with, you can make decisions based on real-world data. Leverage that information to send more applicable messages and deals to your customers, and in doing so, they will be more likely to convert to a sale. 

Banish writer’s block once and for all

Writing is difficult, and as a small business marketer, it can feel daunting to think about having to sit down and write an entire email or text campaign to your customers. And, it has to be good! Luckily, AI is here to help.

Instead of spending hours fighting writer’s block for your next campaign, let AI do the heavy lifting for you. There are several AI-powered writing tools available that can help businesses get a jump start on content creation and save valuable time in the process. Our AI Content Generator at Constant Contact is purpose-built for small businesses. It allows our customers to automate the writing process for their marketing campaigns, which saves time and resources while still creating high-quality content.

Write social media posts

Sometimes, you just don’t have the energy to create an engaging and informative social media post – let alone multiple posts for all the different platforms you are managing. That’s ok, you’re human! So, why not ask AI to do it for you?

Using AI to write social media posts can help small businesses maintain a consistent presence on social media, engage with their audience and even attract new followers. The best AI content generators will even give you multiple options to choose from. However, it’s still important to ensure the content feels authentic to your voice and doesn’t sound like it was written by a chatbot. Double-check before posting, and then move on to other areas of running your business.

One last note on AI content generation

AI-generated content can be informational, informative, and even fun. However, it’s important to note that AI is often just a baseline to get you started. The real value still comes from sharing your story and connecting with your audience.

It’s up to you to ensure that any content you generate using artificial intelligence is not only original and helpful, but that it’s also accurate, honest, and aligns with your brand values. Most importantly, you want to make sure that the content sounds like you and speaks to your customers in a way that makes them feel valued.

Dave Charest is the Director of Small Business Success at Constant Contact which delivers everything small businesses and nonprofits need to build, grow, and succeed.

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Work on Taxes Year-Round to Cancel Your Business’s Tax Season and Gain Financial Stability

No one likes taxes, but if you’re a small business owner, this cumbersome activity can be stressful. Small business owners are tasked with a lot more work for tax season, meaning long days and nights surrounded by budgets, receipts, and spreadsheets.

Want to get a head start on your tax season? Focus on business taxes all year long. Preparing for tax season strategically means handling tasks related to your taxes throughout the year, so you can have a stress-free deadline.

What Is Strategic Tax Planning?

Tax planning is an analysis of your financial situation or a plan to make sure that each aspect of your tax situation works cohesively to pay the lowest tax amount possible – legally. This is what it means to be tax efficient with a lower tax liability.

With this approach, you plan throughout the year to reduce the amount of taxes you pay within a period of time. You must plan this all year, however, and particularly in the middle of the year to have enough time to implement new strategies as needed.

Benefits of Strategic Tax Planning

There are numerous advantages to strategic tax planning, especially for small businesses like LLCs or a sole proprietorship in California.

Reduce Liabilities

Your tax plan should focus on reducing your liabilities to avoid overpaying taxes. To do this effectively, you have to have time to prepare your taxes and avoid common mistakes. Often, small business owners end up over-expensing themselves and end up paying far more than they need to.

When you’re preparing for taxes throughout the year, you can reduce payable taxes by deducting your expenses from your income and gain more control over when you pay. For example, if you have revenue running into the end of the year that would put you in a higher tax bracket, you could spend it on business expenses or push it into the new tax year to reduce your income.

Stay Current on Tax Laws

Tax laws change all the time. The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things when it comes to taxes, and for small business owners, those deadlines and new requirements can be a lot to keep up with.

Having a plan in place for your taxes helps you stay current on any changes that come around so you can prepare for them. You’re also at a lower risk of noncompliance with regulations that are new or updated, meaning fewer errors on your return, a lower risk of audit, and a lower tax bill.

Understand Your Financial Situation

With financial visibility, you have a clear vision of your business’s financial situation to make strategic decisions about investments and spending. You’ll see how your business’s revenue waxes and wanes throughout the year, so you can prepare for times of low or high cash flow.

Having a clear picture of your spending also helps you prepare for deductions and save money, which you can then reinvest into your business to fuel future growth.

Tax Planning Strategies

Take a look at these strategies to keep taxes in the forefront throughout the year:

Track Spending and Do Budget Check-Ins

You can’t truly prepare for tax season if you’re not tracking your spending throughout the year and noting fixed and variable expenses. Waiting until the tax season rolls around makes it much more difficult to record your expenses accurately, but if you do it along the way, you won’t make many errors.

Budget planning check-ins are one of the best ways to keep up with your spending. You’ll pay attention to your spending habits on a schedule, or if you prefer, you can use an app to track your expenses for a clear view of your possible deductions.

Keep Business and Personal Money Separate

However you choose to track spending, make sure you’re keeping your personal spending and your business spending separate. You should have separate business and personal bank accounts for checking and savings, but if you don’t, that’s your first priority. You may also want a business credit card for some financial cushion.

Keep Up with Deadlines

There are several tax deadlines throughout the year that are important for small business owners. Keep yourself on a schedule with the deadlines by tracking them on your phone or calendar.

Your monthly or quarterly expense check-ins should fall somewhere near these tax deadlines to ensure that you’re prepared for payments you need to make. Staying organized will help you tremendously around tax time.

Use the Qualified Business Income Deduction

The qualified business income deduction (QBI) offers a tax deduction for up to 20% of the share of the business income for pass-through business owners, such as an S Corp in California, an LLC, or a sole proprietorship. These business entities have profits that flow through to the owners to be taxed under individual income tax.  

