By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

Many small businesses that provide products and services online, via the telephone, or through the mail operate in a virtual environment. They avert the challenge of modifying business practices in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, resulting from the COVID-19 shutdown. Not having a brick and mortar location certainly has its advantages. Still, it doesn’t mean that the shutdown hasn’t impacted those businesses in other ways. 

Sherell Burns, who has run a micro business as a Thirty-One Gifts consultant for nearly three years as a side gig, says that the shutdown has increased her business. She sells an array of products, from wallets and handbags to lunch boxes and home essentials for decorating and organizing. However, the married mother of two young children expects that to change and explains. “This month, I’ve had more business due to everything being closed and people needing Mother’s Day gifts. I doubt that will continue after this week.”

Her online-based business is marketed primarily (95 percent) in a private Facebook group, Sherell’s Savvy Shoppers, with sales processed through her official consultant’s page. Now that her full-time job has changed completely to teleworking, she uses some of the additional time that she’s gained to keep her customers engaged, by including more personable content and increasing the frequency of her online posts. 

Thelma E. Hardy, who has operated her micro business, New Avon LLC, as an Avon sales representative for 15 years (a side gig turned main gig after a health-related forced retirement) has seen a decline in her business since the shutdown. Not discouraged by the slowdown in the least, she creates personalized daily posts for her official Avon page and plants reminders of her products on her personal Facebook page. 

She recognizes the impact that the shutdown is having on people, in general and says, “This is psychological trauma. People are losing their jobs, and bubble bath is a luxury. So, I understand that people really need to kind of get over the shock of all this.”

Hardy, who is so optimistic about the future that she recently signed on with Mary Kay, feels that moving forward, people will seek out a little self-care, and bubble bath’s luxury status will change. Also, as supply chains change, she expects people to explore different uses for personal care products. 

“Skin So Soft has 101 uses,” she exclaims. “People need to know that you can buy bubble bath and use that as soap. Now, we have laundry detergent, we also have household cleaner, and we’re coming back with our hand sanitizer.”

In spite of the difference in their sales experiences during the shutdown, they share the belief that it’s important to be mindful of the financial impact the shutdown is having on their clients. Both feel that their more personalized approach to their virtual presence has pleasantly humanized the experience for all involved.