5 Steps To Harness The Power Of Conference Calls To Support Small Businesses

A number of large businesses have been helping small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses since the beginning of the pandemic. JP Morgan Chase donated $8 million to small businesses to help them avoid economic hardship during the pandemic. Arizona-based AvAir, an aftermarket aviation company, gave every global employee $500 with the idea that they spend it at small and local businesses in their communities.

Experts have said we won't return to normalcy until the end of 2021, which means this assistance needs to continue. Large companies in the real estate industry, including my own, have a chance to help provide this assistance. Giving money is one way to help other businesses, but there are nonmonetary ways as well. An idea that reaches across the social distance is hosting conference calls to provide helpful advice.

Step One: Organize Your Team

One of the first steps in setting up these calls is to organize a team of employees to structure, manage and participate in them. Besides a small core team, calls might include a lawyer, a corporate trainer, communications and marketing personnel, city government officials and more, depending on each call's discussion topics — and your network's expertise. Your company and your external network can provide experts to lead particular discussions. Finally, assigning an employee as the main contact person — or asking for a volunteer — and creating a program email would help streamline program communication.

Step Two: Get The Word Out

To get the word out about the program, contact the current and past small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses contracted with on jobs. Include other companies you've dealt with in other capacities. Still, there may be other companies that learn of the program through word of mouth from invited participants.

You might design a page for your website with a title like Covid-19 Resources or something similar that includes information about the conference call program. You can also provide a capability on the page to allow attendees to submit a question for the next call. The page could feature the agendas for each meeting and include a list of links to government programs and general information for small business operations. The email and phone number of the program's main point of contact should be easily accessible on the page.

Step Three: Choose Your Topics

Topics small businesses may find helpful to discuss during calls include the following:

Navigating the legalities of the PPP and SBA loans and stimulus programs. By now these businesses will likely have applied for the initial funds offered, but they may need a review of their repayment responsibilities, how to have loans forgiven, and so forth. They may also like guidance if and when an additional stimulus program is offered.

Reviewing back-to-work plans and adapting as necessary. Attendees may have a detailed plan, but they'd probably appreciate having a facilities manager or similar from a larger company review their existing strategy and recommend any necessary revisions or additions.

Continuing to manage your relationship with your bank. Small business owners may have developed a relief plan with their bank, but they might find it helpful if you review it. They may also have general questions related to banking during this time.

Assistance with strategic planning, with a focus on marketing. Discussing their future and their current marketing plans can be crucial for their on-going success and stability during this pandemic.

Continuing to manage cash flow and budget. What else can they do to manage these two areas right now? A larger company is likely to have more experience with lean times and can share their story to help small business owners.

It's important to note that you will likely have a combination of participants, from both your industry and other fields. Poll your attendees to learn if anyone has specific questions related to your field or particular topics they would like addressed on the conference calls.

Step Four: Close The Calls

At the end of each call, it's a good idea to refer participants back to the Covid-19 Resources page on your website and ask participants to suggest other resources they have found helpful.

Step Five: Measure The Program's Success

You are offering these calls because you want to help. To determine if they're doing that, develop a questionnaire that asks for written, anonymous feedback and include it on the Covid-19 Resources page or send in a post-conference email to participants. Examples of questions and info to gather include:

• Date of call

• Did you find the call useful?

• What did you find especially helpful? Why?

• Was there any topic that was not helpful? Why?

• How was the call length? Too long? Too short? Just right?

• Is there a topic you'd like more information on?

• Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

It will take time for businesses to reach the level of normalcy present before the pandemic. While large companies in different sectors of the real estate industry might be used to shocks and abrupt changes — or at least equipped to confront them — many small businesses find themselves needing a little help. In addition to monetary support, an excellent way to support others within and adjacent to the industry is to share expertise through conference calls.

This article was first published in The Forbes Real Estate Council.

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