Lauren Barron: Helping Entrepreneurs Navigate a New Normal

Lauren Barron received an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management; she is also the founder and co-owner of Gray Matters Games (GMG). GMG is a company that creates lively and cognitively challenging board game experiences for people with active minds. Through its games, Gray Matters promotes community, encourages fun and gives back to Alzheimer’s research. She shares her advice on how to tackle the challenging times ahead.

Planning Ahead

COVID-19 and the economic impact it has will fundamentally change the small business landscape. If you are not already, you need to think about this as more than a 2-4 week issue. There will be supply chain shocks that have not yet manifested, consumer confidence may be shaky and people will just operate their day-to-day lives differently. Plan now as if this will impact your business at least through the end of 2020. The good news here is that – if you tackle this head-on, make the tough choices now and consider how COVID-19 can help you adapt your business model, you can absolutely come out of this with a stronger business.

Do Not be Complacent

I worked with struggling business owners for 5 years during the last recession, and the ONLY commonality among the businesses who did not make it were that they were complacent – either in their business model, in how they managed their financials or both. I want to communicate this to you in no uncertain terms: This is not the time for complacency. Small business owners are being called to action.

So – the big question on every small business owner’s mind is: Now What?

I want to communicate this to you in no uncertain terms: This is not the time for complacency. Small business owners are being called to action.

Understanding Customer Demand

I have put together a list of high-level questions to help you start to take inventory of your situation:

Is there still demand for my product or service? All of these questions will help you assess flexibility in your revenue line, which is comprised of two main drivers – demand/volume and pricing.

If the answer is no, consider this: What will customers want when demand returns? OR What does my business offer that’s of value that can drive demand?

Travel-related businesses are a great example of this – demand is low right now; however, domestic travel is likely to recover quicker than international travel in the coming months. What can you do now to address this forthcoming need? Are there domestic travel packages you can devise that will help people with vacations in late summer or fall this year? If yes, start working on them now.

If the answer is yes, but people can’t access your business the way they normally do, what can you do to adapt? Move to virtual services, move selling on to your website, offer delivery, curb-side, etc.?

If the answer is yes, but pricing is a barrier, what can you reasonably charge customers that helps them fit a budget and still covers your costs (at the very least – ideally, still making a profit)?

I am a huge proponent of charging your worth; however, right now, people need help. Let’s all remember that we are humans doing the best we can and try to be in service to each others’ businesses and success.

Reassess Your Business

What is happening in my cost structure? The time is now to reassess every single expense you have on your most recent P&L. What is a variable cost that can be eliminated or reduced now without negatively impacting your ability to operate? What is a fixed cost that can continue in the short term?

What is a fixed cost that would need to be eliminated if there is a protracted COVID-19 impact or resulting recession? Assess your resources – what can technology do to help you eliminate manual processes or help lower payroll? Where are there opportunities to create other efficiencies in your operations?

What is the bare minimum you need to operate? Write a list of everything you would have to spend money on to service a baseline of demand. You should know this now, not later.

Can you seek relief related to utilities, rent or debt payments now? Don’t wait until you really need it – be proactive. Do you have subscription services or other regular expenses that are not necessary right now? Where else can you pivot and adapt on the cost side? What balance sheet risk am I willing to take?

There is a temptation right now to offer suppliers or customers extended terms. I urge you to think about this VERY carefully before agreeing. Unlike in other recessions, the impact of COVID-19 is far-reaching, and unless you have intimate knowledge of a supplier’s financial situation, liquidity and ability to weather this storm, I would encourage you to protect your business as best you can. You have no idea if that supplier will go out of business and won’t be able to pay you in 60 or 90 days. You can always consider Cash on Order or Cash on Delivery as an alternative if you really need supply.

Show Your Value

Last point. If you have historically been a “push marketer,” you need to change your message now. The best thing you can do is: (i) show your value to clients and potential clients in their time of need, and (ii) BE IN SERVICE TO THEM – really and truly. Think every day about what’s in it for them and how you can help.

