Melinda Emerson: America's #1 Small Business Expert on What You Can Do to Save Your Business After COVID-19

September 08, 2020 Alex Romanovich
Melinda Emerson: America's #1 Small Business Expert on What You Can Do to Save Your Business After COVID-19
The small, medium-sized businesses during the COVID pandemic
The ways to take closed African American and minority-led businesses back
The United States small, medium-sized businesses' international partnership in 2020-2021
The impact of people leaving the big cities for small, medium-sized business
Actions of the government to keep balance in the big cities
Advice on how to start your career in business
Melinda Emerson: America's #1 Small Business Expert on What You Can Do to Save Your Business After COVID-19
Sep 08, 2020
Alex Romanovich

Melinda F. Emerson, SmallBizLady, is America’s #1 Small Business Expert. She has been a thriving entrepreneur for nearly 20 years and is an internationally known keynote speaker and expert on small business development and social media marketing. 

She publishes a resource blog Her small business advice is widely read reaching more than 3 million entrepreneurs each week online. A pioneer in social media marketing, she is the creator and host of #Smallbizchat, the longest running live chat on Twitter for small business owners. Forbes magazine named her the #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter.

For more information on Melinda, social media links and exclusive materials, please visit our website.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Melinda F. Emerson, SmallBizLady, is America’s #1 Small Business Expert. She has been a thriving entrepreneur for nearly 20 years and is an internationally known keynote speaker and expert on small business development and social media marketing. 

She publishes a resource blog Her small business advice is widely read reaching more than 3 million entrepreneurs each week online. A pioneer in social media marketing, she is the creator and host of #Smallbizchat, the longest running live chat on Twitter for small business owners. Forbes magazine named her the #1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter.

For more information on Melinda, social media links and exclusive materials, please visit our website.

Support the show (

Alex Romanovich (00:00):
Hi, this is Alex Romanovich, and welcome to the GlobalEdgeTalk. Today we have a wonderful friend and an amazing small and medium-sized business, pioneer, and promoter, Melinda Emerson. Hello, Melinda.

Melinda Emerson (00:20):
Hi Alex. How are you?

Alex Romanovich (00:22):
I'm doing great. And one of the things that we wanted to immediately talk about is, first of all, you. I want to introduce you. You have been one of the leading voices, one of the very few leading voices in the small and medium-sized business arena. You have your own podcast, which is called the Smallbizchat, which is dedicated to helping women achieve this small business success. You're a book author, you have a couple of books, one of which the notable one is Fix Your Business in 90 Days. You have another book called Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months, which is great. The host of the Smallbizchat, media outlet, and media channel. And you're also the president of the Smallbiz Lady enterprises. Welcome to our show.

Melinda Emerson (01:11):
Thank you so much. Gosh, I don't know how I do all those things in a regular week.

Alex Romanovich (01:16):
You will tell us, you will tell us how this is all done, but I also wanted to congratulate you, recently you received an MBA from Brecksville University, is that correct?

Melinda Emerson (01:32):
Yes, I graduated in June and I just recently got my actual sheepskin with my degree on it. So very, very excited about that. That was something I always wanted to do.

Alex Romanovich (01:44):
Wonderful. So congratulations. And your background also contains some technical and technology stuff. You're a graduate of Virginia Tech. So we'll talk a little bit about this as well. So without further ado, I would love to talk and jump into the favorite topic of yours, which is small, medium-sized business, and a lot of different topics. It's an election year, it's just so much going on with COVID, PPP grants and loans, just so much going on for small, medium-sized businesses. Good and bad.

Melinda Emerson (02:27):
Well, most of these bad. Unless your cleaning company is so mass, you've probably hit a speed bump. I would imagine.

Alex Romanovich (02:37):
So let's talk about that. So what are you seeing out in the market, first of all, what are you seeing from your clients? What are some of the issues they're bringing up right now to you? And I know you work with a lot of the large brands who work with small, medium-sized businesses, like major banks and financial services companies and other major brands. What are they seeing? Let's talk about that.

Alex Romanovich (03:03):
Well, I think that as a small business owner myself and a small business coach, the biggest things that I've been hearing is people who have retail space or people even who have professional office space, people are trying to figure out how to break leases, how to get out of paying these big monthly lease payments. I think that's one thing that I've been hearing about, some people's landlords have been kind and let people pay 50% of the lease. Some people found out everyone else in their business, in their building wasn't paying, but they were still paying, so people have been finding out that everything is not equal. I think that for some small businesses that applied for PPP loans, people were pretty disheartened the first time when they found out that $300 million went to corporations and not to the small businesses as intended.