Include Employee Bonuses and Retirement

Employee bonuses not only keep employees motivated, but they offer tax benefits for your business. You must finalize bonuses by the end of the year and pay them within a few months to qualify, however.

Retirement plans for employees also reduce your taxable income. Employee 401(k) accounts allow you to deduct your employer contribution before the end of the year, for example.

Invest in Tax Software

Tax software is a huge help come tax time. You can automate your accounting tasks and keep your expenses and other documents stored safely in one secure location, which gets you ready for tax season.

For example, predictive accounting software helps you manage your taxes throughout the year to claim deductions, pay your estimated quarterly payments, report major events, and report your income and expenses when they happen, reducing future mistakes that may occur.

Get Ready for Tax Season

Tax time is stressful enough, so no one wants to be rushing around to make the deadline. Business taxes are often more complicated, so you can miss out on big deductions if you’re not prepared in advance. Planning for taxes all year long gives you a comprehensive view of your business’s financial health and prepares you to breeze through tax time.

Author Bio

Shahar is a tax and accounting expert with over 20 years of experience in the field. He is an entrepreneur and known as The Tax Guru on the west coast. Shahar moved to Seattle from Israel and founded, scaled, and sold a leading tax and accounting firm in the Seattle Metro area. Over the years, he served thousands of business owners and perfected the playbook for self-employed tax strategy. That’s why he founded Formations, to make sure the self-employed never overpay on taxes again.



Amerant Bank Receives U.S. Small Business Administration’s Export Lender of the Year Award

Award recognizes top lenders that are committed to increasing access to capital for small businesses entering the global marketplace

Amerant Bank, the largest community bank headquartered in Florida, announced today that it has been awarded the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)’s 2023 Export Lender of the Year Award, selected by Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the SBA.

The Export Lender of the Year Awards recognizes excellence in export financing. These awards highlight the accomplishments of lenders in delivering SBA’s international finance programs to small businesses, designed to help small businesses develop new markets, finance export transactions, and expand capacity to meet overseas demand.

With a growing SBA department, Amerant Bank placed the export loan programs as a central part of their strategy, with export loans accounting for more than half of their commitments. In 2022, Amerant Bank provided more than $20 million in financing support to small business exporters through their use of the EWCP and Export Express programs. With strong growth under the EWCP program, Amerant applied for delegated authority in 2023.

For more information about Amerant Bank, visit and follow on FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn @amerantbank.

About Amerant Bank

Amerant Bank, N.A., is the largest community bank headquartered in Florida and the main subsidiary of Amerant Bancorp Inc. (NASDAQ: AMTB), with a presence across South Florida, Tampa, FL, Houston, TX, and internationally. The bank has been serving clients for over 40 years and comprises subsidiaries Amerant Investments and Amerant Mortgage. Rooted in the communities it serves, Amerant Bank supports numerous non-profit and community organizations.

About SBA’s Export Loan Programs 

The SBA maintains a suite of three export loan programs designed to aid small businesses expanding internationally. The SBA’s flagship export program is the Export Working Capital Program (EWCP), an asset-based credit line that can support both purchase order and receivable financing. The International Trade Loan (ITL) is a 7(a) program that can support export capacity building and the reshoring of production. Finally, the Export Express program is a compliment to the SBA Express program which is positioned to support quick access to small-dollar financing needs.

About the U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality.  As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow, or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster.  It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations.


U.S. Small Business Administration Announces 2023 Export Lender Award Winners

Top lenders committed to increasing access to capital for small businesses entering the global marketplace

Today Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), announced its 2023 Export Lender of the Year Award winners for their efforts to increase access to capital for U.S. small businesses by providing international trade financing. This year, the SBA’s Office of International Trade selected Regions Bank and Amerant Bank as the 2023 Export Lenders of the Year, and Berkshire Bank as the 2023 International Trade Lender of the Year.

The Export Lender of the Year Awards recognize excellence in export financing. These awards highlight the accomplishments of lenders in delivering SBA’s international finance programs to small businesses, designed to help small businesses develop new markets, finance export transactions, and expand capacity to meet overseas demand.

Regions Bank – Export Lender of the Year

Headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, Regions Bank has been the top Export Working Capital Lender by total dollar value for the past four years. In 2022, Regions Bank provided more than $36 million in financing support to small business exporters through its use of the Export Working Capital Program (EWCP) and International Trade Loan programs. With the addition of its new loans in 2022, Regions Bank maintained the largest active EWCP portfolio nationally. This is Regions Bank’s second Export Lender of the Year selection as the institution was also recognized with the award in 2019.

Amerant Bank – Export Lender of the Year

Amerant Bank is headquartered in Coral Gables, Florida, with operations throughout South Florida and Houston, Texas. With a growing SBA department, Amerant Bank placed the export loan programs as a central part of their strategy with export loans accounting for more than half of their commitments. In 2022, Amerant Bank provided more than $20 million in financing support to small business exporters through their use of the EWCP and Export Express programs. With strong growth under the EWCP program, Amerant applied for delegated authority in 2023.

Berkshire Bank – International Trade Loan (ITL) Lender of the Year

Based in Boston, Berkshire Bank provided $15 million in financing support to small business exporters through their use of SBA’s International Trade Loan Program, one of SBA’s core export loan programs.  For the past several years, Berkshire Bank has been an active user of SBA’s domestic and export loan programs and approved 193 SBA loans totaling $200 million in 2022.  This is Berkshire Bank’s second Export Lender award as the institution was recognized as an Export Lender of the Year in 2019.

