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Viewpoint: Small business owners’ guide to survival in a tough year

Contributing Writer //November 2, 2020//

Viewpoint: Small business owners’ guide to survival in a tough year

Contributing Writer //November 2, 2020//

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This year has been dramatically different than what we all expected for our families, communities and businesses. But what I’ve learned as a small business owner in the Lowcountry is that with the support from our local community, other businesses and even the government, the toughest challenges can bring huge opportunities.

COVID-19 altered the real estate industry overnight. Changes in the job market and millions suddenly working from home meant that buyers needed new homes quickly, but selling homes under the new COVID-19 restrictions proved to be an obstacle. As an independent contractor at my brokerage, my success is solely dependent on me, so these new obstacles required me to take a fresh look at my business model and make some modifications. In early March, people were anxious and confused, so I quickly communicated the safety precautions we were taking to assure my clients they could still move into their forever homes. To maintain safe standards I provided masks, hand sanitizer, and shoe booties for my clients during appointments. I practiced these same levels of safety even if I was alone in a home and giving a virtual tour.

While we are far from out of the woods, as I have adjusted to the new landscape reshaped by the pandemic I wanted to share my suggestions for other independent business owners navigating these tough times: 

Utilize resources at your fingertips: When in-person home viewings stopped it was easy to panic in the face of so much change, but I found that I already had many tools I needed to succeed. Working with video professionals, I opened up homes virtually and utilized FaceTime and Facebook Live to do tours with buyers and sellers. To grow my clientele base I reached out to local media for opportunities on broadcast news to showcase my business and researched government assistance for back-up funding in the event things shut down completely. Look around your area to see what tools your business can utilize that won’t cost you anything but time – there are many more free tools out there than you think.

Adapt to the new normal: I firmly believe that many of the new safety regulations are here to stay, and we need to adapt to this new world. Take the time to reassess your business assuming this situation will last two years. As businesses change and adjust, industries at large need to take their cues as well. In this increasingly virtual world, real estate agents should be able to be licensed across more states more easily. This will allow people like me, who are employing online advertising tools that reach far beyond our local communities, to help people find the home of their dreams – no matter the ZIP code.

Do what you love and your passion will outweigh the challenges: As a former attorney, I had built a successful career, but one that left me feeling unfulfilled. I decided life was too short to do something I didn’t feel passionate about, and COVID-19 has only reinforced this belief. Today I am doing something that I love, and I have been able to help people realize their dreams. When COVID-19 hit, my reality was completely changed, but the extra time, effort and cost to my business was worth it.

Connect with your community: The Lowcountry of South Carolina is an incredible place with inspiring people. They can help you and your business grow. Family, friends and neighbors can become customers, so get to know them and support them. I run a Moving to Charleston, SC community Facebook group that welcomes new South Carolina residents into the state. This group not only provides me a strong client base but creates a sense of community for me and the members. Once COVID-19 hit I doubled down on my efforts to connect with my community and lift up those in need. I partnered with my brokerage to make charitable donations and supported a local food drive. I know my community supports me, and I am pleased to be able to support them.

If COVID-19 has taught me anything, it’s that there is plenty out of our control, but there are also a lot of opportunities that can come from dark times. Our local community has rallied behind our business community, and if we stay top of mind for our customers we will be set up to weather this storm.”

Contact Toni Gilliard at or by email at [email protected].