OPINION: Digital Tools Offer Hope for Detroit’s Hurting Businesses
June 15, 2021
By Sheryl Sandberg and Brian Calley, originally published in The Detroit News on March 15, 2021
he pandemic has been devastating for small businesses across southeast Michigan. More than 800 entrepreneurs closed shop in Detroit in the last year, with more than 3,000 closing across the state and Black-owned businesses and those run by women have been hit the hardest. Across the U.S., Black-owned businesses closed at twice the rate of others after the start of the pandemic, and female-run companies have closed at a higher rate than those run by men, with the gap growing throughout the crisis.
There is a ray of hope. Many businesses stayed open by reinventing themselves online—setting up online ordering and delivery, creating new products, and reaching customers through social media. For some, making the shift online has been a huge success.
That’s how Jennifer Lyle, the owner and head chef of Lush Yummies Pie Company in Detroit’s Eastern Market, navigated the crisis. Jennifer bakes Lemon Butta Pies the way her grandad taught her and built a loyal following selling through retailers and wholesalers. But when COVID-19 hit, sales dried up and Jennifer had to close for two months.
She used the time to rethink her business. Lush Yummies started selling directly to customers online, reaching them through personalized ads, and offering pick up straight from her kitchen. It felt like a big gamble—but it paid off. Sales are up and the future is beginning to brighten.
Even before the pandemic, more and more people were spending their time and money online, and businesses were increasingly going digital to reach them. What had been a gradual trend accelerated dramatically in 2020 as having a digital storefront, taking online orders, and reaching customers remotely became a necessity for businesses everywhere. The good news is all these things are much easier than they were just a few years ago.
Here are three things every small business can do to be a success online.
Establish your digital presence. For many this is the biggest leap, but it needn’t be daunting. Yes, setting up a website can be complicated and expensive. But anyone can set up a Facebook Page or an Instagram Business Profile for free in just a few clicks. And when you have, a world of opportunity opens up. You can showcase products, communicate directly with customers, and build a following of people who love what you do. There are even free tools available to make it easy to take orders and sell online.
Learn the basics of digital advertising. Some small business owners think advertising is something only big companies can afford—and that used to be true. But with personalized ads you can reach people you think will be interested in your products for just a few dollars. Learning the basics is easy—you can quickly learn how to create effective ads, identify audiences to show them to, and measure your results so you get the most bang for your buck.
Know where to get help. There is support out there if you know where to look, whether it’s finding out what financial support you can apply for, where to find training and resources to get to make the most of your digital presence, or for reliable information. The Small Business Association of Michigan hosts The Small Business Briefing each Monday and Thursday, and delivers crucial small business news to help you navigate the pandemic and beyond. And you can visit Facebook’s Business Resource Hub—a one stop shop for user friendly resources and trainings for small business owners.
For entrepreneurial women like Jennifer, making the shift online was an opportunity to cut out the middleman and sell her delicious pies straight to people who love them. And it’s no coincidence that women are ahead of the curve when it comes to making their businesses work online. Facebook’s State of Small Business Report found female-run businesses are more likely to have increased their use of digital tools last year than ones led by men.
After a year filled with hardship and heartbreak for so many, we’re all looking for reasons to be optimistic. The people of Detroit have always had a reputation for big ideas and hard work—but historically not everyone has been given the opportunity to succeed. That’s why we believe this digital transformation can be at the heart of Detroit’s comeback. In 2021, you don’t need anyone’s permission to start a business. Just a good idea and a smart phone.
Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and the founder of LeanIn.org.
Brian Calley is the President of SBAM