Melinda Emerson (04:03):
I also think people were a little bit taken aback that so many large organizations and nonprofits, big universities got money and the Lakers got money. It was just, it was rolled out in the absolutely worst way possible. And only 5 million small business owners had even gotten PPP loans. And I think that's important to note because there are 28 million small business owners. I also think that one of the other things that I think is important to point out is as of May 41% of African American businesses have already closed, they are shuttered. They will not have the opportunity to reopen, let alone the health crisis that is upon us. I mean, myself, I recently lost an uncle. He was only 63 years old. He had just retired and now he is gone and he left behind three daughters and three grandchildren.

Melinda Emerson (04:59):
And so there's nobody at this point who doesn't know someone who had it or know someone who lost someone who had it. And I think that has really affected everything about our lives and people's businesses. And I was just asked earlier today by someone, they're going to finally open up Philadelphia restaurants for inside dining as of September 8th. And they were like, would you feel comfortable going? And my answer is absolutely not. I'm not stepping outside of my house till January. I'm not doing it. I'm also not sending my kid to school. I'm not comfortable putting him on a school bus or public transportation and sending him anywhere. So whether or not they open schools or not, it's inconsequential to me. My kid's going to go virtual until we get this thing under control until there's a vaccine and a bunch of other people has taken it. That's where I'm standing on all of it.

Alex Romanovich (06:02):
So, doom and gloom, what is a small business going to do? Tell us about some of the good news or some constructive news or something that a small, medium-sized business can do today in this environment. Obviously, it's August, it's a little bit slow. It's always a little bit slow in August. And are we going to see some kind of an uptick in the September-October timeframe, folks are going to do more of the face-to-face business and online businesses are doing phenomenal, Amazon just hit a $2 trillion mark. Obviously, they're doing extremely well. And they employ a lot of people, they help a lot of small businesses as well who are selling stuff, they are through Amazon and so forth. But can we actually see some uptick in small, medium-sized business interactions in the same way that we've used to?

Melinda Emerson (07:05):
Well, I think for one, a lot more people are aware of the small businesses in their community now than they have ever been. And I think that's an opportunity for small business owners, particularly as we're coming up on the holidays. I mean, I do think the holiday shopping season is going to be much earlier this year. So if you are planning on doing a holiday promotion, I would say, be promoting it by October 1st, because I think by Thanksgiving, it's going to be a wrap there. They're really worried about people being out or willing to shop a whole lot after November 25th. So I think you want to plan at least six to nine weeks earlier than you normally would, which means you should be buying inventory, thinking about shipping supplies and all this kind of stuff now, order it now, if you've got the cash. I think that one of the good things that's come out of COVID is that small businesses who have never been eligible for SBA loans are now able to get them because of the emergency.

Melinda Emerson (08:03):
So there are two ways you can do that. Certainly through the EIDL program, the Emergency Industrial Disaster Loan program, there are still loans that people got, everyone got the little, a thousand dollars per employee, but then you could go back in and actually get along. There are also SBA 7(a) loans that are still available. I believe they're available through September 24th. So if you have never ever gotten an SBA loan, you should get it. If you qualify for a loan, you should take it. You're never going to be able to borrow money this cheaply and have 30 years to pay it back ever in your life. So take the loan, get the loan, and then use the loan to reinvigorate and, frankly, reinvent your business. I think the good thing about what's going on right now is they really have separated the wheat from the chaff in terms of people who were not really having a business that had a specific unique value proposition. Those businesses will not survive. I think, right now it is really about how to become really focused on your niche and really communicating with your customers and really finding out what your customer's future needs are going to be, not just what their needs are right now. You're worried about right now, you're already too late. I think you've got to think, you've got to talk to your customers and find out what they're going to need down the line, and position your business to be that resource and that solution when they get there.

Alex Romanovich (09:31):
A very disturbing statistic that you brought up just now is that number of African American-led businesses and minority-led businesses will never go back to being in business. What impact does it have on the overall economy? Number one, especially in urban areas. And number two, is there a program that we can anticipate towards the end of this year or early next year to maybe invite those folks back, maybe it's loan programs, maybe it's a community-based programs or something like that, educational programs to invite those folks back to consider being an entrepreneur again, and to consider going back into business?