This list of questions is just the tip of the iceberg on how to navigate an unprecedented time to be a small business owner, but in a situation that can feel paralyzing, I hope it helps give you a start.

While these times are difficult, emotionally draining and, at times, scary for us all – please know this: there are people like me in your corner ready to assist. You do not have to do this alone – in fact, you shouldn’t. The small business community is a powerhouse of people who care a lot, and we stand ready to serve you. We are one.

Stay Up to Date

Learn more about Gray Matters Games and the fun board games they create by visiting their website!

Connect with Lauren on Instagram and LinkedIn.

For additional resources, visit our Small Business Resources to Overcome COVID-19 blog post.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

Small Business Resources to Overcome COVID-19

To help entrepreneurs and small business owners find the help they need in this time of great uncertainty, we have compiled a list of resources targeted at COVID-19 related business challenges. This list will be updated as new information and resources become available. See something we missed that should be included? Shoot us a message at ID@InnovationDuPage.org

Financial Help

Loans and Grants

Small Business Association (SBA) Disaster Relief Loan

This loan brought to you by the SBA can be used for: Fixed Debts, Accounts Payable, Payroll, other Bills. For more details and information on how to apply, check out our dedicated ‘SBA Disaster Injury Loan’ post.

Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC)

The WBDC knows that access to capital is critical for business success. They provide loans to small businesses who otherwise cannot get a loan from a bank.Loans are available to small businesses located in Northwest Illinois and targeted towards businesses with less than $1 Million in annual revenue.

Illinois Department of Commerce Loan

Small businesses are the backbone of the Illinois economy, and the Advantage Illinois program is there to assist. By working with the state’s banking community and venture capitalists, they help entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund

The Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund will help to provide small businesses with emergency cash flow during this immediate health crisis. Applications will begin to be accepted on March 31, 2020.

Facebook Small Business Grant Program

Facebook is offering cash grants and ad credits to businesses that may be experiencing disruptions in these uncertain times. The money given can support your workforce, help with your rent costs, connect with more customers, and cover operational costs.

Honeycomb Credit

Community sourced loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 via the crowdfunding platform. Honeycomb is offering 45-day payment free periods, 6-month interest-only periods and reducing their posting, success, and investor fees.

Tax Relief

IRS Tax Relief

The IRS has announced the extension of tax filing and federal tax payment deadlines to July 15th. In addition, a plan is in place to implement a Coronavirus-related paid leave for workers and tax credits for small and midsize businesses.

Illinois Tax Help

In an effort to assist eating and drinking establishments impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) is waiving any penalty and interest that would have been imposed on late Sales Tax payments from qualified taxpayers.

What is Available to Employees as a Business Owner?

COVID-19 Changes to Unemployment Rules

Unemployment benefits may be available to some individuals whose unemployment is attributable to COVID-19. IDES recently adopted emergency rules to try to make the unemployment insurance system as responsive to the current situation as possible. Please review this link for the information to assist your employees.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

This program helps those with low-incomes buy the food needed for good health.

Tips for Working from Home

Github’s Guide to Remote Work

GitHub has curated a remote work emergency toolkit for leaders and managers and a remote work starter guide for employees to assist businesses during this time in order for everyone to maintain optimal productivity and stability.

Facebook Minimizing Business Disruption During Emergencies

Facebook is helping workplaces stay connected by helping minimize disruptions to businesses during emergencies. Utilize their multiple channels to stay in touch with customers and employees.

Video Conferencing Services

The following are video conferencing resources allowing businesses to stay connected and productive while working remotely.

Microsoft Resources

Google Hangouts

Go to Meeting by LogmeIn

Zoom

DuPage County Business Help

Choose DuPage

Choose DuPage is volunteering their expertise to assist businesses in DuPage County. Get help with Banking, Education, Insurance, Legal, and Marketing. Join the conversation on social media about what businesses and residents are doing to help during these times by using the #DuPageDifference.