U.S. exports are important to the nation’s economy, with 97.4% of all exporters being small businesses. During the fiscal year 2022, the SBA guaranteed $423 million in financing to small business exporters, which supported over $1.6 billion in export sales.

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U.S. Small Business Administration Announces Small Business Investment Companies of the Year

Companies and their managers to be formally recognized during National Small Business Week Awards Ceremony

Today, Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and voice in President Biden’s Cabinet for America’s 33 million small businesses, announced Stonehenge Community Impact Fund, L.P.  of Columbus, Ohio, and Balance Point Capital Partners, L.L.C. of Westport, CT have been named the 2023 Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) of the Year as part of National Small Business Week.The two funds, with other national winners and finalists for the National Small Business Person of the Year, will be recognized on Sunday, April 30, and Monday, May 1, during the National Small Business Week awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

This year’s awards were presented in two categories, “Emerging Manager” and “Established Manager,” to recognize the dynamic work of the funds in the program.
2023 SBIC of the Year – Emerging Manager

Name of Fund: Stonehenge Community Impact Fund, L.P.

Fund Manager: L’Quentus Thomas, Senior Managing Director

Location: Columbus, OH

Stonehenge Impact Fund’s objective is to be a provider of senior debt and strategic guidance to lower middle market companies that are minority, women, or veteran-owned small businesses and/or located in underinvested census tracts nationwide, including areas with low incomes or high poverty rates, rural communities, and areas targeted for investment by State and Federal programs.

Stonehenge Impact Fund targets its investing activities in companies across a wide range of industries, including manufacturing and distribution, business services, technology, energy services, healthcare and life sciences, and solar energy. Target investments range in size from $5-15 million and in companies typically generating at least $2 million of annual cash flow.

To date, 100% of the fund’s investments have been into small businesses in underserved communities, with 54% of its capital deployed into minority-owned or controlled businesses sustaining 1067 jobs and projecting the creation of 263 new jobs.

2023 SBIC of the Year – Established Manger

Name of Fund: Balance Point Capital Partners, L.L.C.

Fund Manager: Seth Alvord, Managing Partner

Location: Westport, CT

Balance Point’s objective is to be a reliable partner for creative and flexible capital solutions, sourcing both debt and equity capital for small business concerns in the U.S. lower middle market. Since its 2007 inception, Balance Point has pursued its investment strategy with four SBICs and two non-SBICs, seeking a portfolio investment mix focusing on expansion, later stage, and the buyout of small businesses that exhibit strong value propositions and experienced management teams.

Balance Point targets its investing activities across a variety of industries, including business services, consumer, food and beverage, healthcare, media and information services, and tech-enabled services. Targeted debt investments range from $15-150M, and equity investments from $15-75M.

Balance Point’s platform of SBICs and nearly $1.7B in total assets under management include portfolio companies that are 44% smaller enterprises, 33% led by women, minority, or veteran CEOs, CFOs or COOs, and created/sustained 15,144 jobs.

The SBIC of the Year award is administered by the SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation.

National Small Business Week will be held from April 30-May 6, 2023. For more information about NSBW, please visit

small business

What Every Small Business Should Be Implementing

The majority of the difficulties associated with establishing a business stem from failing to accomplish the small things correctly. The basics will lead you to the top, as any competent instructor has stated at some time.

If you’re thinking of starting a small business, make sure you follow these 10 small business rules:

1. You must keep track of your finances.

Lack of capital, is the leading cause of small business failure. You must undertake proper financial planning and fully comprehend the business levers that might affect your cash flow.

Do you purchase stock?

-What amount of cash should you have on hand?

-Do you have a system in place to collect money from clients?

-How long do you have to wait for them to pay you?

-Do you have any loans that you need to repay?

-Do you rely on suppliers whose prices fluctuate according to market conditions?

2. You must create a data-driven culture.
The better your business decisions are, the more data you can track and utilize to make them. Business often necessitates certain “intuition feel” judgments, but it’s preferable to provide your instincts with as much knowledge as possible.

Tracking your company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and understanding why they rise or fall may help you make decisions that will help you develop and stay on track.

3. You must participate in Lean Planning.

Rather of creating a long-written document that you utilize once and then file away, it’s critical to create a strategic and financial plan and track it on a frequent basis.

Planning is a continuous tool that should be used to understand the assumptions you have about your business and whether or not those assumptions are valid, or whether you need to make changes and adapt your assumptions.

60 percent of small companies in America fail due to a lack of cash, not a lack of profits—by utilizing Lean Planning, you can rapidly determine if you have made any financial assumptions that will have a negative impact on your cash. Maybe you assumed you’d get paid every 30 days on the dot.

By engaging in ongoing planning and then tracking the actual results of your business against your plans, you can quickly determine if you are getting paid every 45 days, and if so, you can increase your credit line quickly and appropriately, keeping your business cash healthy—before you get into trouble.

4. You must have a strategy in place for attracting and keeping top employees.

We are continuously on the lookout for top talent in our industry, therefore we make it a point to follow talent in our region on a regular basis and design outstanding retention programs and rewards.

Take some time to consider your company’s culture and what you want it to be, and make sure that culture is factored into your recruiting selections. We utilize LinkedIn on a daily basis to follow and acquire talent.

