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The UPS Store Small Business blog
  • 10 May 2021
  • Public Relations

Small Biz Challenge: The Roundtable Discussion Explores Triumphs and Trials Faced by Entrepreneurs Through the Pandemic and Beyond

The UPS Store, Inc., Inc. magazine, and celebrity chef, author, television host Carla Hall, are teaming up for the third annual virtual “Small Biz Challenge” to celebrate small business owners who have adapted and persisted through the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

To kick off this year’s celebration and recognition of the strength of entrepreneurs, Carla moderated “Small Biz Challenge: The Roundtable Discussion” featuring the following small business and entrepreneurial experts:

  • Alexa von Tobel, Founder, Managing Partner at Inspired Capital
  • Tristan Walker, Founder & CEO at Walker & Company Brands
  • Sarah Paiji Yoo, Co-Founder & CEO at Blueland

Carla set the tone for the discussion by opening with powerful statements about the past year reminding participants that growth and change can be challenging. She prompted the three expert panelists to explore not only the challenges, but also the positives for small businesses over the past year and discuss how they have adapted and continued to move their companies forward. She also keyed up discussions around how the past year has shaped their expectations on permanent changes coming to the business landscape in the future, in addition to asking them to think about the most valuable lessons they have learned from their years of entrepreneurship and business leadership.

How each expert has pivoted in response to the events of the past year

Sarah credits the biggest pivot of Blueland being the adjustment made to the relationship with consumers, noting that her team had to pause marketing to new customers and shift their focus to customer service, despite the feeling that this shift contradicts growing a business. She elaborated that the direct relationship with consumers became a valuable and continuous feedback loop at a time when customer priorities were rapidly and dramatically changing. Her key to success shifted to understanding the concerns and questions of customers.

The relationship between companies and customers was not the only change brought on by the pandemic. According to Tristan, the last year has forced companies to revisit and refocus their values, particularly as it relates to employees. Describing this pivot, he notes that the prioritization of wellness and offering of grace to employees is a “radical thought in business that shouldn’t really be that radical.” The idea is simple: employees that are allowed the space to take care of themselves will be better equipped to take care of their business. An increase in empathy for employees has revealed itself to be a silver lining of the pandemic’s effect on business.

Both Sarah and Tristan’s examples of pivots were learned behaviors during a difficult year – a year in which Alexa reflects on as a time of learning. When describing how she responded to the events of the past year, Alexa notes her mentality as ABL (Always Be Learning). ABL was an important mindset to embrace whether companies found their business exploding or imploding. The challenges of the pandemic brought on ample opportunities for businesses to learn and approach external factors with a flexibility never seen before. They had an opportunity to truly listen to their customers for lessons and to quickly adjust to meet consumer needs as they were shifting.  

What changes to the small business landscape do you think we can expect for the coming years?

According to Tristan, small businesses will find themselves with new opportunities following the pandemic’s impact on the business world. He notes that the pandemic has created a world in which billion-dollar brands no longer dominate and influence the industry anymore. As a result, the door has opened for smaller, committed brands with a loyal following and good values to “win” in the coming years. Tristan says that this shift, which he believes will be permanent, will be better for consumers and employees alike and notes that we have learned that happiness in the workplace can be correlated to better business outcomes. Carla then asked Tristan about the impact on a business’ health and wellness when relocating to another city. Tristan mentioned how moving to Atlanta is enabling him to raise his children in a place where diversity is embraced, and that his company is now closer to his customers and potential future employees. Given the business landscape’s emphasis on representation of all consumers, Tristan elaborated that businesses should build to the future, not today and if you follow the cultural connection, you follow the money.

Continuing to discuss the lasting impact of the pandemic on the business industry, Alexa holds the belief that the distributed workforces created in the past year are here to stay. She shares that while the workforce may go back to offices in some capacity, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we will live and work and will have lasting impacts on the landscape over the next decade.

Not only did the transition to working virtually result in distributed workforces, but Sarah points out that while physical retail was shut down, small businesses were able to evolve like never before. Inspiring to witness, small businesses turned to digital strategies and developed new capabilities that were not considered prior to the pandemic. She goes on to note that new foundations were built amid the pandemic, and small businesses can now expand and scale these forced transformations in the coming years.

General advice and most valuable lessons learned from the experts’ time as entrepreneurs and business leaders

Carla then asked the panelists to think beyond the pandemic and reflect on key lessons learned throughout their career, which led to inspiring tips for those looking to start their entrepreneurial journey.

Learning is critical when starting and maintaining a business. Alexa shares the importance in surrounding yourself with mentors and coaches and finding those people in every generation as each generation can share a different perspective. She also recommends that entrepreneurs LITTP (Lean In To The Pain), noting that while honest feedback may be painful to hear, it can also be the most helpful thing to experience and grow from.

Sarah advises aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders not to be discouraged by not having a roadmap with all the answers. Having started four businesses, she recommends taking the entrepreneurship journey day-by-day and step-by-step, noting that while you should push forward with your ideas, you should also be open to learning and receiving feedback.

Tristan challenges those considering a new business journey to “start!” Noting that there are almost eight billion people on the planet, each of whom have their own unique lived experience, he believes aspiring entrepreneurs should lean into those experiences and let them serve as inspiration for innovations that no one else will be able to bring to the table.  

The UPS Store Small Biz Challenge Continues

For the Small Biz Challenge contest, The UPS Store, Inc. and Inc. magazine are in the judging process to determine 10 semifinalists and put their entries to a public, online vote. This vote will narrow the contestants down to the top five finalists who will then compete in this year’s “Small Biz Challenge: Virtual Studio Event” in late July. The five finalists will be challenged by answering complex questions, giving elevator pitches and conducting situational problem-solving on the fly. The winner will be announced by host Carla Hall. Wrapping up the virtual studio competition, The UPS Store and Carla will follow-up with the top three finalists in October 2021, providing an update on the state of their small businesses.

And if you happen to be giving elevator pitches out in the real world just like the finalists will be doing during the Virtual Studio Event…what did our panelists advise?

  • Alexa: Bring your passion.
  • Tristan: Articulate your why. Why you and no one else?
  • Sarah: Know your numbers inside and out.

For more on how The UPS Store supports small business, dive into The UPS Store Inside Small Business Survey findings showing the strength and resiliency of entrepreneurs over the past year.

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