DuPage County Health Department

A resource in maintaining the health and safety of residence of the DuPage county. Stay up to date on what is happening in your area.

Western DuPage Chamber of Commerce

View the WDCC’s informational fliers in relation to COVID-19 and how they are supporting businesses during this time .

Western Suburban Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The WSSCI is committed to serving regional businesses and community prosperity through best practices, advocacy, access to leaders, economic development, collaboration and business education. Check out their page for a list of resources available to those impacted by COVID-19.

New Policies and Legal Resources

Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

IDFPR has announced new guidance on license expirations dates, continuing ed deadlines, and more to help licensees maintain their licenses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You can find the official press release here .

Insurance Interruption Coverage

Your business insurance may contain interruption coverage you can use during COVID-19, learn more by clicking the title.

Emergency Family & Medical Leave Expansion Act

On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed and signed. These are two provisions providing paid leave to employees forced to miss work because of the COVID-19 outbreak: the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act, and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. Learn more about how this could serve you in the link.

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

How Work Structures are Changing for the Better

Key Takeaways

  • Workplaces are becoming less reliant on physical spaces for employees
  • Working remotely may come with “strings attached” unlike working from anywhere
  • Businesses can reap many benefits from allowing their employees greater flexibility
The New Way of Working

Long gone are the dreary days of cramped cubicles and bright office fluorescent lights. Our workspaces are ever-changing; this leads us to work from our chaotic kitchen counters, the waiting room at our child’s local pediatrician and at crowded coffee shops.

Work is no longer tied down to a physical location but can be carried out from anywhere in the world with the appropriate technology. Leading companies are paying attention to these workplace trends and rushing to meet the needs of their employees’ relentless desire for flexibility.

Working from Anywhere

When properly discussing the key advantages of working outside of a stereotypical environment, we must also factor in the notable differences between working from home and working from anywhere. Working from anywhere does not consist of the “strings attached” associated with the standard policies of working from home. This often includes requiring that workers come into the office periodically. Working from anywhere allows for geographic flexibility.

The Demand for Flexibility

Published studies show that the average employee will accept about 8% less pay to have the added advantage of working remotely (Harvard Business Review). Experienced managers are often concerned that by allowing all employees to work from home they will do less work due to environmental distractions.

Contrary to this widespread belief, the opposite occurs. When employees are allowed to work from anywhere, it improves their overall happiness and productivity leading to higher retention rates, increased sales and improved performance.

Where We are Headed

Within the next few years, we can eagerly expect that businesses will be more flexible with their employees. A typical 9-5 job may soon look vastly different. We need to rethink the way that we do business by building alternative practices that enhance productivity and satisfaction.  Leading companies will focus less on physical bodies in seats and more on the way that their employees work best. This will challenge the way key leaders and companies have operated for years as they steer away from the traditional structure.

Connect With Us

Innovation Dupage caters to the changing ideology of workplaces by providing a come and go workspace for businesses and entrepreneurs.

To learn more about the programs that we provide visit our membership page.

Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

9 Boutiques to Visit in Glen Ellyn

Local charm, quaint downtown streets, and a neighborly feel… What more could you ask for from a suburban area? Glen Ellyn is just 24 miles west of Chicago with around 28,000 residents. It sits in an ideal location with access to Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Glen Ellyn has everything to offer with lots of great restaurants, shops, and small businesses.

