PORTSMOUTH – Local businesses helping other local businesses is one antidote to navigating the turbulence of the pandemic-impacted economy.
Be it advice on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, free webinars on how to conduct business remotely, or creating an online mart for gift cards, local business leaders are taking on the credo “we’re all in this together” and are trying to look out for each other.
“Everybody knows in Portsmouth and the Seacoast that New Hampshire is not home for a lot of large corporations, there are a few. There’s so many jobs that are on the line. And, more than that, there’s the future of what Portsmouth’s going to be that’s also on the line here,” said Deaglan McEachern, a member of the Portsmouth City Council and senior director for a Digital Knowledge Management (DKM) platform called Yext.
McEachern has put together an online mart of Seacoast businesses with information that might help them get through the pandemic where even leaving the house isn’t advised in order to create a barrier against COVID-19, the highly contagious illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
For most people, COVID-19 results in only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
The site, www.seacoastgiftcards.com, is an ever-growing, dynamic listing of business information, from restaurants to shops to nonprofit organizations. In filling out the form to be part of the listing, businesses can tell potential digital customers about themselves and what offers might be at hand. Buying gift cards online, according to McEachern, is seen as one way customers and clients can help a business sustain with ongoing revenue.
Diversions Puzzles and Games, for example, on Congress Street in downtown Portsmouth is offering shipping and curbside pick-up of games purchased online.
The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire is offering gift certificates.
“I’d like to think that a lot of folks are going to try to think about patronizing their local small businesses, as we always tried to do, but really bring the focus to those businesses that had the rug pulled out from underneath them,” McEachern said.
McEachern’s wife, Lori Tiernan, a financial services advisor, is the administrator of the Facebook group Seacoast Business Owners, which she started about five years ago. She saw a need to start an online conversation to ideas, tips, resources and stories that might help each other.
“My clients are in the financial markets and given the state of the markets, business is suffering. I’ve started to brainstorm ways to reach clients and offer different products during this time,” she said in starting the discussion among the 2,400 members of the group. “I’ve seen many of you going digital and offering online webinars, YouTube channels, livestreams. What are you doing that’s working right now? What are you trying? Let’s share to help each other get creative!”
One business offered an online seminar on how to create an account with Zoom, which has become one of the go-to methods for communicating and meeting online.
Another business noted it requested a small business he works with to invoice him in advance for future work he knows he’ll be doing. “If you’re lucky enough to be fairly confident you’ll pull through this better than others might…go out on a limb a bit,” he said. “… give a thought to accelerating your expenditures to other small businesses.”
“As we’ve come into this issue I’ve seen a lot of people reaching out for help. I’ve also seen a lot of people working together to figure out ways to collaborate,” Tiernan said. “We’re all having to be creative on how we can pivot our business model how we can generate revenue during these times, how we can do things differently, and everyone is doing that they’re helping each other to do that they’re promoting each other.”
For online meetings, Mike Teixeira, founder of Deck Presentations in Portsmouth, took to Instagram to make suggestions:
1. Position your light source in front of you, not behind. When you sit with a bright light source behind you, you end up becoming just a silhouette (great for dramatic movies, not so great for an online meeting). Sit facing a window during the day.
2. Use a headset with microphone. We don’t know about you, but with schools being cancelled and spouses also working from home the noise levels can be distracting. We love using Apple AirPods and Bose headphones for those reasons.
3. Be ready to share. Take five minutes before your meeting and open all the files you might want to show and scroll or flip to the relevant locations. This way, you can smoothly click to the relevant information without any lapse in time.
4. Check in with everyone first. Yes, getting down to business is important, but make sure to check in on a personal note before you start. We’re all dealing with a lot, and knowing where everyone is emotionally will help you set your tone and expectations.
“Regardless of how global we’ve all become with the internet, there is no foundation if you don’t also focus on the community around you,” said Teixeira, who, like a lot of digital entrepreneurs, is currently working from home. “When times are tough – like they are now – we need each other to shore up our daily lives, but that support starts when things are good. We try to keep that in mind as a company year round.”
Joshua Cyr and others at the N.H. Tech Alliance have been busy trying to develop programs and resources helpful to businesses. Cyr was the founder of Alpha Loft, the Portsmouth-based startup advisor group that ultimately merged into the alliance.
Two recent programs were “Going Remote 101” and “Programs available for NH Business in Distress.” Both webinars, along with other resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic effect on businesses, can be found at https://nhtechalliance.org/covid-19-resources-and-support/.
“We’re in a situation where most people haven’t had to go through something like this,” Cyr said. “Everyone has questions, including us, so anything we can do to provide guidance and get information out would be helpful.”
He noted government agencies are strained trying to deal with the head-on effects of the pandemic (testing, etc.) but also the ancillary effects, such as the current crush of unemployment benefit claims. He sees the tech alliance as helping backstop the state.
“If we can lessen that burden, by answering some of those questions or providing more guidance so that it gets to the right person, then we’re going to be doing our part to try to help,” he said.
The state’s Department of Business and Economic Affairs established a resource website for businesses adversely affected by COVID-19 at www.nheconomy.com/covid19.
“We know that COVID-19 pandemic is having detrimental effects on New Hampshire businesses,” BEA Commissioner Taylor Caswell said. “The BEA mission is to provide them with the financial and technical resources they need to ride out these uncertain times and be ready to continue operations.”
The website is designed to be a one-stop resource that includes details of Gov. Chris Sununu’s emergency orders to date; the SBA disaster declaration and how to apply for low interest loans; unemployment information for businesses and employees, and other state and federal resources.