Fort Bend County is doubling down on its efforts to help disadvantaged small businesses recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last Thursday, County Judge KP George announced the Fort Bend Entrepreneur program, a new initiative dedicated to providing local businesses with services focused on helping giving them recover financially and become more viable moving forward.
“This COVID-19 is something new happening every single day. It is a moving target every single hour what is happening in our region,” George said during a news conference announcing the venture. “We care about their success, because it is directly impacting our community. We will do everything possible to support our small businesses.”
Services available to those participating in the free program include forming business development plans, one-on-one coaching with professionals and consulting programs. It is a joint venture between the county and Sterling and Stephen Carter of Carter Brothers, LLC, which will have teams walking business owners through the process. Carter Brothers is one of several local companies that will be assisting businesses as part of the program.
County auditor Ed Sturdivant said the county is paying the Carter brothers $1 million for the endeavor.
According to Stephen Carter, there have already been about 200 businesses recruited into the program, such as hair and nail salons, gyms and wellness centers. Fort Bend Entrepreneur is open to all who wish to apply at fortbendentrepreneur.com. The program has a focus on minority-owned and disadvantaged businesses, and services will be provided in a variety of languages to make them accessible to all participating businesses.
“We know those federal loans are required to bounce back from COVID-19, but we also understand that not only do you need the financial support, but the operational and strategic support,” he said. “It’s our passion to make sure businesses recover to the level of before COVID-19, and be bigger and better than ever.”
One Fort Bend business owner who has already taken advantage of the training is Stephanie Hayes, who has run the Star Wellness Center in Fresno for three years. On a normal schedule, Hayes provides a full spectrum of wellness services for her customers, such as personal training, nutrition services and meditative sessions.
However, upon the county’s order for gyms to close in March, she was forced to adapt on the fly. Over the last few months, she said she has been in the process of transitioning her services to fully virtual methods – but had little idea on where to begin until contacting the Carter brothers and their team.
“I know there are things I have to change and that it’s going to be continuous,” Hayes said. “It happens quicker than any business owner would expect.”
To begin, she said the consulting team helped her brainstorm marketing strategies to help keep her customers up-to-date about the company’s status as well as reimagining her business plan and services to optimize it during a slowdown due to statewide social distancing guidelines.
Among the biggest changes, according to Hayes, is that instead of offering a wide range of services, she recently picked a few from her existing services to make better and more accessible to people based on advice from the team.
“They helped me create a package that’s workable through COVID, which means having statements on websites and letting your clientele know exactly where you stand and where your business stands,” she said. “From there, we moved on to a couple marketing strategies such as how to keep your clientele and scale your business for the pandemic. That has definitely helped.”
Specifically, Hayes has focused on a virtual nutrition and meditation services as she works toward a total virtual experience for her clients. Those services, she said, can benefit anyone, and she would not have thought to hone in on them if not for the program.
“No matter what field you’re in, I’m finding right now that a lot of people are under a lot of mental emotional stress,” she said. “Since I have services for those, that’s something better to assist people and better their lives. I can focus on services that help people be stress-free and stay healthy.”
Entrepreneurs throughout Fort Bend County will receive:
- One-on-one coaching by local and national highly trained business coaches and consultants
- Monthly virtual and face-to-face business resilience courses
- A customized COVID-19 business recovery plan
- Monthly strategy meetings
- Six-month access to an online business consulting program
Hayes said the services have been a boon to her as she attempts to navigate through the obstacles posed by COVID-19.
“You can’t be so rigid in your thinking, your way to market or your services that need to be strategized (in a situation like this),” she said. “You have to be willing to change and accommodate, and sometimes you need to do that very quickly.”