Check out 9 boutiques that are sure to spark your interest: 

Enchantments



Enchantments is a charming clothing boutique carrying trendy pieces with a twist. Owner Jennifer Massarelli’s childhood love for barbies and playing dress-up inspired her to share her passion for fashion with the community. Jennifer’s fashion knowledge brings popular, sought-after designers to her location. Her boutique carries unique pieces such as vintage Chanel and other rare brands. With 18 years in business and counting, Enchantments knows a thing or two about fashion. Be sure to follow their social media to stay up to date with their upcoming sales and events. Instagram: @enchantments_glenellyn

Located at: 

534 Crescent Blvd.
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-469-1989

Re:new Project



Re:new Project’s company mission is uplifting and heartwarming. They employ refugee women from around the world and provide them with a space to grow, learn and rebuild their lives in the United States. You can purchase the products made by these women at their studio/store conveniently located on Main Street near Banyan Tree Mall. Some of the upcycled and handmade products available for purchase include bags, jewelry and accessories. 
Their instagram: @renewproject

Located at: 

483 North Main Street
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630) 547-2176

M&Ems and Meredith Jaye



M&Ems is a lifestyle specialty boutique and a one-stop shop for all occasions. The Fuller’s inspiration for the store came from a family ski trip where they stumbled upon a “quaint children’s boutique that embodied a simple but sophisticated retail experience.” The Glen Ellyn store is named after the owner’s two daughters, Mackenzie and Emerson. While best known for their children’s products, they have expanded into women’s clothing, accessories and home decor. 
Their instagram: @mandemsmj & @meredith_jaye

Located at: 

460 North Main Street 
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-469-6040

The Gnome Colony



Step into a whimsical storybook world by heading to The Gnome Colony on Main Street in Glen Ellyn. As you walk in, you enter a secret garden with delightful products and hidden treasures. Stop by to meet the owner and mastermind, Michael Perich, and see why West Suburban Living Magazine and Glancer Magazine named them “Best of the West 2019” and “Readers Choice 2019” respectively. 
Their instagram: @thegnomecolony

Located at: 

485 North Main Street
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-793-5284

Gather & Collect



At Gather & Collect, you can find more than just antiques. Owner Julie Spiller curates a variety of products full of character and history. Her businesses selection of goods have come a long way since it was opened nearly 9 years ago. They carry antique books, timeless lamps, vibrant artwork, handmade jewelry, fragrant soaps and much more. Gather & Collect merchandise is ever-changing, so it is worth the trip to see what unique items you can find. 
Their instagram: @gather_and_collect

Located at: 

473 North Main Street
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-469-2558

Norabella Boutique



Norabella is a mother-daughter owned shop with a contemporary style and flare. They feature apparel, jewelry, gifts and more. The business is known for their boutique quality without the expensive price tag. Norabella’s offers clients the option of subscribing to monthly style boxes with items curated specifically for them. Check out their Instagram for some of their latest styles and looks @norbellaboutique

Located at: 

485 North Main Street
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-403-2203

Jayne Boutique



Jayne Boutique carries well known women’s brands such as Free People, Lucky Brand, and Birkenstock. They have six stores in the Chicagoland area offering an ageless shopping experience. Don’t be fooled by their multiple locations, Jayne’s contributes to Glen Ellyn in more ways than one. They work with local charities, schools, nonprofits and other organizations.
Their instagram: @jayneboutique

Glen Ellyn’s Location: 

476 North Main Street
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-793-9098

Blonde Boutique



Sisters, Allison Ohlander and Natalie Smith, opened a boutique putting their expertise in fashion merchandising to good use. At Blonde Boutique, you can shop trendy yet timeless apparel with pieces for all ages. Guests can take advantage of Natalie’s impeccable fashion sense by utilizing her personal styling service.
Their instagram: @shopblondeboutique

Located at: 

494 North Main Street
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-474-9258

Paying It Forward



The name of this luxury consignment shop speaks for itself. In 2016, owner Tami was diagnosed with breast cancer. The community rallied around her showing the family love and support through such a challenging time. Paying it forward became the inspiration for the shop. They donate 20% of all proceeds to local breast cancer charities. Another great reason to shop locally.
Their instagram: @payingitforward16

Located at: 

546 Duane Street
Glen Ellyn, Illinois 60137
(630)-450-6891

Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.