5. Every day, you must listen online.

Even if you just operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, your business is “always on.” Every company should set up internet alerts to monitor what their customers are saying about them, their rivals, and the market in general.

Google Alerts is a fantastic (and free) tool for “listening” to what’s going on online. Be the first to know when a consumer leaves a negative review or when someone praises your company online. Use these methods to remain ahead of the conversation and capitalize on it. You need to get a business phone number too.

6. You must engage in marketing that generates a return on investment.

Small companies frequently tell us that they have no idea what marketing is. What should they spend their money on? Is it effective? Is it better to promote on the radio or on the internet? Should they believe the Groupon or Comcast salesperson who tries to persuade them to distribute discounts to the general public or buy local TV ads? What is it that works?

What does not work?

Small company operators should begin in venues that are both free and simple to access. Begin by forming relationships with local companies and company owners. Find out what it is that they do that is effective. Find out how visitors find your website and where they come from by using Google Analytics and your website.

Customers should be questioned about how they learned about you. And if you do decide to promote, make sure you know how to track it. Make a unique offer and keep track of it. Only provide one type of service or product. Repeat your successful marketing efforts after learning what works and what doesn’t. If you won’t be able to measure the results, don’t invest the money.

8. You must communicate with your clients.

Every company should communicate with its clients as frequently as feasible. If you own a retail store, talk to your customers at least once a week (if not every day). Discover what they enjoy—and what they despise.

If you own an online business, send a brief survey to your consumers or ask a few survey questions after they check out. Make a call to them. People enjoy talking and being asked for their viewpoint. Negative feedback might be difficult to hear, but it’s important to hear it and understand how you can improve your business for your consumers.

9. You need to know your competitors.

Both your direct and indirect rivals must be known and understood. You should always be aware of your rivals’ activities, including what they are doing, how they promote, and how they price their products.

You may be the only one of your kind in your town or sector, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have indirect competition. In my town, a small do-it-yourself tie-dye store has no direct competition.

They do, however, provide activity-based events and compete with all of the other businesses that host birthday parties and group activities. They also compete with other tie-dye merchants at Saturday Fairs and Markets. Even if they don’t have direct competition, they need to know how to position themselves against all of their indirect competitors.

10. You must have a larger goal in mind: a mission.

People like to work for companies that are more than a simple money-making machine. That isn’t to say that you can’t set sales or profit targets; it only means that if your employees believe they are part of a larger purpose, they will work harder and be more loyal.

small business

Scaling a Small Business to Meet a Growing Demand: 9 Points to Cover

Starting a business is easier than ever, but making a business successful has never been easy. In addition to that, today’s focus on ecommerce can lead to a sharp increase in demand if your product gains enough attention or goes viral.

So, how do you keep up with that kind of demand? The key is to scale carefully in a calculated way to ensure your business is prepared. Here are some helpful tips to guide you in the right direction and away from some common pitfalls.

1. Make Sure You’re Ready for Growth

All it takes is one viral TikTok video or Instagram post to send a small business with an online presence from obscurity to ubiquity. The internet is fickle, but it doesn’t take much to step into online stardom — and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with new orders coming in from all around the world.

Business owners need to start by figuring out if they’re ready for growth. Is there a plan in place to scale things up, or will a slew of new orders leave the company scrambling? Don’t start pursuing growth unless the infrastructure to support that growth is already in place.

2. Identify and Address Barriers to Growth

With a plan in place, the next step is to identify any barriers that might prevent that growth. Are supply chains an issue that could create problems? This has been a growing problem throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and it may be a while before things start to get back to normal.

Are there legal barriers that might interfere with international markets? Are there barriers within the business itself, in the form of people or policies that might cause growth to stagnate? Take a close look at the ins and outs of the business before you start trying to edge into new markets.

3. Focus on Quality and Consistency

Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick two. Companies that create a good product fast can’t do so cheaply. Ones that create a cheap product fast can’t focus on quality. Speed is valuable in a world that values instant gratification so highly, but don’t compromise quality and consistency for speed when trying to keep up with demand. Focus on quality and consistency first, especially when trying to meet a new or growing demand.

Compromising quality in favor of speed is just going to chase away all the new customers when they realize they’re not getting the best you have to offer.

4. Take Advantage of Outside Expertise

Businesses may offer unique takes, new products, or previously unknown services. But when it comes to dealing with new growth, there’s always someone who has been there before. Don’t assume you know everything. This is where networking can become a valuable tool for companies facing challenges sorting through a sudden increase in demand.

Make friends in the industry and tap into their knowledge and experience. This is often the best source of information and can help small businesses navigate the uncharted waters of growth.

5. Make Sure Customers Know Who You Are

There is so much information on the internet at any given time that it’s nearly impossible to sort through all of it — and it is easy to get overwhelmed, especially for consumers working to research a new company before they start spending money. It’s important to set up a comprehensive “About Us” page to make it easy for new customers to understand what the company offers and what they’re all about. You know a good template when you see it.

It sounds simple, but it can have a massive impact on growth. The style and design of the About Us page can decide whether that impact is positive or negative.

6. Build a Great Team

A company is only as good as the people who hold it together. It’s up to the business owner to build a great team that works together well: one they can trust to get the job done.

Start by choosing experts in the field — business, manufacturing, marketing, etc. — and work with them to find the perfect balance. It sounds simple, but it’s anything but. Finding a team of people who both succeed in their respective fields and work well together is like finding the Holy Grail.

