Updated Mar. 23 at 12:30 p.m.
With no certain end to the statewide stay-at-home order issued Thursday (March 19), governments and business-minded organizations are stepping up to help small business owners triumph over challenges they didn’t anticipate, like convincing customers to try new services and reinventing the roles of some employees to keep paychecks flowing.
Business owners should accept the general strain that comes from a society afraid to step outside their homes as “the new normal,” self-described serial company founder and entrepreneur Joe Beninato told approximately 20 Los Altos restaurant owners during a Zoom video meeting Friday afternoon (March 20). In partnership with the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, Beninato gave tips to Chamber of Commerce members and nonmembers alike about things they could immediately do to improve their business models as they processed numerous changes.
Longtime Los Altos resident Beninato is working with to equip restaurant owners with the right technology for no-contact operations and to drive customer demand to local restaurants by promoting them to the community. The Zoom call was the first step of many to try to engage the city's entrepreneurs in an effort to help as many survive the fallout of the shelter in place mandate as possible.
Once the effort is solidified with the restaurant industry in Los Altos, Chamber of Commerce president Kim Mosley told to the Town Crier prior to the call, Beninato and his recruited team of executive mentors, about a dozen Silicon Valley big-tech founders and CEOs, will move on to advise retail owners.
The new mission through the chamber and Beninato’s crew to drive community support to local businesses is currently being called “#LosAltosStrong,” a nod to San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s county-wide food distribution campaign created this week called Silicon Valley Strong.
Beninato started with website advice, guiding restaurants without websites toward free or economically priced website builders like Wix or GoDaddy. He instructed restaurants with websites to replace the reservation button with an online ordering system, either through their own delivery service (an opportunity to turn waiters with no work into curbside runners or delivery drivers) or an app-based service like DoorDash.
Menus and online payment should also be high priority for restaurant owners. A donation page, easily designed and activated through companies like Rapid, Patreon or GoFundMe, could give patrons who love a restaurant and want to support it a place to act.
Another tactic restaurants like Cetrella in Los Altos are employing is offering a benefit with takeout or delivery, such as wine sales or wholesale produce through existing vendors. Restaurant owners are surely facing a slew of challenges, but a trend proven in other cities or states of working together to advertise could also pay off for all parties involved. Networking with local hospitals or first responders to set up fundraisers in which a restaurant donates sale proceeds toward those on the front lines battling COVID-19 is another educated strategy.
Reaching out to big Bay Area employers like Google to see what community partnerships it could offer is something small business owners are already trying. Facebook, in response to pleas from the small business community, has set up a grant program. It will disburse $100 million in cash grants and ad credits to those who need it most.
Just before the Zoom call concluded, Los Altos Property Owners Downtown president Kim Cranston offered his assistance in one category some Los Altos business owners may face: Landlords unwilling to budge on rent during a financial crisis. A property owner himself, Cranston told the restaurateurs that landlords in Los Altos range in size and proximity. They learned, however, in the 2008 recession that being flexible to keep a tenant was worth it.
“There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach that makes sense,” Cranston told the Town Crier, referring to the mix of businesses in size, type and fiscal comfort. “If tenants reach out, (landlordshere) should look at what they propose and do what’s best for them… hopefully, they do it from the (perspective) of trying to find, despite how crazy things are, a win-win situation.”
Governments have a go
Anthony Carnesecca, Los Altos’ economic development coordinator, has been working closely with the Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations to spread word he gets from state and national agencies on programs being implemented specifically for small business.
When it comes to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) economic injury disaster loan program, any businesses looking for financial relief should apply now rather than later as the funding comes on a first-come, first-served basis.
“These loans can provide working capital to small businesses and private, nonprofit organizations in designated areas to help alleviate economic injury caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19),” SBA officials wrote in a description of the low-interest loan program.
The California State Treasurer’s Office has a running list of grant and loan programs offered by both private and public sources at https://bit.ly/2wipVgK.