Commercial Currents: The State of Small Business

Craig Olson
Posted 2020-06-25
Maine’s coastal businesses provide inspiration and examples of resilience

As we grapple with the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic on our businesses, there can be comfort in finding that we are not alone. That what we are seeing along Maine’s coast mirrors what is happening nationally, even internationally.

The Small Business Roundtable, with Facebook, recently released their first State of Small Business Report. They surveyed 86,000 business owners to understand what is working for them, and where they are struggling. A major takeaway we gleaned from this report is that more than 50% of the businesses that responded said their contact with clients online has increased. We too have seen a high rate of businesses creating new or improving their current websites, and often driving traffic through Instagram or Facebook.  Over 35% of businesses surveyed are now conducting all of their sales online and about the same percentage have expanded the use of digital payments. From the conversations we’ve been having here with business owners, we think the coastal numbers might be slightly higher. With a seasonal economy with a high rate of cash transactions, this switch to digital payments has been a big shift. We have been fortunate to help a number of businesses make that switch with support from our Business Resilience Grants.

What isn’t covered in this report is something we are seeing on a regular basis: businesses taking a new course, offering new products, or shifting to new services. Amanda Amoroso of Honey Bee Hill Ceramics in Rockport, Maine, did just that. As the pandemic built, she saw people turning to home baking—buying large bags of flour but oftentimes lacking a safe way to store it. Amanda decided to try her hand at creating a large ceramic container to handle a 50-pound bag, a great example of adapting to current market needs.  Because this was the creation of a new product line for her business, she applied for and received a Business Resilience Grant for basic materials to start producing flour storage containers on a larger scale. While other businesses have shifted and started to produce hand sanitizer or PPE, which will eventually wane, her innovation transcends the pandemic and will last well beyond.

In the Downeast region, Samantha Williams, owner of Bold Coast Yoga in Whiting, is a yoga teacher who also trains and certifies yoga teachers. When the pandemic hit, Samantha shifted her teaching online, but then realized that she would have a much greater reach if she not only taught her certification courses online but also recorded them so her students could watch them on-demand. This would provide her with access to even more clients who could participate as their schedule allowed. Samantha’s Business Resilience Grant provided the support she needed to buy the proper recording equipment, have updates made to her website, and purchase a subscription to an online site that now distributes her classes.

It’s these stories of resilience that keep us going.

Finally, the report confirms what we have been hearing since March—optimism that if business owners can keep the lights on they will come through this bruised, but stronger. Businesses will fail, but even with failures new businesses will be created. The key word we keep hearing is focus. The challenge of this pandemic has made many focus on the strengths and shortcomings of their businesses and adjust accordingly. Hard decisions are being made, but many say they have made them with a sense of relief. When times are good, it is human nature to let things slide, putting off the difficult decisions and conversations. A crisis sharpens your focus and won’t allow you to put things off.

As you walk through this new environment as an artist and maker or a small business owner along the coast, we urge you to reach out to us. If there is a new product line for your business, a new service you could offer, or a way to enhance your business through the addition or expansion of your online presence, our Business Resilience Grants may be the helpful financial nudge you need. Or, if you’d like to simply talk about an idea you’re thinking about to pivot your business, we’re all ears! Contact us here.




The Island Institute’s Small Business Team provides business and financial planning to help entrepreneurs navigate the complexities of starting and growing a business. For more information on our small business support services, feel free to contact Craig Olson.

Commercial Currents is an email and blog newsletter that shares buoyant stories from Maine’s island and coastal communities about economic stability and resilience. To find archived editions, go to here.