7. Look Forward, Not Back

Where a business has been before can teach a lot of valuable lessons. Learning from failures and reworking plans that didn’t work in the first place are useful tools to help ensure business success in the future. But lingering on the past will make sure a business stays there.

Don’t let the past hold you back. Instead, learn from it and look to the future. Focus on where the company is going rather than where it’s been.

8. Learn From the Competition

Nearly every industry is fiercely competitive, but that doesn’t mean new ventures can’t learn from those who came before, even if those other companies stand in direct competition.

Unless a business owner is blazing the way in an entirely new field, there is always someone who left footprints in the sand. Follow them. Figure out what they did to succeed and what didn’t work for them, and then use that information to plan your next move.

9. Don’t Stray Too Far From Your Values

The temptation is great when moving into larger markets or growing exponentially, to betray some of what made a small business appealing in the first place. Maybe that means treating employees poorly or straying too far from the values that were established when the company first opened its doors.

Don’t give in to that temptation. The values established as a company defines what it is, and maintaining that appearance is more important than any profit margin or sale.

Celebrate The Wins and Learn From the Failures

For a small business, going global or experiencing substantial growth can be an overwhelming proposition. But that intimidation shouldn’t scare away anyone savvy enough to start a business in the first place. Start by ensuring the company is ready for growth by going over all the little details and determining what might interfere. From there, simply take things one day at a time and be ready to adapt to any new challenges that arise.

The internet is a valuable tool for small businesses, but one viral video can shoot a company to previously unforeseen heights that they might not be ready for. Be careful and ready for anything. Learn from any failures and celebrate successes as they manifest.



At the end of 2019, there was a quiet sense of economic optimism in the air. 

The American economy had expanded by a greater than expected 2.1 percent, bringing overall growth for the year to a respectable (albeit unspectacular) 2.3 percent. While it may have been the lowest GDP expansion seen during the Trump administration, the foundation had been laid for what conceivably could have been a successful election year in 2020.  

This was, of course, before the coronavirus pandemic arrived. Fast-forward into 2021, and the landscape looks entirely different to what was being forecasted by analysts at the back end of 2019. 

While some economists warned that a recession was overdue following more than a decade of successive growth years since the financial crash of 2007-’09, nobody could have foreseen what has been the biggest blow to the U.S. economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

And the figures, whichever way you analyze them, do make for depressing reading. 

Around the time of writing, nearly 500,000 people had died either with or because of COVID-19, with slightly more than 28 million cases recorded, making the United States one of—if not the most—devasted countries to be hit by the virus. 

It has been a public health crisis of astounding scale, one which is, thankfully, being addressed with a series of vaccinations that is a feat of human ingenuity and endeavor given how rapidly they have been developed, tested and approved by medical authorities. 

But while there is light at the end of the tunnel in this regard, attention will soon turn more squarely to the monumental economic fallout that the events of 2020 have created. 

As nations across the world responded and took steps to protect their populations, a trail of financial destruction inevitably followed. Economies have ground to a halt as localized and nationwide lockdowns have greatly limited the means by which the world’s workforce can move and keep the economic wheels turning. Certainty, the one thing businesses and investors crave, has been diminished. 

The exact amount of economic damage caused by COVID-19 is mightily difficult to predict accurately, but the headline figures which have come out of various analytical houses during the course of last year are stark. 

In July 2020, for example, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported a GDP contraction at an annualized rate of 32.9 percent, the deepest decline since records began just after the end of World War II. The WEF also confirmed that more than 30 million Americans were receiving unemployment support at the time. 

More recently, in December 2020, the University of Southern California published a study that calculated possible losses in real GDP of between $3.2 trillion and $4.8 trillion over the course of just two years. This depends on a range of variables, including the extent and duration of business closures, how quickly areas open up, infection rates and fatalities, and consumer appetite to spend.  

Much of the United States’ overall recovery will depend on the support provided and actions taken from state to state, areas which have adopted drastically different levels of measures in response to the public health threat. 

From California to Florida, interventions have varied markedly, but there is no denying that every corner of the country is facing a battle to emerge from the other side of the economic troubles that lie ahead. 

So, against a nationwide backdrop of unwanted broken records, how have responses to these challenges been coordinated at a localized level? We start in the Upper Midwest.


Josh Hundt, the chief Business Development officer and executive vice president with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), witnessed first-hand the devastating impact caused by the coronavirus. 

“It comes as no surprise that as the global pandemic spread across the country last spring, industries and businesses felt an immediate impact to production and revenues streams,” Hundt says. “In Michigan, one of the state’s hardest hit in the early days of COVID-19, the manufacturing of PPE and life sciences equipment became essential services seemingly overnight.

“In the face of this adversity, Michigan’s Arsenal of Innovation was set in motion with manufacturers retooling their production lines to support the frontlines and create new revenue streams in uncertain economic times.”

MEDC responded in kind by immediately launching the COVID-19 Emergency Access and Retooling Grants through its Pure Michigan Business Connect program. In total, 12 businesses received retooling grants and produced 2.5 million units of PPE in a matter of months, generating $27 million in new sales, vital revenue to support their workforces and viability of operations. 

“As our manufacturers pivoted, small businesses all across the state faced unprecedented challenges as a result of the necessary steps to slow the spread of the virus, and overall changes in consumer behavior in the pandemic,” Hundt continues. “Again, the MEDC stepped in to help provide more than $240 million in relief over the past year to help our small businesses weather the economic storm and keep their workers employed.”

