Surviving and thriving during COVID-19

According to owner William Berry, Able Business Services has seen its revenue increase by more than 60% during the pandemic.

Nearly 500,000 Black-owned businesses have closed due to COVID-19, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Countless others are struggling to survive. But there are some businesses that have secured their bottom line – and even boosted it – by quickly adapting and providing the products and services that a pandemic demands.

William Berry, owner of Able Business Services in Miami, cannot recall a time when his cleaning business has suffered. Twenty years ago, he began the company with the goal of creating jobs for others. But he never imagined that – in the midst of a global health crisis and daunting recession – that he would see his business flourish. Over the last four months he’s hired 200 new employees and increased revenue by 60-70%. His business now has a total of 420 employees. 

“It’s extremely gratifying that I’m in a position where I can give jobs and opportunities to people so that they can support their families and pay their bills,” said Berry.

Along with cleaning various sites for Miami-Dade Water & Sewer, the City Of Miami, Miami-Dade Transit and others, Berry has also landed a Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation contract that has allowed his business to further expand. By adapting quickly, and getting certified in COVID-19 pathogen eradication, Able Business Services were in a stronger position to secure the contract.

According to Berry, his company’s diversification has also allowed it to continuously succeed economically. Other services provided include landscaping, chemical blending and propane dispensing.

TQ Financial Services, a South Florida-based company helmed by Patrick Augustin, Craig White and Sebastian Singh, offers various financial services, including tax preparation via its digital platform. The app has allowed the company to seamlessly continue to serve clients when social distancing made in-person meetings impossible. Business has increased during the pandemic.

“Most small companies don’t have mobile apps,” said White, TQ’s vice president. “It puts us in a whole different ballpark.”

The ease with which the business has hummed along seems to have made a positive impression. Many clients have referred new business TQ’s way. 

“There were some people who couldn’t access their tax preparer who were referred to us, and others who were referred to us because they felt more comfortable with having their taxes prepared through the app instead of in person,” White said.

Advocacy and resources 

Making it through the pandemic bruised, if not unscathed, “is about survival,” said Gordon Eric Knowles, president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.

Knowles and other small business advocates offered advice to Black business owners last week during a Zoom conversation sponsored by the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce that was broadcast on Facebook Live.

“We are from a Black community,” said Knowles. “We know about survival, but we have to pivot.”

 In the same broadcast, Ron Busby Sr., president and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, explained how businesses could pivot and succeed in the future.

“I think now pivoting [means] really considering what the future is going to look like for my particular industry or business, and what are some of the things I have to do and/or learn to make sure I have sustainability and the skillset to continue to be able to compete,” Busby said.

He also encouraged businesses to establish banking relationships, to better their chances of obtaining access to federally funded stimulus and small business loan programs. He stated that only 30% of Black business owners have a real banking relationship. 

“The first thing the stimulus package told us was to go to your bank and apply for Payroll Protection and the EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan], and if you did not have a true banking relationship, you were left out,” Busby said.

Michael Finney, CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, shared that his organization is extending itself to be a trusted resource in the Black business community, so that companies can feel comfortable reaching out and getting assistance.

Finney offered three recommendations for local Black businesses to use for development: join the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, join the Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council and connect with the Beacon Council.

“The Miami-Dade Chamber does a really good job at serving as a knowledge repository of resources that are available in Miami-Dade County,” Finney said. “If you are a minority or a woman-based business, become a member of the Florida State Minority Supplier Council.”

Finney also offered some encouragement for business owners feeling the pinch.

 “There’s no doubt in my mind that if we can connect companies to the help they need, the likelihood of being successful clearly goes up.”

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