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News of the Week: Funding, SMBs Online and the Coronavirus

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
Staff Writer

In this week's news roundup, we look at the impact of the ongoing coronavirus crisis on business, funding opportunities for female veteran entrepreneurs and small business web presence.

  • COVID-19 continues to cause problems for industries around the world.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration is holding a funding competition for organizations looking to provide training to female veteran entrepreneurs.
  • A new survey suggests that 29% of small business owners are just now creating a website in 2020.

As millions of Americans consider the political future of the country, the rest of the world is dealing with a major crisis: COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. Originating in China's Hubei province, the disease has claimed more than 2,000 lives and infected more than 75,000 people in more than two dozen countries. While only 11 of those deaths have occurred outside of mainland China, the fear of the disease's spread has businesses around the world wondering how this disease will impact their operations.

For many businesses, one of the hardest aspects of this disease is its timing, as the Lunar New Year period generally results in a major slowdown of production coming out of Southeast Asia as a whole. With most of the region under a red alert of sorts, factories have been slow to reopen for fear of more infections. In the U.S. and abroad, it's causing companies to rethink their attendance to various trade shows and conventions.

With the virus impacting everything from the watch and tech industries to airlines and shipping firms, it's still too early to determine its effect on the global economy. This disease may continue to be a major focus of attention for a while still, but other headlines have gripped the business community. In our second installment of News of the Week, we've gathered some newsworthy stories to give you and your business some perspective on these happenings as you head into the weekend.

Female veteran entrepreneurs to get boost from SBA

Starting a new business can be a difficult and high-stress endeavor, and it might feel like the odds are stacked against you at times. Yet for American women who served in the military, such an effort isn't nearly as difficult as the working conditions they endured on the actual frontlines of a major conflict. While they may have survived life-or-death situations in our armed forces, many female veterans need a leg up to start their businesses.

On Thursday, the U.S. Small Business Association announced a grant of up to $300,000 in funding for organizations that help female veterans become entrepreneurs. Administration officials said the funding will be available exclusively to nonprofits, state and local agencies, and higher-learning institutions that commit to participate in the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program.

"Women veteran entrepreneurs have contributed in a major way to the growth of the U.S. economy, bringing in $10 billion in receipts over a five-year period," said Larry Stubblefield, associate administrator for the SBA Office of Veterans Business Development. "The SBA is committed to supporting women veterans with the training and resources they need to start, grow or expand a small business."

According to the SBA, the funding will be used to "cover the costs of educating women service members and veterans, as well as women military spouses who are interested in starting or currently own a small business."

If you're looking to help create a new batch of entrepreneurs in your local community as an eligible organization, you can submit your application through Grants.gov. Submissions must be received by Thursday, March 19 at 11:59 p.m. EDT.

As a small business owner, you can personally take charge in this area by hiring or mentoring veterans. By reaching out to local veteran affairs groups or VFWs, you're likely to reach a wide range of candidates with excellent work ethics and skills that could be a huge boon to your business and community.

Survey finds 29% of SMBs plan to start using a website this year

It's hard to imagine running a businesses without some sort of online presence, but a newly released survey from Visual Objects suggests that many small businesses in the U.S. aren't yet online.

According to the data, released Tuesday, approximately 29% of the 500 small business owners polled said they plan to improve their operations by starting to use a website this year. It was the largest response to researchers' question of how the SMBs want to improve this year, with increased digital marketing (21%) and more focus on social media presence (20%) coming in second and third.

In addition to the nearly 30% of respondents who said they needed to begin using a website this year, another 29% said they plan to improve their existing sites. Items like webpage speed, better SEO and clearer calls to action on webpages were cited as main areas of improvement that SMB owners hoped to make, with the goal of seeing better customer responses.

"Your website should be your No. 1 salesperson, 365 days a year, 24/7," said Lauren Williams, founder of Harmony HR Experts. "Even if your business is providing a service, you must have a way to sell it on the internet."

In recent years, other technologies like augmented and virtual reality have seen a rise in importance for small businesses, but just 7% of survey respondents said they plan to use such emergent tech in a larger capacity, while 8% said they plan to use it less. Just 21% of respondents said they're going to use SEO more in 2020, with only 5% saying SEO was a successful tactic for them last year.

As a small business owner, you need to pay attention to the technological side of your business. Having an online presence is incredibly important in this highly connected world, so businesses that want to grow should regularly take stock of how they are perceived online and make adjustments as needed.

Image Credit: FlamingoImages / Getty Images
Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
Business News Daily Staff
Andrew Martins has written more than 300 articles for business.com and Business News Daily focused on the tools and services that small businesses and entrepreneurs need to succeed. Andrew writes about office hardware such as digital copiers, multifunctional printers and wide format printers, as well as critical technology services like live chat and online fax. Andrew has a long history in publishing, having been named a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner.