Small business owners who are struggling to survive the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic need to know two things, says Ginger Siegel, North America Small Business Segment Lead for Mastercard.
“Number one, that they’re not in it alone. And number two, that we as an industry are going to be there for them when they’re recovering,” Siegel told CO—.
Siegel’s job means she spends a lot of time taking the pulse of small business owners listening to their concerns and celebrating their successes. What she is hearing now is that America’s small businesses are worried, but resilient.
Recent research by Mastercard found that 74% of small businesses are being negatively impacted by COVID-19, and that only 38% had confidence that they would still be operating in the manner they wanted to be in 12 months.
Those sobering statistics echo what small business groups are reporting. A study in early April by Main Street America found that 7.5 million small businesses were at risk of closing permanently within five months and 3.5 million were at risk of closing within two months.
Mastercard has looked at the crisis as a time to strengthen its relationships with small business owners, particularly female owners, who are the fastest growing category, with new offers and services.
The financial services company is giving small businesses temporary access to free cyber security protections, in response to the rise in cybercrimes related to the crisis. It also is offering three months of the type of market intelligence data big retailers routinely use to grow their businesses. And, it’s reaching out to female business owners with expanded mentorship and networking programs.
Right now, a lot of small business owners have to pivot their operations to drive more effective marketing and promotions.
Ginger Siegel, North America Small Business Segment Lead, Mastercard
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Cyber security a top priority amid rising cyber risks
Mastercard announced at the White House’s America CARES Small Business Relief virtual event in early April that it was committing $250 million over five years to support small businesses. It unveiled a plan to offer small businesses free cyber threat assessments and identity theft protection for three months, as well as three months of free access to local market intelligence data.
The cyber security assessment and identity theft services are being offered to all of the 28 million small businesses eligible to participate in the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
“As more and more small businesses are trying to adjust to this new normal and move their activities online, one of the big things we are see happening is … increased exposure to cyber threat,” Siegel said.
Even before the pandemic hit, she said, roughly 70% of small businesses were at risk because they had no protection against cyber threats.
“Even in the best of circumstances, cyber attacks on small businesses have been increasing exponentially,” Siegel said.
Mastercard decided to focus on cyber security as a top priority in its pandemic support for small business because the crisis has accelerated the need for small businesses to be able to connect with customers online, thus exposing the businesses to more cyber risk, Siegel said.
“We believe our cyber opportunity will really help millions of small businesses right now to understand the vulnerabilities in their system,” she said.
Giving small businesses access to the same trend data big companies enjoy
The need, as businesses pivot and reopen after shutdown orders are lifted, to do a better job of connecting with and understanding customers motivated Mastercard’s decision to offer three months of free access to its local market intelligence data.
“Right now, a lot of small business owners have to pivot their operations to drive more effective marketing and promotions,” Siegel said.
“In our research, one of the top things that small business owners tell us is that they usually don’t have access to data to help them run their business,” she said.
The offer will enable any small business that accepts credit card payments to tap into the type of information large retailers and corporation routinely rely on to stay on top of trends.
The data will help owners see how their store or business is doing, using such metrics as “the average spend in the industry, the average ticket size, the percentage of new customers that are frequenting their place of business, the percentage of repeat customers,” Siegel said.
Mentorship for female business owners
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Mastercard was in the midst of launching a number of initiatives for female-owned small businesses, and Siegel said the crisis makes those efforts even more important.
Mastercard had decided to focus on female-owned businesses because of the growth in that category.
One in five small businesses are female-owned, and before the pandemic hit women were opening small businesses at a rate of over 1,800 a day, Siegel said.
Women-owned businesses contribute $3 trillion to the economy and are growing four to five times faster than their male counterparts, but female entrepreneurs continue to be underserved, Siegel said.
One particularly striking sign of that, she said, is that only 2% of seed funding by investors goes to female entrepreneurs.
In early March Mastercard announced an initiative called Path to Priceless designed to provide mentorship, learning and support for female entrepreneurs and business owners.
As part of that initiative it has partnered with Create & Cultivate, an online platform that provides information and hosts business conferences and events for women. Mastercard teamed up with Create & Cultivate May 2 to host the Money Moves digital summit where women would sign up for online mentorship sessions and listen to discussions by female entrepreneurs.
Mastercard has also partnered with Hello Alice, another online platform which provides digital resources for startups and small businesses, and helps underserved communities grow their businesses. Mastercard has created a Her Ideas community on Hello Alice that will be dedicated to creating networking opportunities, and providing tools and information to meet the needs of female business owners.
A Mastercard research study found that female business owners were much more willing to talk to peers to get advice and guidance, while male owners were more likely to go to their financial advisers or lawyers, Siegel said.
Being able to talk to peers and having strong networks of fellow owners becomes even more important during a crisis, when small businesses need to know they are not struggling alone, Siegel said.
Even amid the crisis, she said, “you see these glimpses of light and hope” as small business owners share news about how they are adapting and adjusting to survive.
“I have been amazed at the resiliency and the creativity that people are using to get their products and services out there,” she told CO—.
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Published May 13, 2020