Michael Stull

Michael Stull is director of the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship at California State University, San Bernardino. He can be reached at (909) 537-3708 or at /entre.csusb.edu.

This crisis has shown us how much we need our local small businesses. They provide valuable services and products and are often a social “hub” for the community. We need to “shop local” as much as we can, even if that means paying a premium for the convenience of shopping local.

Use this time to get to know local owners and employees because it is these businesses that support our schools, students, and community events through funding and volunteerism. Let’s do what we can to embrace them.

For small-business owners: In turn, business owners need to find ways to provide more value and better service to customers — by getting closer to them. For many local firms, this crisis has exposed challenges in staying connected with customers as well as their lack of technology.

 Actively creating and managing customer relationships is paramount to the consumer experience. That means having an active social media presence, using digital apps or building customer communication lists. I encourage you to use this time wisely, and here are a few items to consider:

• Maximize referrals. Continually develop your pipeline of customers. Ask existing customers for referrals. Offer them a reward, such as discounts on future purchases.

• Get feedback. Now is an ideal time to find out what your business is doing right or wrong by asking customers.

• Focus on retention. Existing customers are your best marketing strategy. Ask yourself, how can I increase sales without adding one NEW customer?

• Look ahead. Business may be slow, so spend time doing strategic planning. Meet with advisers to discuss where your business will be in three years and what will it take to get there — especially considering new conditions. Revisit your business plan. If you started out with a written plan to guide you, take another look. Your initial business model is probably no longer viable in today's marketplace.

Finally, stay optimistic! Prepare your business to take advantage of opportunities that will surely present themselves, sooner than you think.

Michael Stull is director of the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship at California State University, San Bernardino. He can be reached at (909) 537-3708 or at /entre.csusb.edu.