In a normal year, the Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC) hosts two small business expos to help businesses grow their customer base, target markets and increase sales. The expos also give small businesses a platform to conduct customer discovery interviews, which provide invaluable information about the products the customer has decided to purchase or not to purchase. Of course, 2020 is not a normal year.
Our Fourth Annual Spring Market was slated to happen on March 14 and our Tenth Annual Mistletoe Market was scheduled for November 5-6, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to cancel our in-person events.
In March, we watched and waited to see if the pandemic would dissipate as quickly as it arrived. With CDC reports, government updates, and national news reports offering little hope that life would soon return to normal, the AWBC decided to take charge. Shuffling our plans, we gave our Spring Market small businesses an opportunity to participate instead in a ‘Summertime Virtual Market.’
Some businesses pivoted easily to the new online reality, while others found the transition more difficult. To assist, the AWBC held a virtual training for the small businesses who were interested in participating in the virtual market. The training gave participants suggestions on how to highlight their businesses, how to make captivating social media posts, and how to make a great first impression with a new audience. Armed with this information, 30 small businesses participated in our virtual market with around 1,000 shoppers from the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas region. We created a Facebook group as a platform for the vendors to post about their businesses and for the audience to browse and shop.
Similar pivots were required in October, when we were forced to decide how to host Mistletoe Market. With Covid-19 cases increasing and the CDC labeling Arkansas a hot spot, the AWBC did not want to risk helping the virus spread by hosting an in-person expo. We decided instead to move forward with the event as another virtual market, taking the restrictions posed by the pandemic as an opportunity to get creative. We partnered with online event company Thumbprint Productions to host the Tenth Annual Mistletoe Market’s live virtual event on November 19-20. Eleven small businesses from the Arkansas-Louisiana-Texas region participated, and we reached over 2,500 customers with 1,182 engagements. Overall, both markets were a huge success!
No one starting a business expects to battle a pandemic and be forced to pivot to a new business model. Yet it remains the AWBC mission to assist small businesses with the tools to open profitable and sustainable businesses, regardless of the circumstances. The AWBC is still open and operating to assist Arkansas small businesses through these unprecedented times, with one mission in mind: Small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities, towns and country, and we will continue to help small businesses through these uncertain times.