Melinda Emerson (10:15):
What was really going to take specific grant dollars, I think, to bail people out. I think at this point people didn't have emergency savings, people didn't have emergency money for their business. They didn't have a contingency fund in their business. So when COVID happened and their business had to shut down, or their business all went away for three and a half months, they couldn't survive, they couldn't even pay their mortgage or their rent. And even though some companies, some mortgage companies have been very generous to people, six-month, nine-month forbearance and stuff like that. If you're renting, you don't have those kinds of options. And we know that there are not as high a number of African-Americans that own their own home. So a lot of them got caught up in this sort of like whether or not your landlord was a good guy or a bad guy, whether or not they got the money to subsidize themselves so that they didn't have to be evicting people and stuff like this. So I think people have real-world problems and unless we get grant programs that are well-funded enough, there's been quite a few grant programs that have come out specifically earmarked for black-owned businesses. But every single one of these pools of money had been under-capitalized. So they cannot come close to satisfying the need. So I think unless there is training access to opportunity and access to capital, I don't think you were going to be able to get these businesses back. I think they're done.

Alex Romanovich (11:45):
Very sad and obviously it's very sad for not just for the business owners, but it's very sad for the rest of us because the economy, as we know, depends heavily on small, medium-sized businesses, not just the large corporations that are driving the economy, drive the GDP and so forth. Let's switch here. Yeah, go ahead.

Melinda Emerson (12:06):
So, I mean, small businesses create 70 to 80% of the net jobs in America. So if small businesses go down, where are people going to work? I mean, I think that's why the unemployment roles are so big. Although corporations are going under too, so we've got a lot of corporations laying people off, but by and large, those unemployment numbers of people who work for small business owners. And it's really, really tough situation. We've got almost 40 million people without a job right now. That's really scary. But what I like about it is these people are going to have to consider entrepreneurship and they probably have had entrepreneurial ideas and they're ready to start trying to develop them. And that's why I hope I can stand in the gap as the Smallbiz Lady and be a resource to them so that they can build a business. That's not just a necessity business, but a business that's actually can be a real business that can scale someday.

Alex Romanovich (13:02):
Let's talk about Smallbiz Lady. You've done business not just domestically, but you've also done business with international companies as well.

Melinda Emerson (13:09):
I have.

Alex Romanovich (13:11):
I don't have to tell you that the relationship that we've sort of built or not built over the past three or four years has been kind of upsetting, right? So the question is, what do we say to our international partners? So international suppliers, or in the food industry and the service industry, and the logistics, in shipping, in goods and so forth, aside from China, which is a whole other topic to discuss, but Europeans, Asians, South American companies, Canadian companies, what can they expect from the United States of America, especially small, medium-sized business partners in the next 2020-21 or at the end of 2020?

Melinda Emerson (13:59):
Well, I think that a lot of sediment will change after the election. I think, depending on how the election goes down, then we just have to pray that there is a change in America that, I think, that immediately we will go about being perceived very differently. But I think that when it comes to small businesses, supply chains have been deeply affected because of COVID. And even though things have started to open back up, you can still be delayed getting some of your raw materials and inventory from around the world. Certainly, not just China, although China is a huge trading partner with the U.S. But certainly, people getting stuff out of Mexico, people getting stuff out of South America, there's a lot of challenges still to small business owners. I actually have a client that manufactures candles and aromatherapy sprays, and they were trying to get 80,000 units and spray bottles for an aroma spray.

Melinda Emerson (15:00):
And it was extremely difficult. They had to call vendors all over the country just to get 80,000 units. So there's still a real supply chain with people trying to get things to do business, but I think everyone has to be patient and know, everyone knows what's going on. It's a global pandemic. So hopefully people will not have such an unreasonable request, but also this goes back to you want to have two vendors that do everything so that you're not handicapped by one. But I think what we want everyone to know around the world is that small businesses in America are still very much interested in doing business. And we want a partner, and more people than ever are collaborating on deals and partnering and bundling things together. So I think that small business owners that are exporting as well as importing goods, they are still in that business. And it doesn't matter who's running the country because all money is green. So I think that's what people need to know about us.

