Mark S. Lee: Being Flexible, Seeking Advice Are Essential to Small Business Success

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Mark S. Lee, president and CEO of The LEE Group, MI LLC, discussed with the Detroit Regional Chamber the state of the city’s small businesses amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, including how businesses are managing throughout the crisis and the resources they need to survive.

Challenges at Hand
It is undeniable that small businesses across the Detroit region are struggling with many having closed temporarily or permanently. A particular struggle for Detroit-based small businesses – most of which are minority-owned – has been access to capital. Lee noted that what has prevented these businesses from securing capital, especially in the form of support like PPP loans, are a lack of relationships with financial institutions and minimal resources in the bank.

“A small business has enough resources in the bank to last two weeks,” said Lee, adding that for minority-owned businesses, that is even smaller.

What he advises for such businesses is to entail a board of advisors – an informal group of experts who can provide counsel in areas like finance, legal, marketing, etc. to avoid such pitfalls and point small business owners in the direction of resources that could bolster their business.

Further, Lee recommends small businesses dig deep into their business models and assess what other streams of revenue they can capture and offerings they can provide to stay open. Also, creating a strong online presence is no longer optional. In this climate, it’s the most effective way to keep in touch with current customers and reach new ones.

“Now is the time to double down on your customers…to reach out to them on a consistent basis,” said Lee. “That’s what people want. They want reassurance that you’re still there.”

Best Practices for Small Business
Other strategies that small businesses have found success with include teaming up with their business “neighbors” to pool resources from marketing and/or offerings perspectives, which taps into a larger community of ideas and customers. Similarly, scaling offerings to make do with changing resources by hosting pop-up shops – getting outside of their storefronts or meeting customers where they are.

Lee also highlighted industries that are finding ways to succeed and grow amid these circumstances. By focusing on growth areas and finding ways to fulfill the timeliest needs of the public, he noted the cannabis, professional services (especially technology-related), health care, and home improvement industries as prime examples.

While these industries are thriving because of changing demand caused by the pandemic, others like the restaurant industry, are successfully pivoting to stay afloat. By steering into curbside take out, delivery, meal kit, and socially distanced outdoor seating offerings, for example, this sector has been able to find new ways to serve and maintain its customer base.

Who Can Help
There are a host of organizations, incubators, and programs that can support the region’s small businesses in this turbulent time. A few examples are:

In closing, Lee emphasized the importance of community support for Detroit’s small businesses. It is critical to support local small businesses as advisors and patrons.

“Small businesses are economic generators across not just our city, but into our country.”

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