In total, 23 relief programs have provided support to more than 24,400 companies in Michigan and helped to retain 200,000 jobs. Hundt and the MEDC were also aware of the hardships endured by minority-owned businesses, issuing more than 9,000 awards to minority-owned, women-owned or veteran-owned business statewide. 

“In all corners of the state and across all industries, Michiganders have joined together to find innovative ways to use every resource available to fight this virus,” he says. “As we begin to look toward long-term recovery efforts, the MEDC and the state of Michigan remain committed to ensuring Michigan businesses of all kinds have the resources and opportunities to survive, succeed and grow here.”

New Mexico 

The Southwest state of New Mexico recorded a rate of 171 COVID-19 fatalities per 100,000 people as of Feb. 19. 

New Mexico has adopted a county-by-county, three-level restriction system (red, yellow and green), which details numerous measures surrounding retail, food and drink establishments, gatherings and more. Brought in at the start of December, the tiered approach is designed to enable maximum flexibility in a bid to restart New Mexico’s economy.

Impetus is needed if August 2020 figures are anything to go by. At that time, more than 97,000 residents were in receipt of unemployment benefits, this after more than 250,000 new benefit claims were made in the five prior months.

Around 30 companies in the state had declared bankruptcy, with four in 10 restaurants temporarily closed and 3 percent closed permanently. Meanwhile, consumer spending had fallen year-on-year by 12 percent. 

However, the state Economic Development Department’s (EDD) economic diversity and job expansion drive has done its best to support businesses throughout the worst of the pandemic. 

There are two flagship initiatives being pushed. First is the Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP), designed to assist businesses as they create jobs for new workers and advance skills of existing employees. In 2020, JTIP pledged training reimbursements to 75 businesses across the state in support of 2,380 jobs, around 30 percent being targeted in rural areas. 

The second major scheme is the Local Economic Development Act, known as the LEDA job-creators fund, which made strategic investments in 18 companies that will create 2,500 new jobs. The beneficiary companies have committed to invest $761 million in New Mexico over the next decade, $150 million of which is being spent on staff wages. 

The EDD has also been working to keep the public informed about existing financial assistance programs, publishing a weekly newsletter that lists economic assistance resources for communities and businesses, and hosting more than 30 webinars since the start of the pandemic in March.


A particular pain point in this Pacific Northwest state has been the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on travel. Home to a tourism industry that boomed in decade leading up to 2020, Oregon saw travel-related spending increase by 4.2 percent to some $12.3 billion in 2018, activity which provided employment to more than 115,000 Oregonians.

COVID-19, unsurprisingly, has hit hard. While Oregon avoided the worst of the virus when it first arrived in early 2020 in America (and, more specifically, neighboring Washington), deaths have passed the 2,000 mark during the winter period. 

As a result, authorities have issued statewide guidance around social distancing, mask wearing and how to undertake a range of activities safely. Alongside this is a four-grade restriction system based on the prevalence of the virus, the highest risk areas subject to the toughest measures, which include closure of indoor entertainment venues and exercise centers. 

Tourism and leisure activity are thus enormously reduced. Quarantines, travel directives, event postponements and restrictions placed on venues have all created hardships for the sector, with passenger numbers passing through Portland International Airport still well under 50 percent of pre-COVID levels.

The wider economic impact has been profound. In its Economic and Revenue Forecast published in September, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis said the state’s economy remains “in a Great Recession-sized hole,” although not as a big a hole as feared previously. For instance, expectations are that the labor market will return to a healthy state by mid-2023.

In response, several economic associations have come together and pooled resources to help companies in all sectors get back on their feet. From business reopening tools and occupational health and safety advice to free COVID-19 safety training and social media drives, many activities are taking place in line with the statewide mission to vaccinate the population and restore public health. 

Early on in the pandemic, the Oregon Economic Development Association (OEDA) released a series of economic development priorities for COVID economic recovery, a framework that has informed its ongoing response. It advocates a range of measures, including flexibility for local non-discretionary funds to target those that need support the most and protection of existing state development resources such as the Strategic Reserve Fund and Special Public Work Funds. 

The OEDA also supports moves to ease tax burdens on small businesses through loans and grants, as well as the continuation of incentive programs to encourage investment into the state. 

“Undoubtedly, more communities will experience significant drops in local wages and employment opportunities,” states the OEDA in its plan for recovery. “Oregon needs to leverage our existing programs to bring sustainable jobs to disadvantaged communities and keep capital flowing to employers looking to invest. Allowances should be made for companies that may be seeing temporary employment reductions related to the pandemic which jeopardize an existing program qualification.”

The OEDA also makes several process-based recommendations, which stress the need to engage a wide range of stakeholders, ensure fair distribution of federal funds, and determine the needs of local employers. 

New York 

New York State experienced more COVID-related deaths (46,436 as of Feb. 19, 2020) than any other U.S. state except California (48,259 as of the same date). And the economic crisis that currently faces New York City because of the region’s rapid virus transmission is similarly shocking.

In total, the pandemic cost the Big Apple 570,000 jobs in 2020. Its performing arts, retail and hospitalities that would usually have thrived have been some of the hardest hit, with around 1,000 store locations shutting last year.

