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African American Chamber helps small businesses plan for post-COVID world

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Posted at 6:31 PM, Jun 07, 2021

For small business owners, the watch-word of 2020 was pivot. Shawnte Barker, who owns Stylish LeNese Boutique in Madisonville, opened just before the coronavirus pandemic began in earnest and spent the year scrambling to change every plan she’d made.

"You might have had a plan for your business, but when something dynamic like a disaster or a pandemic hits, it's like, ‘How do you stay relevant?’” she said Monday.

She did home deliveries instead of seeing customers in her store. She made masks from tablecloths and favorite shirts. She shepherded would-be customers toward her website.

And now things are changing again. Barker and business owners like her, who invested all their energy and resources in sudden left turns, will have to make one more.

Barker is grateful the African American Chamber of Commerce is here to help while she charts out her next steps in a vaccinated world. The Chamber’s Pivot program, of which she is a part, is centered on helping small businesses enter or reenter an economy not shaped by COVID-19.

“They've been really great at being able to say, 'Hey, there's these different opportunities,’” she said. “’Do you want to learn about marketing your business?'"

JIll McCauley, a business counselor with the Chamber, said she’s anticipated for a long time that local businesses would need help getting back on track.

“We're helping with marketing,” she said. “We're helping develop flyers. We're helping getting the word out there. … Folks that may have lost contracts, say they were service-oriented, now they virtually have to start over.”

And the program is open to all kinds of business owners in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, she added. People who need help shouldn’t feel excluded when they hear Pivot is the work of the African American Chamber.

“You don’t have to be of African descent,” McCauley said. “You don’t have to be a member.”

The Chamber has helped nearly 100 businesses through the Pivot program so far and hopes to help 300 more by the end of 2020.

With their assistance, owners like Barker can keep their eyes on the future.

"You thought you had a plan,” she said. “You stick to that plan. You go forward. I think the pandemic has really taught me you have to be ready to change constantly."