Alex Romanovich (15:58):
Let's talk a little bit about the supply chain some more. We have a situation with China. It's not an easy one to solve. We're in the midst of a very difficult trade war. Small, medium-sized businesses looking at their traditional suppliers from China, from Asia and China specifically, what can they do to start planning for a second source, for a US-based source? Maybe it's a Canadian source, maybe it's somebody on the continent or something like this, but what is the plan here? What is the plan for small, medium-sized businesses depending or relying on the supplies coming from China traditionally?

Melinda Emerson (16:44):
I think everyone has started to look for alternatives and trying to get things from China. And I think that that started in March and I don't think it has led up yet. I think that there are people that have just had to wait until China got their act together and got back open. But I think even if China gets open, there's just all this business with the tariffs and the delays on docks and stuff like that. So it's still very difficult to get a product in and out of China, even if things were great. So I think that everyone has been looking for alternative vendors.

Alex Romanovich (17:15):
One of the things that I always suggest to small business owners is that they really look at their trade association in their industry and call up other businesses that are bigger than them and find out who their suppliers are. If they're willing to share if they have any excess inventory that you might be able to buy from a larger vendor. People, I think, are a little bit more willing to help each other right now because they don't know when they're going to need help. So I think that is an opportunity for people to pick up the phone, make a friend and hopefully try some people out before it's crunch time. Like if you've got big orders coming for a holiday that you definitely want to be talking to people now, testing people out now, trying to see how long it takes them to ship things so that you will know so that you don't have to put a stock outside on your website, which is a kiss of death at Christmas time.

Alex Romanovich (18:05):
Absolutely. Now, let's separate the product-based businesses and merchandise-based businesses from service-based businesses.

Melinda Emerson (18:13):
Well, service-based businesses have probably benefited the most from COVID because they are still been able to do business because if you do business over the phone and the computer, it doesn't matter where you are. And so I think that the real issue has been how much empathy you have to show for your customers and really kind of understand where customers are. I know a lot of people in corporate America are suffering. People have been asked to take pay cuts, to keep their job layoffs have happened. And so it's not as easy to reach a prospect over the phone with them ready to talk. I think you can reach everybody because everybody's home. Everybody's in one place. I mean, there're few people have gone on vacation, but not a lot of people. So I think you can still reach people. But I think, if you're a B2B company, the thing that you've had to do is think about how you can add value, additional value without adding price.

Melinda Emerson (19:04):
And you have to be realistic that you're not going to get the same dollars that you were getting pre-COVID. You just aren't, because everybody's hurting. And I think if you have an honest relationship with your customer when you can get them to tell you what their real budget is, that's a better place to start. Then sending a proposal that is like a lead balloon, that's not going to land anywhere. It just doesn't make sense if you out price yourself in the market right now. So I think B2B businesses have had to be tighter, slimmer, add more value and maybe even be thought partners for free with customers just to show they care, just to show them empathy, so that you can build loyalty long-term, because things are going to come back and things always come back, but you definitely want to put yourself in a position to be a resource, to be an invaluable resource to your customers.

Alex Romanovich (19:54):
Love your energy, Melinda, love your enthusiasm and your optimism. And I also think that we will come back in large metropolitan areas in suburbia. Absolutely. Now let's talk a little bit about this movement or this sort of hysteria almost in large cities, in New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and so forth. Folks are leaving the city. Folks are living in urban areas. Is this real, is this going to continue in terms of this type of a movement and what impact does it have on small, medium-sized business?

Melinda Emerson (20:32):
Well, I think it always hurts big cities, when wealthier, more successful people flee to the suburbs, they called it white flight in the eighties, right? I think that people going to the suburbs, leaving the cities is a grave disservice to the cities. And we do not want to have a bunch of abandoned cities. We also don't want to increase poverty. As being in Philadelphia, Philadelphia is the largest major city in America that has massive poverty, we are the poorest big city in the country. And COVID has pulled the wool back from all of that. And now everyone knows food insecurity is an issue, food deserts, being able to get fresh fruits and vegetables and things like that, and you really want to think about the future school districts, where schools are going to get revenues from and stuff like that.

Melinda Emerson (21:25):
If everyone leaves, you're just abandoning the city and starving the city of resources. And this is even more true because corporations that are in the city by law get a huge tax abatement. So they're not paying taxes. The taxes were being paid by the citizens that have homes in the city. So people leaving, that's a problem for major cities that are always cash strapped anyway. And so you're going to see more things like tickets, aggressive ticket writing, and infractions of all kinds of things because they're going to turn punitive taxes into revenue sources. So you want to think twice about what you're doing and how it affects, not just you, but how your actions affect the overall community. If we had more people that thought that way, then we could all work together to make sure that schools are funded equally and things like that. So that services are the same in the suburb as they are in the city. People are leaving the city because they're not getting the same level of service. And that's unfortunate.