Such action has resulted in a surge of joblessness, particularly among young people, with 19 percent of all city workers under the age of 25 having lost their jobs by summer 2020. Fast forward to January 2021 and total unemployment stood at 12 percent–a figure that would have been even greater had 240,000 New Yorkers not dropped out of the workforce altogether.

A lack of tourism, dwindling commuter numbers and evacuating residents all put further pressure on a struggling economy. Yet, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) has been taking various actions to support the individuals and small businesses bearing the brunt of the pandemic-induced recession.

The Queens Small Business Grant Program is one such endeavor. Signed on Jan. 19, 2021, it will provide $15 million in grants to small businesses in the borough, each eligible of receiving up to $20,000.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities and their success is key to the city’s long-term economic recovery,” said James Patchett, president and CEO of the NYCEDC.

“We’re thrilled the fund will provide much-needed relief to Queens businesses, particularly to those in the neighborhoods and populations hardest hit by COVID-19.”

The NYCEDC also launched the NYC Small Business Resource Network, a one-stop shop built to accelerate the recovery of small businesses and strengthen the city’s economy. Here, $2.8 million in grants—funded by the Peterson Foundation—are available, with most of these set to go to the minority-, women- and immigrant-owned businesses that have been disproportionately affected.

Approximately 1.3 million people are employed by the city’s 236,000 small businesses, a figure that truly demonstrates their importance to its economic success.


U.S. States That Have Started Opening Up for Business

After more than a year of living through the pandemic, most of the signs lately suggest that the U.S. has turned the corner in the fight against COVID-19.

Average daily case numbers nationwide have fallen by around 80% from their peak in the U.S., from more than 250,000 per day in early January to just under 50,000 per day in early May. After a bumpy initial rollout, vaccines are now available to all adults nationwide, and the U.S. averaged more than 2 million doses administered per day during March and April. While COVID-19 still presents risks—more contagious variants continue to spread in some parts of the U.S. and vaccine hesitancy has begun to slow down the number of doses administered—a return to normalcy for many Americans now seems closer than it has at any point since the pandemic began.

More states and local governments are responding to these encouraging developments by loosening or entirely lifting restrictions that have been kept in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic. Meanwhile, individuals are increasingly resuming their normal lives, comforted by the protection of the vaccines and the diminished spread of the virus.

This is all good news for the economy. Survey results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more than half of U.S. businesses experienced reduced consumer demand as a result of the pandemic, leading to job losses and lost income. But as the COVID situation improves and restrictions are rolled back, policymakers and business owners are optimistic that economic activity will return to pre-pandemic levels this summer.

According to community mobility data that Google has collected during the pandemic, visits to retail and recreation establishments, transit stations, and workplaces (strong indicators of overall business activity) are still below their baseline levels from early 2020 but are moving in the right direction. Retail and recreation establishments are showing particularly positive trends, nearly returning to their baseline levels this spring with the drop in COVID cases and increase in vaccinations. Visits to transit stations and workplaces are down by around a quarter on average, a product of many workers continuing to work from home and forgoing business travel, but both categories have seen incremental increases since the start of 2021.

In addition to differences by type of establishment, reopening trends also vary significantly from state to state according to the Google data. One of the major reasons why states have reopened at different rates is that public attitudes toward COVID-19 became highly politicized throughout the contentious 2020 election cycle and beyond. This has affected both individuals’ behaviors and governments’ approach to public health restrictions: in general, more politically conservative areas have moved more quickly toward reopening and their politically liberal counterparts have shown more caution. Many of these more conservative states are also more rural and less densely populated, factors that also lower some of the perceived risks associated with COVID-19.

To identify the states that have reopened most quickly, Filterbuy researchers used data from Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to create a composite index based on April 2021 visits to retail and recreation, transit, and workplace establishments. Filterbuy’s research team calculated the percentage change in visits to such establishments compared to a pre-pandemic baseline period of January 3 to February 6, 2020.

Here are the states that have started opening up for business.

State Rank Composite index Retail & recreation change from baseline Transit stations change from baseline Workplaces change from baseline


Montana    1     97.93 6.1% 14.6% -14.6%
South Dakota    2     97.23 5.6% 15.4% -13.6%
Idaho    3     92.47 6.0% 14.2% -16.9%
Arkansas    4     91.10 5.8% 13.2% -16.9%
Mississippi    5     87.03 5.3% 21.9% -19.0%
Iowa    6     85.00 5.4% -3.9% -15.8%
Oklahoma    7     83.63 2.5% 11.1% -17.3%
South Carolina    8     81.60 5.1% 13.8% -20.6%
Nebraska    9     78.17 1.9% 4.7% -18.1%
Alaska    10     77.50 2.8% -8.5% -16.7%
West Virginia    11     77.50 1.7% 6.1% -18.1%
Kansas    12     77.50 -1.0% 9.7% -17.7%
Missouri    13     76.83 3.1% 0.9% -18.8%
Alabama    14     76.83 1.2% 7.6% -18.2%
Wyoming    15     75.47 -4.6% 12.6% -16.7%
United States    –     N/A -8.3% -24.9% -25.7%


For more information, a detailed methodology, and complete results, you can find the original report on Filterbuy’s website:


Reinventing Retail: 6 Ways Retailers Can Drive Customers Back In-Store

We’re about to experience one of the biggest booms in the history of retail. As the world continues to recover and stabilize, we are entering unimaginable levels of consumer spending. By all predictions, the second half of 2021 will result in a highly competitive race between marketing investment and retail spending that will fuel unprecedented retail expansion.

