Small business owners attending Tuesday’s monthly Northeast Connection and Small Business Breakout meeting are in widely diverse industries, but they share a common problem: the challenge of building business relationships during a pandemic without in-person interactions.

“A lot of the things we used to do — those five-minute connections waiting in line at Panera’s or the ‘fireside chat’ when you stop by someone’s desk — have been sucked out of our relationships,” said corporate consultant Ron Harvey.

More than 30 local small businesspeople gathered virtually for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce-sponsored meeting for a dose of that much-needed networking and to hear from panelists with expertise in helping businesses solve problems.

Cultivating a mindset shift is one way to tackle problems, said panelist Caroline Crowder with the University of South Carolina’s Technology Incubator. “When you come up against a wall, view that obstacle as a challenge,” she said. “There are a million ways to get through a wall: go under it, go over it, go around it, or blow it up and go through it.”

‘Pivot’ may be the most important business word of the pandemic, according to panelist Lasenta Lewis-Ellis, owner of LLE Construction and LLE Consulting. “What services can we provide, how can we pivot to complement what we currently do to stay sustainable?” she said, citing the hard-hit restaurant industry’s move to takeout and delivery meals as an example of how businesses can adapt to changing circumstances.

“Think about what’s keeping you from growing,” Lewis-Ellis added. “Then create a plan to navigate out of those problems.”

But take it a step at a time, Crowder advised. “Start small. You don’t have to build your entire marketing plan in a day.”

“It’s not what you do in a day,” agreed meeting moderator Jared Clary of Splash Omnimedia. “It’s what you do daily.”

The Northeast Connection and Small Business Breakout group meets the third Tuesday of every month to network, share ideas and offer encouragement in a tough economy. Participation is free and open to anyone. Learn more about free online sessions for small businesspeople and other services on the chamber’s website.

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