Alex Romanovich (22:26):
What do you think should the governments do, local governments, municipal governments, borough governments, mayors of the cities, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and the list goes on and on, what should the governments do? Vis-a-vis small, medium-sized businesses to, I mean, they're in a very difficult spot, right? They need to collect taxes. They're losing tax revenues tremendously. Major corporations, risk of leaving them or them leaving the city, broken leases and so forth. So what can they do, if you were in the local government today, in the city council and so forth, what would be the next step?

Melinda Emerson (23:12):
I think that they have to do more to support businesses, and not keep raising taxes on businesses, but instead figuring out how they can give people small tax incentives to stay in the city, to employ people in the city. I think if you can connect it to job creation, I think that that's something that really could work. I think that we have to do more to get people opportunities. I mean, I think cities should do better with their spending and making sure that they have diverse vendors and the diverse vendors that they have, maybe they might be sub-contractors or just prime contractors, make sure the prime contractors are doing the right thing, make sure the prime contractors are actually paying their small business vendors because we've had a lot of that here, particularly in the construction industry, people work on big stadiums and then wait nine months to get paid.

Melinda Emerson (23:59):
All that stuff is crap. And it goes on in the construction industry for years and years and years, and really affects people in a bad way. So I think if you are in government, you've got to look at how the government spends its money. I think you have to look at making sure that people are able to pay their workers and pay themselves. And those are the kinds of things that I think they can affect. They can affect most how their cities and governments spend their money and make sure they're spending it equally with small businesses and large companies.

Alex Romanovich (24:32):
Awesome. These are some great, great conversations, and great tips, and great pieces of advice. Let's talk a little bit about your work with women specifically. If you're a young woman today living, graduating from college, which is, we just had a very recently graduation, you getting into the markets post-COVID or during COVID. I mean, we still have some spikes in the cities in all the major cities across the United States. But if you're a young woman, what should you do? What is your advice to our audience?

Melinda Emerson (25:14):
I just graduated from college. It is my prayer that you actually did two or three internships while you were in college so that you actually have some work experience on your resume. What I'm scared of is some of the students who I have heard from who have no experience, did not do one single internship while they were in college and hope to get a job. If that's the case, you need to go get your Master's now, you need to re-enroll, go get your Master's so that you can leverage that to get some actual work experience so that you have something of value to offer just being a college graduate. I mean, that's not enough. You've got to show some initiative. You've got to show how resourceful you are. I mean, being a college graduate just means you're teachable. It doesn't mean you can think.

Melinda Emerson (25:59):
So, you want to put yourself in positions where you have to think, and that you can give an example of how your resourcefulness got yourself out of a jam. There are still people hiring right now. There are lots of companies still hiring people. So do not get discouraged and think that because the job market is down, but there are no opportunities there actually are. But you have to make sure that you have a good story to tell about you and what you really want to do. Whenever young people try to interview with me, I'm always like, okay, what's your big picture? What do you want to do? And well, I kind of that is not the right answer. You need to make sure that you can articulate. I want to be a director one day, or I want to be a CMO one day, or I want to own my own business day. Now, see, that's something I can work with. Well, I don't know, I'm kind of interested in business, that's not an answer anyone wants to hear. So you want to be really clear that you know what you want to do and that you can communicate it effectively to make someone want to not only give you a job or mentor you to help you get there.

Alex Romanovich (27:02):
Melinda, we're so blessed to have you on the show. I would love to invite you to come back in the near future. By the way, we will be posting on the landing page dedicated to you, we'll be posting a lot of information about your books, about your business, about Smallbiz Lady. And we always love to talk to you about some of these tips and hacks for small, medium-sized businesses, a lot of useful information. Thank you so much and great to see you again.

Melinda Emerson (27:29):
Thanks so much, Alex. I'll come back anytime.

The small, medium-sized businesses during the COVID pandemic
The ways to take closed African American and minority-led businesses back
The United States small, medium-sized businesses' international partnership in 2020-2021
The impact of people leaving the big cities for small, medium-sized business
Actions of the government to keep balance in the big cities
Advice on how to start your career in business