The last 16 months have led to dramatic changes to the retail landscape and consumer expectations overall. The global pandemic has shuttered many retail operations and crippled the in-store experience. It’s no surprise that customers not stepping foot in-store is a massive and multi-faceted problem for retailers.

No retailer could have predicted the current situation and the preceding events that brought us here, but that’s all about to change. With the global economy on the verge of breakthrough growth, now is the time to reflect and reinvent retail to attract consumers, bring them back in-store, and capitalize on the massive opportunity that lies ahead.

Here are six ways retailers can drive customers back in-store to reinvigorate growth.


Start With A Fresh Perspective

Before a wave of customers floods your store, it’s essential to start with a fresh perspective.

What drives your customers? Why would they want to come in and shop? What have they been missing over these last 16 months?

No amount of tactics will help attract customers in-store unless you can provide what they’re looking for—and delight them in the process.

Being fully stocked with the latest SKUs, along with having updated displays and a revitalized interior, are the bare minimum to motivating customers to set foot in-store. In addition, having enough staff available to provide prompt and friendly service is essential.

Give Them A Reason To Visit

Many customers will need an incentive to justify coming back in-store, so give them one. Whether it’s exclusive discounts, priority access to limited-quantity items, a loss leader, or a free bonus for stopping by, make sure that you give customers a reason to visit.

Remember that not all customers want the same thing, so you’ll need to use various incentives to cater to the different types of customers you have. In addition, you can use triggers like new products, inventory restocks, customer birthdays, or other events to solicit customers to stop in. Starbucks does this exceptionally well with their rewards program where they offer double points (called stars) based on the customer’s purchase history and behavior.

Amazon Prime delivers unparalleled (and frankly unbelievable) delivery times on many products, but often even overnight shipping is too long for customers to wait. Retailers can play to their advantage by promoting in-store availability on products that customers are eager to have the same day.

Do everything you can to find creative and personalized ways to motivate customers to come back in-store. There is no silver bullet; you must regularly test new ideas and offers to see how customers respond.

Create A Memorable Customer Experience

When customers return in-store, you must deliver a memorable and favorable experience. This experience could include creative point-of-purchase displays, free samples, or self-checkout. Think about the experience you want customers to have and find ways to surprise and delight them at every touchpoint.

Trader Joes is famous for its exceptional customer experience. There are many stories of employees giving free flowers to customers who are going through challenging times. Similarly, Chick-fil-a is world-renown for its impeccable operational process and unheard-of attitude and kindness.

It’s not enough to deliver the same experience as you did before. Level up your customer experience by defining new procedures that will make your customers leave the store happier than when they entered.

Drive Traffic From Digital To In-Store

To get customers back in-store, you have to reach them where they are, and that means digital. Use your social channels to get the word out and stay current with customers. Similarly, your email marketing and website should both generate awareness and in-store visits.

Paid digital advertising is incredibly effective for reaching the right customers at the right time. Two of the most powerful digital advertising capabilities are targeting specific customer segments and testing offers and incentives to see which work best.

Use your digital marketing wisely and ensure it plays a cohesive role in helping drive awareness and foot traffic to your locations.

Retrain Your Customers

The harsh reality is that consumers are lazy—and they’ve been trained to become even lazier. Delivery and curbside pickup have become mainstream, and many consumers prefer this convenience over setting foot in a store.

You have to retrain customers how to shop with your business, which means cutting back on the convenience factor. To drive in-store visits, you must create an experience where the past of least resistance—and highest value—is through the door.

All of the tactics mentioned above can help create such an experience, but the key takeaway here is to make sure you’re not cannibalizing your efforts. Any curbside and delivery options should include flyers or catalogs that help customers understand what’s available in-store and why it’s worth their time and effort.

Keep Them Coming Back

Getting customers back in-store will require effort—and you want to make sure you maximize your chances of customers coming back and telling others to do the same.

One of the best ways to get customers to return is by giving them a tangible, monetary reward. Kohl’s is famous for “Kohl’s Cash” which is essentially a voucher for a fixed amount of money that you can apply to your next purchase within the specified redemption period. The key detail being the redemption period, which is always a week or two in the future—meaning you have to come back again to use it.

In addition to generating return visits, consider why a customer would spread the word and tell others to stop in. Small gestures go a long way, and anything you can do to help customers become advocates will add up incrementally to drive a sustainable increase in in-store visits.

It’s Time To Reinvent Your Approach To Retail

Now is the time to reinvent your approach to retail. The world has changed, and there is no returning to normalcy. There was no advanced warning of how drastically retail would be affected and the long-lasting impacts the pandemic would bring. Treat this as your forewarning of the opportunity that lies ahead.

Customers are tired of the predictable retail experience, and you must invest in creating an innovative experience that can satisfy customer demands while exceeding their expectations.

The retailers who prepare and invest in the reinvention of retail will thrive and experience unprecedented levels of customer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention. Retail will never look the same again—and that’s a good thing for those who are willing to evolve.


Tim Parkin, President of Parkin Consulting, is a consultant, advisor, and coach to marketing executives globally. He specializes in helping marketing teams optimize performance, accelerate growth, and maximize their results.

By applying more than 20 years of experience merging behavioral psychology and technology seamlessly, Tim has unlocked rapid and dramatic growth for global brands and award-winning agencies alike.

He is a speaker, author, and thought leader who is featured frequently in industry publications. Please visit for more information on Tim’s services and his private community of marketing executives.